A half-decade ago the Coral Shores High basketball team was still attempting to find its way, but with the path now lined for the Lady ’Canes, this new generation of players is looking to establish its own identity.
“Losing that senior class, those girls paved the way for the program to build, it’s tough,” said Meyers. “But now we have a varsity and junior varsity this season, for the second straight season, with more than 25 players in the program.”
In order to keep that excitement in the program, Meyers acknowledge this team needs to continue to win and in order to do that this season, a lot of the responsibilities will fall to senior Bekky Valenzuela, who was a complementary piece to that graduating class but is now left to led the squad.
“She has been nothing short of miraculous and has really stepped into the No. 1 role,” said Meyers. “She has really come into her own and now it’s her time.
“I think her playing year-round basketball has helped out,” the coach added, noting that the senior has played in North Carolina, Chicago, as well as across Florida to name a few places during the summer months.
Valenzuela will be the Lady ’Canes' point guard on offense, while on defense she will slide down low to a forward position, rotating with sophomore Brooke Mandozzi — who is the daughter of Coral Shores boys basketball coach Jarrod Mandozzi — as the taller lefty will be down low on offense and in a guard role on defense, with Kailee Reinoso stepping back into the other staring guard position.
“It’s not the traditional, you play down and you play up, there will be a lot of rotation on offense and defense, but I think the girls are adapting well,” said Meyers.
“I know we had the two seniors that started last year, but we also had a sophomore and freshman, so we have experience coming back,” the coach continued, pointing to Reinoso and Mandozzi along with the likes of junior Jenna Castillo and senior Kylie Deckard, who received the team’s most improved award last season.
Deckard is expected to fill a starting role at forward left by the graduating class, aided by junior Gabby Mallidis, while classmate Desi Brito is also back for her senior year.
“They didn’t get tons of minutes in the past because they were behind other players, but we expect them to contribute more this year as well,” said Meyers. “I feel we have a good rotation, sometimes going seven, eight players deep.”
Despite having the experience and depth, Meyers also reiterated that he expects this season to be much different than the past four.
“It’s a different type of team, last year we were more fast-paced,” said Meyers. “Now we are more focused on defense and slowing up the offense a little bit. It’s more of a half-court type game.”
Thus far, it has worked, as Coral Shores has been able to battle in every game, winning in double overtime against St. Brendan in the season-opener then beating Marathon after being down by seven with four minutes to play only to lose to Doral after leading by four with two minutes to go in the game.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22, because the seniors paved the way, we can’t get a lot of the teams who traditionally played us to schedule us anymore,” said Meyers. “So the schedule is a lot tougher. Every game seems like it’s going to be a dog fight, which the first week kind of indicated.”
Coral Shores has also been shifted to District 16-4A this season, which includes Palmer Trinity, Westminster Christian, Somerset Silver Palms, all of which were FHSAA playoff teams a year ago, as well as up-and-coming Marathon and Archbishop Carroll.
“We got a bad draw there,” said Meyers. “Honestly, we know the schedule and we just want to play good basketball. If we go .500 with the teams we are playing, I’ll be happy with that, because it’s going to be tough.”
The coach also added that a strong postseason run would more than make up the struggles that could come during the regular season as they try to find their identity beyond the team that put Coral Shores basketball back on the map.
“The girls are resilient,” said Meyers. “Because we haven’t had a lot of girls who haven’t been in a lot of games, we are obviously going to take our bumps, but that goes with playing games.
“I think that Doral game opened up their eyes, because to be beating a regional team from last year with two minutes to play showed them they could play with those type of teams,” Meyers added. “I feel like they are not going to back down.”