County girls basketball preview: City of Life looks to make another deep playoff run


One of the youngest teams in the state last season, City of Life, ran off an undefeated regular season – won a Sunshine League independent state championship and then made it all the way to the Class 2A Regional Finals before dropping its first game of the season to eventual FHSAA champion Florida Tech, 74-58.

With the majority of the roster returning – including their top four scorers – look for more of the same from Coach Dewrie Buggs team in the 2020-21 season.

Here’s a look at the county schools:

•Celebration (Last Season 11-9): Despite losing seven seniors, including leading scorer Selina Rivera (12.9 ppg), Storm Coach Bel Munoz is optimistic heading into the 2020-21 campaign.
The Lady Storm will be led by senior Kaelyn Figueras, who scored 12 points in Celebration’s season-opening win over Winter Park. Meredith Richmond (Sr., Forward) and Aliyah Richson (Jr., Wing) will provide upper class leadership. Top newcomers include Eileen Bolejack, a freshman point guard who scored 10 points in the season opener. (2020-21 Start: With a win over Liberty, the Storm took a 2-2 record into this week’s action).

•City of Life Academy (Last Season 26-1): Buggs has built a small school powerhouse over the last half decade, as the Lady Warriors have won 109 games since the 2015-16 season. City of Life relied on deadly outside shooting to win 26 games last year and returns all four of their leading scorers in Jayshlynn Vega-Rivera (15.8 ppg), Jenelisse Marty-Marrero (12.1) and the Depool-Maisonet sisters Camila (13.3) and Joselish (5.5). City of Life also returns its leading rebounder in senior Shanelle Heridia (8.6 rpg). The Lady Warriors playoff loss to Florida Tech came to a much taller and more physical Florida Tech team, but they may be able to counter some of that height with freshman newcomer Faith Werner (6-0) to help the 5-11 Heredia.
The City of Life program looks to be in good hands for years to come, as 10 of the 12 players on the roster are sophomores or younger. (2020-21 Start: For the first time since Feb. 1. 2019, City of Life lost a regular season game – dropping a 48-46 decision to Spruce Creek, a class 7A that made it to a regional final a year ago. COLA is 2-1 this season.)

•Gateway (Last Season: 16-10): Justin Marino’s team is coming off a solid 16-10 campaign, where they made it to the district semifinals before losing to Palm Bay Heritage. The Lady Panthers accomplished that with a relatively young team and only lost two seniors to graduation. Gateway returns a trio of solid players, including sophomore Vanessa Diaz, who averaged 23.2 points per game. Nerishlyan Moreau (5-2, G, Jr., 11.8 ppg) and Katelyn Cardoza (Sr. 6-0, F, 6.5 ppg) also return. Gateway may get a boost from junior transfer Paige Alise (5-11, Jr., F) who played at St. Cloud last season. (2020-21 Start: Four games, four wins, four blowouts by 15-plus points, Lady Panthers are off to a great start).

•Harmony (Last Season 3-13): The Lady Longhorns will feature a young team with a balanced scoring attack in 2020-21. Paul Strauch’s team went 3-13 last year, but a youth movement is afoot. Senior Carlee Fitzgerald (9.5 ppg this season), leads a team that features two sophomores in Lee Marshall (9.5 ppg) and Nellie Booth (7.0 ppg), and two freshmen in Alexia Garrett (5.0 ppg) and Emma Blanford (8.5 ppg). Madelyn Lanning and Cali Bernard will strengthen the Longhorns in the post.

“We’re a young team,” Strauch said. “Our goals for this season are to improve game-to-game and week to-week and hopefully playing our best basketball at the end of the year.” (2020-21 Start: With a win over Mount Dora, Lady Longhorns have won two of their first three contests).

•Liberty (Last Season: 11-10): Fourth-year coach Danny Saunders hoped the Chargers can improve on last year’s 11-10 mark. He will count on Pashence Jenkins (5-8, Jr., F, 7.1 ppg) and Angeline Beecher (Jr., 5-11, C, 7.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg) to pick up some of the scoring slack from departed senior Angelica Sanjurjo (13.8 ppg). (2020-21 Start: Rough sledding in the early going as the Lady Chargers dropped their first four contests).

•Osceola (Last Season: 12-9): Dion Byrum’s team is coming off a winning season, where they went 12-9 and made it to the district semifinals – falling just short of advancing to regionals with a close 32-26 loss to Windermere. Byrum returns two of his top players from that team in guards Mya Lomax (18.1 ppg in 2019-20) and Vilma Iglesias (7.2 ppg). (2020-21 Start: The Lady Kowboys have split their first four games, including wins over Poinciana and Kathleen).

•Poinciana (Last Season: 8-15): Poinciana first-year head coach Lee Smith hopes to turn the Eagles fortunes around, including making strides in the 2020-21 season. He will have to do so without Samantha Calso, who tore her ACL in the preseason. Smith does have his Poinciana’s top two scorers back from last year in Ivanis Pimentel and Eva Johnson, who averaged 15 and 10 points respectively in two pre-season games.
“From our starters to the last player on our bench to our entire coaching staff and student managers we are promoting a feeling of family,” Smith said. “A family supports, protects and grows as one.” (2020-21 Start: The Lady Eagles evened their new season at 1-1 with a win over Cypress Creek last week).

•St. Cloud (Last Season 19-9): Playing in 6A, District 5 last season, the Lady Bulldogs put together a tremendous season – winning 19 games and advancing all the way to the regional semifinals, where they fell to an extremely talented Tampa Tech team. Head Coach Chad Ansbaugh loses one of his top scorers off of that team in Beka Benge, who averaged more than 14 points a game. On a positive note, he returns quite a bit of experience – including multi-sport star Eno Inyang. Standing 6-3, Inyang has been a force on both the volleyball and basketball courts for St. Cloud since her freshman year and averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Senior Moriah Sanchez (4.6 assists per game) will run the point for St. Cloud, while Angie Rodriguez – another senior who missed all but two games last season with a knee injury – should provide scoring help for the Lady Bulldogs. Top newcomers include freshman Emily Lockey, who has averaged numerous points a game this year in her first season. (2020-21
Start: Never one to shy away from a challenge, the Lady Bulldogs had early season games with Monteverde Academy and Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (combined 39-16 last season), which resulted in a pair of losses. Still St. Cloud is 3-2.

•Tohopekaliga (Last Season: 1-21): The Lady Tigers had more than their fair share of growing pains in their first two years of the team’s existence – going 1-21 in each year. Thirdyear head coach Jennifer Farrell hopes to see an improvement in the win total in her third season. Upperclassmen Yamaris Cortes (Jr., G, 4.9 ppg), Nina Malave (Jr., F, 6.4 ppg) and Natalia Cohn (Sr., G, 6.3 ppg) will be the keys to that improvement. (2020-21)

Start: The Lady Tigers recorded their first-ever win over a county opponent with a victory over Liberty and is 1-2 this season).