Panthers look back on magical season

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What a memorable season it was for the Nease girls basketball team, who notched big win after big win on its path to the Class 6A final four.

Some seasons are defined by a run that a team went on, but for the Panthers the season got off to a fast start and they were able to pretty much maintain the momentum throughout.

Right out of the gate the Panthers won five of their first six games, with the wins coming against stiff competition, such as Oakleaf, Orange Park and Gainesville Buchholz.

“Coming in, nobody had as high of expectations as we did for ourselves,” Sydney Gomes said.

However, it was the loss to rival St. Augustine in the seventh game of the season where senior Alli Fifield felt the team really come together and discover what they were made of.

“From then on, we knew even though no one thought we would end up winning all the games that we did,” Fifield said.

The Panthers responded by winning 17 of their next 18 games to set the tone for the season as a whole.

That was not the only time the Panthers showcased their mental toughness and responded from a tough defeat by stringing together victories.

The Panthers lost in the district tournament to rival Ponte Vedra, which was a big blow, but were able to quickly refocus and defeat the Sharks one week later to open what would be the first of three-straight playoff triumphs.

“Having to watch them play on our home court and win a district title was tough,” Fifield said.

It was a magical season for players, coaches and fans of the team, and it could not have gone much better for the senior class that included Sydney Gomes, Savannah Gomes, Madison Crawford and Fifield.

“It was everything I wanted in my senior year,” Fifield said.

Although they finished two wins shy of a state title, the Panthers are happy with the final four trip because it proves that all the hard work they put in during the offseason and in practice throughout the season came to fruition.

“Not many people get to play on that court (at RP Funding Center in Lakeland),” Fifield said. “It is the dream of every (Florida) high school basketball player.”

Both Fifield and Gomes credit head coach Sherri Anthony and the Nease coaching staff for helping them improve their game to the point where they will both be playing college ball.

“I knew the coach she was and the history she had of producing some great players,” Gomes said. “We’ve grown pretty close and leaving her is probably the toughest thing about being a senior.”

Being the third Nease team Anthony has guided to the final four is something the group will never forget, and for the underclassmen returning, now that they have tasted the final four, they are going to be hungry to get back again next year.

“It’s always going to be something that’s brought up by not just us, but hopefully the girls in the future can use it as motivation,” Gomes said.

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