Left to right: Mya Giusto, Sydney Eugene, Yasmeen Chang and Marina Hodo pose for a photo after Wednesday's college signing ceremony at Gulf Coast High School. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Now that everybody has their college choices out of the way (Wednesday’s signing day was an epic event in the school’s history), the Gulf Coast High School girls basketball team can get back to its “mission” work.
After falling short of a state title the last two years, the Sharks have made it their mission to not let that happen again. Coach Mark Woodruff likes his team’s chances … if everyone can stay healthy.
“They say a great team needs to be lucky and good,” said Woodruff, who has guided Gulf Coast to a 52-6 record over the last two seasons. “We’ve got the good part figured out; now we have to figure out the lucky part.”
The Sharks are due for some good breaks.
During last year’s Class 8A regional finals (a 55-52 loss at Tampa Bay Tech), Jordan Cloutier, now a freshman at Stetson, was knocked unconscious on the first possession of the second half.
Two years ago, the Sharks lost point guard Mya Giusto to a torn ACL in the opening minutes of the state semifinals (a 68-41 loss to eventual champ Winter Haven).
Now a senior, Giusto has one more chance and plans to make the most of it.
“We’ve all been here since sixth grade,” Giusto said, referring to Gulf Coast’s starting five of her, Yasmeen Chang, Sydney Eugene, Marina Hodo and Savannah Reimer. “There’s no one I’d rather be doing this with. We all want to make sure we go out on top.”
Gulf Coast’s senior starters tipped off their final season in style Tuesday night. After the school held a pregame celebration that allowed them to don the shirts of their college choices, the Sharks strolled past Canterbury School, 77-41, in a preseason contest.
Chang was beaming after making her big decision to play for the University of Miami. She’s been told she’ll immediately be part of the Hurricanes’ rotation.
“They’re young. They’ll have three freshmen, including me,” the 5-10 combo guard said. “And I just know in my own mind that I’ll be able to contribute a lot.”
Chang said the final decision came down to three schools: Miami, Georgia and Florida.
“I met Coach (Katie) Meier and I met their players,” Chang said of her choice to join the Canes. “It felt like we were all family.
“I’m glad this part is over. It’s a stress reliever. Now I can enjoy the rest of my career. And then I’ve already decided I want to play pro ball. That’s a done deal.”
That’s not arrogance, her coach said. That’s just Yas being Yas.
“I won’t bet against her,” Woodruff said. “She’s confident without the ego. She knows she’s good without having to tell you she’s good.”
Giusto had decided nearly a year ago to attend and play for the University of Tampa.
“I fell in love with the place. I go there quite often,” she said, “It already feels like home to me. I can’t wait to move up there.”
Chang and Giusto are the Sharks’ leading ladies, but the supporting cast got their moment in the sun as well. Eugene will play for Bridgewater (Va.) College, while fellow forward Hodo signed with Maryville (Tenn.) College. Reimer, a guard, just secured preferred walk-on status at Florida Southwestern College.
Woodruff gave his take on that supporting cast:
• “(Eugene’s) probably the most athletic player I’ve ever coached. Still growing. Made it to state track in the 200 and 400. Has an intrinsic desire inside her to win.”
• “So rewarding to see (Hodo) sign. She’s had to work so hard to get to this point. She’s 5-81/2 or 5-9 and she had held her own against all the big girls we’ve put her up against her whole career.”
• “(Reimer) comes from a basketball family. Started as a freshman and weiged about 80 pounds. Had a couple of academic issues but got everything straightened out. Very proud of her.”
All told, nine seniors — Meghan Carney, Alexa Ruane, Mary Belfore and Bessline Vernau are the others — will be leaving the Gulf Coast program at season’s end. (The Sharks have 11 players listed on their roster, including sophomore Jordyn Robinson and freshman Reese Tremitiere).
Will that spell the end of the Sharks’ run of success? Guess again. Woodruff expects his JV team to go undefeated, as it went 3-1 against varsity teams in a recent tournament.
But first things first. The Sharks will defend their title at two invitational tournaments in which they defeated the Delaware and Louisiana state champions last season. They’ll also travel to Miami to face Secular Christian, one of the state’s top teams.
“I think this group is very focused and determined,” Woodruff said. “They realize what’s at stake and they don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Following Wednesday’s ceremony inside the GCHS Media Room, the Sharks’ senior college signees were asked how their time playing for Gulf Coast will prepare them for college basketball.
Said Hodo: “It’s really fast. Obviously, college is going to be a different level, but we’re all going to be able to get through it. We’ll make it because we’re used to the quick intensity and stuff like that.”
Said Eugene: “At (Bridgewater), it’s very fast-paced, very quick. Keeping up with everyone is going to be easy because we already do it. I just got to get focused on getting big in the weight room.”
Said Giusto: “I think we play against great competition everyday in practice, just as we do in games, so that’s going to prepare us for the next level very well. (It’s) high intensity, family-oriented and a great culture over here that I can’t wait to pursue in college.”
Said Chang: “It’s great repetition — how we go over and over the plays and stuff. We compete with each other, and it makes us better.”
CSI editor Gregg Hardy contributed to this report.