Fresh off a third consecutive FHSAA girls basketball state championship, Winter Haven has been invited to the biggest ball in high school hoops – the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals.
WINTER HAVEN – The slipper fits.
Fresh off a third consecutive FHSAA girls basketball state championship, Winter Haven has been invited to the biggest ball in high school hoops — the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, N.Y.
“That’s been one of our dreams. We always wanted to be there, and this is a dream come true,” Winter Haven head coach Johnnie Lawson said. In addition to being head coach for the three straight titles, he was also an assistant when the Blue Devils won state championships in 2005 and 2007.
The girls four-team semifinal will be played at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 30 and televised on ESPNU. The title game is March 31 at 10 a.m. on ESPN2.
Winter Haven (33-1), ranked 13th nationally and winners of the FHSAA Class 8A state championship this month, will face No. 8 Hamilton Heights Christian out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the first game. Hamilton Heights won the National Association of Christian Athletes title this season.
“Gee, they are huge. I don’t think I have played a team this big. They have two McDonald's All-Americans. They have four players over 6-foot, and the center is 6-6,” Lawson. “It will be a huge challenge.”
No. 9 Central Valley from Spokane, Washington – a 4A state champion — will square off against Atlanta West Lake, the Georgia 7A state champion in the second game.
“I just want to encourage the kids to dream. I just wanted to sit at the adult table," Lawson said. "I felt like as long as I didn’t win a state championship, I was always sitting at the kids' table. But I am here now, and it is mind-boggling. I am overwhelmed.”
Winter Haven plans to fly to New York on March 29 and return March 31 win or lose.
The eight-team boys tournament includes two teams from Florida, No.1-ranked Montverde Academy — a three-time national champion —and second-ranked Fort Lauderdale University, which won the FHSAA 5A title at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland last week.
(This story will be updated)