MAYO, Fla. — The faces may change, but the expectations do not for the Lafayette High girls basketball team.
Coming off a 21-4 campaign that ended in the regional playoffs, the Hornets return three starters in seniors Renee Clines and Charlie James and sophomore Brooklyn Fleming.
“They understand our tradition, what we’re here to do, and that’s to play for district championships, to go to state and play in the final four,” LHS coach Jimmy Blankenship said.
Blankenship admitted Lafayette’s 56-51 upset loss to Hawthorne in the regional final was a disappointing ending.
The Hornets also must replace stalwarts Jasmine Lewis, who is now playing for Lurleen B Wallace Community College after starting at LHS for five years, and Khari Jackson. Lewis averaged 17.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game a year ago, finishing her prep career with 2,155 points. Jackson added 11.5 points per game last year.
Clines, who transferred to Lafayette from Columbia a year ago, will be counted on to lead the way this winter. She averaged 16.2 points last season, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.
“She’ll take over as leader of our team,” Blankenship added.
Fleming, who just finished the season with the LHS volleyball team that won a district title, will
return as a sophomore; her second season with the basketball team. She starts at power forward where she averaged 7.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last year.
“I’m a pretty good post player, I’m a good defensive player, and I can rebound pretty good,” Fleming said. ”I hope that we can make it to state and win.”
Blankenship said the team will rely on the experience of that trio, but the team also will need help from its youth, too.
Prior to the start of the regular season, the Hornets face Cedar Key and Trenton in preseason games Nov. 12 and Nov. 14 in Trenton, both starting at 3:30 p.m. Lafayette’s first home game is Nov. 21 against Bronson at 7:30 p.m.
The Hornets will also be in a new-look district — 5-1A — that includes Dixie County and Taylor County this year in addition to Hamilton County, Jefferson County and Madison County.
“Hamilton has been our biggest rival over the years, I think we’ve played them eight or nine times in the district championship game,” Blankenship said.
During Blankenship’s 20-year tenure, LHS has racked up the district titles with 14, but the team wants a state title.
“We’ve been to five or six final fours, and we’ve come close a number of times,” Blankenship said. “The girls know what are the main goals. It’s a new team and new opportunity to try to play and win a state championship.”
To try and obtain that goal, he said he prepares the team with a tough schedule.
“We always try to play the best. We go to a number of different tournaments, and have to go out of the area for competition,” he said, adding this year’s slate includes Oak Hall, Providence and Wildwood, which won state several years ago.
“We’re not afraid to play anyone because it can only help us for the playoffs, and that’s our goal, to do well in the playoffs,” Blankenship said. “We hold our own, we’re not afraid to play them, you have to to be successful.
“The girls understand what being a Hornet basketball means because their aunts, cousins and sisters played before them, and it’s a big thing to be a Lady Hornet basketball player.”
The Lafayette boys team, though, is looking to bounce back from a 10-11 season last year that ended in the first round of the district tournament.
The Hornets are also having to replace leading scorer Ben Massey as well as Garrison Edwards.
“That’s a different story, we’re having to rebuild that team,” said Blankenship, who is in his second season as the boys coach as well. “We graduated eight … but we’re bringing up the young ones.
“We’re young, talented and ready to get out there.”
The Hornets also in a waiting pattern with the LHS football team entering the postseason. Blankenship said eight or nine players are on the football team and that doesn’t count Adam Perry, who is out after being injured this fall.
Due to the football team’s success, the Hornets have already withdrawn from their first tournament of the year at Wildwood. They were scheduled to play Umatilla and Wiregrass Ranch.