When the buzzer sounded in Saturday’s Class 6A state title game, it was hard to find a dry eye on the Pine Forest Eagles bench.
The Eagles had just suffered a 53-34 loss to three-time champ Orlando Edgewater in the championship game, and the experience of coming so close only to come up short was emotional.
But junior Laneisha Jeans was doing her best to take it all in. At this time last year, Jeans was in Germany, playing with her high school team in the European championships.
It sounds fancy, but the experience pales in comparison to Pine Forest’s trip to Lakeland this weekend, she said.
“It was amazing,” Jeans said of her first trip to the state tournament. “It was so different than being in Italy. Our little championships there weren’t this big. I had a lot of fun coming here.
“Even though we lost, I’m very proud of the team and what we’ve done. We worked so hard and coach pushed us so hard throughout the season, so I was really proud of how far we got.”
Jeans scored seven points in the game and pulled down seven rebounds for the Eagles. She said the biggest difference between Pine Forest’s run and her Italian team’s run was the fact the Eagles earned every second of their glory.
“There’s other American schools in Germany and Switzerland, and we all come together in Germany and play for the championship,” Jeans explained. “The only thing that’s different is everyone’s invited to go. Here, you have to earn it. That’s why it’s really overwhelming here.
“Getting to state here takes on a whole other meaning.”
Jeans arrived to Pensacola in September when her dad was stationed in the area. She immediately fit in with the returning members of the Eagles’ lineup and quickly joined the starting lineup with four other juniors.
“When I was in Italy, I was doing some research on the school, and I knew they were pretty good and coach (Chris) Godwin was a really good coach,” Jeans said. “When we started winning, I didn’t think we would ever get this far, but I’m so happy that we have.
“We’ve grown so much from the beginning of our first game until now. Everything just developed just 10 times more.”
While this weekend was a business trip, Jeans and the Eagles did take some time to stop and enjoy the experience. After getting a good night’s sleep on Saturday, the team planned to spend Sunday morning at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
“The most fun has been just us coming together and playing these teams,” Jeans said. “You don’t get to come here unless you really have it, and I think a lot of people were surprised and we were surprised that we even got this far.
“I think the best thing is the experience of being here, playing on this court and in this atmosphere.”