Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Noles in Final Four

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Noles in Final Four

Article excerpt

CLASS 5A-3: Young team grows up before coach John Harder's eyes


After winning his third state title in 30 years last winter with a bunch of seniors, Southeast High girls basketball coach John Harder took his newest group of Seminoles to the University of North Carolina for a summer basketball camp.

The faces were so unfamiliar, the veteran coach did not even know their names.

Even when school began this fall, Harder had trouble putting names to faces when he passed one of his players in the hall.

"That's how new this group was," said Harder, who admits he does not know the names of the three freshmen brought up from the junior varsity for the postseason.

What Harder does know, his babies have grown up in front of his eyes, and they are going back to the Final 4.

In a game that did not feature diamonds, red roses or the finest chocolates, the Seminoles grinded out a 59-53 victory over Fort Myers Cypress Lake in the Class 5A-Region 3 final at Elmer Tremont Gymnasium.

"This means a lot to us, because nobody thought we could do it," Southeast sophomore Marline Valcin said. "Nobody thought we could win districts. We won that. Nobody thought we could make it to states, and we're going to states."

The defending 5A state champions will have their hands full Friday night at The Lakeland Center in the State Semifinal, facing Fort Lauderdale Dillard, the No. 1 team in the state and ranked as high as sixth in the country. Dillard defeated Rockledge, 70-39, to win Region 4.

"It's been a learning experience for them and me," Harder said. "They listen well and do it exactly the way I want to do it. The girls know what we need to do: the domino offense. When we change defenses, they know exactly what to do."

The Seminoles (26-4) took the lead for good late in the second quarter against the pesky defensive-minded Panthers (22-7), who were looking to go to the Final 4 for the second time in school history and first since 1992.

Southeast broke an 18-18 tie and went on a 9-0 run. Seven of the points came at the free-throw line, where Southeast was 11-for-20 in the first half.

"We were missing a lot of free throws at the beginning and turning over the ball," Valcin said. …

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