Lily Bonello (1) played her sophomore and senior years for Seacrest Country Day School's girls basketball team. The Stingrays did not have a team her junior year. GREGG HARDY/CSI
With 3:36 left on the clock and her team on the losing end of a game that had long since been decided, Ty’Nazia Smith launched her body into the air with reckless abandon.
A few minutes later, after the Seacrest Country Day girls basketball team lost its Private 8 Conference tournament road game, 63-46, to St. John Neumann, some Stingrays couldn’t hide their emotions. The tears began to flow.
Smith’s effort and the raw postgame emotion was affirmation to coach Nikita Carty that he made the right decision by leaving his Fort Lauderdale roots to resurrect the Seacrest girls basketball program. (Last year, Seacrest was unable to field a team due to injuries, a player transfer and some girls choosing to focus on other sports.)
But simply putting a group of girls on the floor and playing out the schedule was not the objective for Carty, nor his young squad. Ineligible for the postseason, the inaugural Private 8 tournament was, in effect, the Stingrays’ postseason.
“We’re here to build. We’re off to a good start, but this one hurt,” Carty said after the Jan. 19 loss at Neumann (which the Stingrays followed up three days later by beating First Baptist Academy, 41-33, in the Private 8 tourney’s third-place game, also serving as Seacrest’s final home game.)
Carty then quoted his lone senior, Lily Bonello, to encapsulate his team’s attitude toward the resurrection of Seacrest girls basketball: “Lily has this phrase; she says she wants to put Seacrest on the map. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
With a 13-4 record, including a 55-46 home win over Neumann a few weeks ago and a 45-44 nail-biter road loss to a strong Golden Gate squad, it’s safe to assume the rest of Southwest Florida now knows about Seacrest. The Stingrays have two games remaining: Wednesday at Community School of Naples (9-5) and Friday at Southwest Florida Christian (1-14).
(Editor’s note: Before this season, Seacrest girls basketball had one winning season, according to MaxPreps.com — the 2010-11 campaign when the Stingrays went 15-9.)
Carty mused: “Coming from no season last year til now, it probably shocked a lot of people like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
It was Bonello, said Carty, who helped him lay the foundation for what’s to come at Seacrest. The Stingrays’ leading scorer, Bonello reached or exceeded 20 points in multiple games this season.
“She’s the leader on our team and has been strong all year,” Carty said. “If it’s not in the points column, she gives us everything she has under the basket, on the perimeter, defensively. She gives us that edge that we need.
“We really wanted to get this (Private 8 title) for Lily. But it didn’t work out that way.”
(Bonello fouled out in the fourth quarter at Neumann. Before going to the bench, she shared an embrace with Celtics coach John Wholihan, who coached her and the rest of Seacrest’s previous squad during the 2018-19 season.)
Seacrest received key contributions from other players this season, including Smith and fellow freshman Madison D’Elia, who dropped a game-high 28 points in the Stingrays’ win over Neumann on Jan. 5. Junior Kiley McCarty also gave Seacrest consistent double-digit point production.
Carty praised the tenacious Smith for her two encounters with Celtics senior point guard Natalie Bergstrom, easily one of Southwest Florida’s top point guards. Bergstrom managed to score 18 and 20 points in the two games, but Smith made her work for them.
“(Bergstrom) scored a thousand points, so she’s not a slouch at all,” Carty said. “It was quite a matchup for (Smith), but she competed. I see her only getting better moving forward.”
Injuries were a big issue for Seacrest this season. Carty said he started the season with 10 players but, as of last week, his active roster was trimmed down to six. And, they lost two starters.
“But they fight,” Carty said of his still-standing players.
Asked if he could have expected to have a 13-4 record this late in the season, Carty said, “I had high expectations because I know the work that we put in. We work hard every time we come to practice. The intensity is high.
“I’m new to the area, so I don’t understand. I went in there optimistic and blind, but I’m happy. I tell the girls all the time I’m proud of them for what they’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
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