The state playoff road for high school girls basketball teams begins Thursday, with 24 teams from the First Coast in action.
Two interesting storylines come from relative playoff newcomers, Ridgeview in 1-6A and Menendez in Region 2-6A.
The Falcons (15-10) host Thursday’s regional quarterfinal game against North Marion (12-10). Ridgeview (14-8) will travel to face Bishop Kenny (25-2).
The Panthers and Falcons have a combined four playoff appearances, zero postseason victories and, they say, nothing to lose.
“When I went to Pedro [Menendez], I looked in the banners, looked around and saw, they don’t have one,” said Falcons coach Terrence Washington. “Our M.O. is, ‘why can’t it be us?’ Throughout this whole year, we’ve said we can be the first [to put a banner up]. Why can’t it be us?”
Washington, who played basketball at Nease and spent the past five seasons as an assistant for the girls basketball team there, said it was a change coming to a program with no tradition.
Things were set up well for Washington to stay put at Nease – the area’s top team and a contender for the 7A state title – and perhaps be on staff for a championship-winning season. But the draw of running his own program, even one with as little tradition as Menendez, pulled him away.
The Falcons beat Ponte Vedra 58-41 in the District 5-6A championship on Feb. 7 to win the program’s first district title.
For Ridgeview, girls basketball history was even less than Menendez. The school opened in 1998 and success has eluded it on the basketball court just about ever since. The Panthers only playoff trip came in 2004 where they lost 64-34 to Ribault. They lost their district final to county rival Orange Park, but that was a footnote.
They're still in the playoffs for just the second time in school history.
While their challenge Thursday night against Bishop Kenny (25-2) is a steep one, Ridgeview coach Trent Gilford takes the same vantage point as Menendez’s Washington.
Why can’t it be us?
“Matter of fact it wasn’t just saying, ‘why not us,’” Gilford said. “It was saying, ‘let’s make history,’ and to tell you the truth, to stop being the bottom feeder.”
Gilford, in his fourth season with Ridgeview, said the building of the foundation has taken patience.
There isn’t a glut of experience – Hannah Foster, Heavun McCarver and Brittany Sutton are the only seniors – and little tradition from which to draw from.
But the Panthers have nearly won more games this season than in their previous three combined.
“Have faith, my ideal approach is I’m not going to coach the game, but teach the game as well,” Gilford said. “But the team first it’s never I, it’s the team before anything.”
* A few more playoff nuggets.
Speaking of Kenny, the Crusaders, who outlasted Ribault 52-49 in triple OT to win the district, are positioned to make their deepest playoff run since 1992. The Crusaders won their third straight state championship that season, although they haven’t been to the state final four since.
Sandalwood is after its first state playoff win since 2014.
St. Johns Country Day is seeking its first postseason victory since 1995.
Impact Christian is making its state playoff debut.
Girls basketball playoffs
All games Thursday at 7 p.m. unless indicated
Sandalwood at Seminole
Creekside at Lee
First Coast at Bartram Trail
Columbia at Nease
Middleburg at Ocala Vanguard
Ridgeview at Bishop Kenny
Ribault at Orange Park
Ponte Vedra at Gainesville Eastside
North Marion at Menendez
Bradford at Raines
Bolles at Keystone Heights
Providence at Gainesville P.K. Yonge
Oak Hall at University Christian
St. Johns CD at Florida A&M
North Florida Christian at Trinity Christian, 6 p.m.
First Coast Christian at Aucilla Christian, 6 p.m
Tallavana Christian at Impact Christian
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