Sherri Anthony is no stranger to winning. The Nease girls basketball coach is closing in on her 600th win in 33 seasons at Nease, and this team may be her best yet.
The Lady Panthers are 23-1 heading into the regular season finale against Seabreeze High School on Friday night, are the No. 1-ranked team in Class 7A, have outscored opponents 1,503-712 and show no signs of slowing down.
The team is loaded with talent, including standout seniors Camille Hobby, Kiya Turner, Tia Robinson and Peyton Carter, and it’s hard to imagine what could stop this juggernaut, but Anthony doesn’t want to look too far ahead.
“We don’t know what that moment is going to be until we get there, so we just definitely try to focus on the game at hand and get that done,” Anthony said. “Tia [Robinson] said it best, ‘If you’re worried about the last hurdle but you miss the first one, you’re probably not going to get to the last one.’ So, you really can’t afford to look ahead.”
Nease narrowly lost in the Elite Eight of the 2018 state championships, falling 47-42 to Choctawhatchee High School. Although winning a state title would certainly be a goal for any team, Anthony said in no way would the season be a disappointment if that doesn’t happen.
“I am involved with many coaches at many different levels, and I know they would all die to be in the Elite Eight for three years in a row, or to win three district championships,” she said. “We won the conference championship last year, people tend to forget all that, and the records, and the fact the kids are doing great academically, or they’re going to Division I schools to play basketball. How in the world are you going to be disappointed when you’ve accomplished all that? There’s one team in the state of Florida that’s going to win the 7A state championship. Of course, I would like it to be us. But to say that it will be a disappointment if we don’t get it. There’s no way. I’ve coached for 33 years, so that would mean 32 years of my life have been disappointing.”
The team’s success is already confirmed, Anthony said. Her players are flourishing academically, and four will be headed to Division 1 schools after the season. Hobby signed with NC State, Turner signed with Middle Tennessee State, Carter will play for Davidson (N.C.) College and Robinson will likely make her decision in the next couple of weeks, Anthony said.
Anthony also wants to make sure the players take time to enjoy what they’ve accomplished so far, something she’s trying to work on herself.
“The biggest thing I think I’ve had to fight over the years with myself, as well as with the kids, is that as soon as you win a big game, or any game, you think OK, ‘Who’s next and what do I have to do to prepare,’ and then you forget to enjoy what you just did,” she said. “And I hate that because I don’t want them to be so worried about the next one that they forget what happened last night and what a great game they played.”
And they’ve played a lot of great games. Turner is working on her 1,500th point of her high school career, while Hobby and Robinson have over 1,000 points each. Not bad considering this season, the starters often weren’t even able to play all four quarters because of the number of blowouts Nease has had.
Anthony said in some way that hurts her star players when it comes to postseason accolades or All-Star rosters, because she doesn’t want to run up the score. But she also wants to make sure her players get the credit they deserve.
“Sometimes it’s hard as a coach to know what to do,” Anthony said. “Do I run up the score inadvertently leaving this player in the whole game, so she can get the stats, or do I not play her, and she doesn’t get those extra points and I try to argue the case later, which is what I end up doing nine times out of 10. It’s a hard call, and it’s been especially hard this year because we have so much talent.”
Perhaps the most talented team she’s had at Nease, and certainly the most athletic. Anthony won the state championship with Nease in the 1998-99 season, when the team was in 5A. She said that team boasted great shooters, but didn’t have the athleticism this team has, although they do share many common traits.
“Both teams, what they did, is they bought into what we’ve asked of them, they love each other, they work hard for their coaches and they love the game,” Anthony said. “Those are the qualities they both have.”
And while not wanting to think ahead too much, Anthony can’t help but hope this team gets a taste of what her team felt like 20 years ago,
“I pray this team will get to see what that’s like, because they deserve it and they’ve earned it,” she said. “But if that doesn’t happen, I hope people realize that they’re human, they’re kids, and things happen that they can’t control.”
But, at the end of the day, she wants her team and everyone else to know this season is already a huge success.
“If anybody tries to say these kids should be disappointed no matter how it ends up, there’s no way,” Anthony said. “There’s too many things to be happy about and to be thankful for.”
Anthony will go for her 600th win when Nease plays Seabreeze at home at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 31 for Senior Night. The Lady Panthers will host the first-round district tournament game at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 5.