Long time coming: Florida School for the Deaf & the Blind girls hoops team treasures 1st playoff berth

Members of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind girls basketball team talk to coach Joy Fraychineaud before a practice on Tuesday night. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – It’s finally starting to sink in.

The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind’s girls basketball team has never been in the state playoffs before.

Decades and decades of play had never yielded a Florida High School Athletic Association state playoff berth — until now.

The Dragons earned the No. 8 seed in Region 1-3A and will travel to face Tallahassee’s Florida High on Thursday night.

Long shot? Sure.

Unexpected? Totally.

Savoring every single moment? There’s no question about that.

Dragons players know that they’ve done something special, something no girls hoops team there has never done before. And they’re relishing every second.

“We’re playing tough with intensity and we show a lot of respect on the court and all support each other,” fifth-year coach Joy Fraychineaud said through an interpreter. “And we’re always doing everything that we can and that’s our big emphasis this year. We’re going to bring that to regionals.”

Fraychineaud said that she thought the Dragons could finish better in the district tournament but lost in overtime to Trinity Christian. They still had a strong enough ranking via MaxPreps to qualify.

Traditionally, FSDB’s focus is on beating similar deaf programs in neighboring states, notably the annual Mason-Dixon tournament. In deaf athletics, that event is the equivalent to the state championship tournament.

FSDB won it in 2019, but that event has been canceled the last two seasons due to the pandemic. The Dragons went unbeaten in three games in the Cajun Classic last December against deaf schools, crushing Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana in blowouts.

“I didn’t think we were going to go into regionals, but now I’m really excited we can do this,” said freshman Ivabella Essex. “I’m so excited for Thursday. It’ll be great.”

Finding comparable success come district time against non-deaf programs hasn’t been in the cards for the Dragons before now. With playoff berths now determined via district champions and rankings points (and not district champs and runners-up), it opens the door to non-traditional playoff teams much more than before. While FSDB’s boys teams have gone to the state playoffs five times before, girls success has been elusive.

“We’re making deaf history, too,” freshman center Kayla Debrow said through an interpreter. “Not just regionals we’ve never been. And finally, we’re a deaf team and we get to. And that makes us feel super proud that we can be part of deaf history as well.”

And the Dragons are far from a team that didn’t deserve a spot there. They’re 17-7 and led by the 6-foot-3 Debrow (11.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg) and senior Olivia Brown (18.1 ppg). FSDB finished in front of the region’s 11 other teams for the eighth and final spot.

“Obviously, we’re the first team to go and it obviously feels very … this is really amazing,” senior Olivia Dainty said through an interpreter. “It’s just, this is amazing. I’m so excited. It’s such an honor to do it.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.