Defining “winter” as it relates to the Big Bend is no easy task, especially when one day you can walk outside in short sleeves and flip-flops and the next wake up to local snow pictures on social media.
The winter sports scene is winding down for area high schools and some are already in the throes of postseason play, while still others have been eliminated. Boys and girls soccer will finish out regional play over the next two weeks, while girls basketball begins district tournaments starting today.
“As the season starts winding up to now, we’ve already started getting ready for the playoffs,” Chiles boys soccer coach Bryan Wilkinson said. “It starts by not taking games so seriously in the beginning, building up so that by now the kids don’t feel a difference in intensity.
“So hopefully by the time they play Thursday, to them it’s just another game, but to us we’ve already been preparing and instilling in them the need to get a result and building on fundamentals. We don’t want them to think it’s another big game, but to continue to do the same preparations and everything will be great.”
The Maclay girls soccer team (12-4-2) will host St. John’s Country Day (20-0-3) in a regional semifinal match at 7 tonight, while Florida High is at Wakulla, in what will be the teams’ fourth match this season.
The War Eagles are 1-1-1 against the Seminoles, including the district tournament final victory. The winner will play in the regional final Friday.
Also still alive are the Maclay boys, on the road in St. Augustine, and Chiles, whose regional final Thursday will host a familiar Navarre team. Lincoln, defeated by the Timberwolves in the district final, will hit the road and play at Niceville. In 2A, Wakulla hosts Freeport and Florida High travels to Pensacola Catholic.
“This is the same team that knocked us out last year and some of our players are still here that would have felt that,” Wilkinson said about the Timberwolves matchup. “Last week, I was really pleased with how we played and dominated games. We treated tremendous amount of opportunities. Now, we didn’t finish that well, but hopefully we can get goals and put games away earlier.”
Girls basketball brings three fairly certain victors from district play in Class 2A FAMU DRS (23-5), 3A Maclay (18-5) and 5A Rickards (16-9), all having run roughshod over its district foes during the regular season. It will be more competitive in Class 4A, however, where Godby, Florida High, Madison County and East Gadsden all hope to make its mark.
“When you’re in the playoffs you have to focus more mentally on what you need to do in that game,” said Lincoln boys basketball coach Dimitric Salters, whose playoff experience is lengthy from his years at East Gadsden. “It’s one and done. You have to focus more on the mental aspects than the regular skill of it.
“Mentally you need to understand what you’re doing and understand your opponent. Many times you’re seeing someone you’ve seen three and four times. At the end of the day, it comes down to mental preparation and mental toughness in the playoffs.”
Things in Class 7A girls action could also get interesting with Leon, Chiles and Lincoln set to duke it out, beginning with Thursday’s semifinal between the Timberwolves and Trojans. The winner will face the Lions (9-11) on Saturday night.
“We can’t turn the ball over, that’s the key element,” Leon girls coach Bruce Daniels said. “And then not be consumed by the pressures of district play. Postseason play is a different game. Bottom line is to relax, and then for us to not be overconfident because we’ve beaten both these teams by an average of 21 points. That has a tendency to happen, on any level.”
Amongst boys basketball, district tournaments will begin next week, with only a few regular season games remaining. Godby (18-4) takes on Chiles tonight, then will be at Lincoln (16-6) for its senior night Wednesday. East Gadsden (11-11) will be at Leon (18-6) that night as well, with the Lions also hosting Rickards on Friday.
“You keep trying to get better even with one week left,” Cougars boys basketball coach Andy Colville said. “I’m pleased with how we’ve done, especially without our point guard. To be first in the district, (No. 9 in 4A) and 18-4 with the majority of our minutes going to six juniors and four sophomores is pretty good.”
Wrestling also enters district tournaments, with Godby hosting a 1A meet on Feb. 1 and and Leon hosting a 2A meet on Thursday afternoon at 3. In the latter, Lincoln sits at 23-0 on the year and has won 53 straight matches in total as it begins its postseason run to the history books.