Gainesville, FL. Written By: Kyrin Mayfield
Winning a state championship is difficult on its own.
But when the number one team in the country stands in the way, it might seem easier to juggle five flaming chainsaws.
P.K. Yonge will need to do just that on Wednesday at 10 a.m., when they take on Miami Country Day in the FHSAA Girls Basketball 4A State Semifinals. The Blue Wave made it to the state semis, last year. But this time, they’re facing a team who’s won five state championships in a row.
Head coach Willie Powers has been at the helm of the program for 17 years, but has yet to face an opponent as tough as this.
Although, he’s getting his team ready.
“We’re putting eight on defense,” Powers said with a chuckle, “and just believing we can play with them. The whole thing about it is we take care of the ball as good as we do, and we’ll just see what happens at the end.”
The ball will be in good hands with Courtney Moore, who’s averaging five assists per game along with 15 points and four steals. She said she’s ready to take on the toughest team she’s ever faced.
“I’m always ready,” said Moore. “They do have some pretty good girls, and we’re going to have to step up big time because our competition this year isn’t anything close to what we’re getting ready to face. We’re preparing now and I think we’ll be ready.”
They demolished their schedule, as they are 28-1 on the season and averaging 65 points per game. That’s an improved record compared to previous successful seasons when they went to the regional finals in 2017 and the state semifinals last year.
“We’re getting older,” Powers said. “The kids are believing in what I’m saying. We had a stretch where kids didn’t believe in what coach was saying. Now we got kids believing in what we do and it shows because we get to the final four.”
And there’s still room to grow. P.K. Yonge’s top two scorers are Moore, a junior, and Mya McGraw, a sophomore. Having a good offense is important, but McGraw, who averages 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game, knows a good team is balanced and that they need to work on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think communication is key,” said McGraw, “especially on defense. I think the offense will get the hang of it, but defense wins games. If we play good defense and stay out of foul trouble and protect the rim, we should be straight.”
Even though she realizes there’s always room for improvement, she's happy with the foundation the team has built this year and how coach Powers has stressed the importance watching film.
“That’s what the team's all about,” McGraw said. “Good habits, communication and watching film to see what we need to work on. When you watch film, you look back at the mistakes you made and go on the court and try to change it. When you don’t watch your mistakes it becomes a habit. When you try to fix things, you try to break that habit, and turn in into a good habit.”