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Playoff victory helps Ahfachkee end season with optimism

BOCA RATON — Ahfachkee School basketball coach Greg Stephens is a big believer that programs start with effort, which is why he was pleased with what he saw in his girls team’s final game this season.

The scoreboard showed a lopsided loss as Ahfachkee dropped a Class 2A-District 7 semifinal to host and No. 1 seed Grandview Prep, but Stephens pointed to his players’ desire rather than the final score.

Ahfachkee only had five players and Stephens said they never complained nor asked to come out of the game.

“I can’t be more proud of them,” said Stephens, who is in his first season as Ahfachkee’s girls and boys coach. “They showed up tonight knowing that we had five and out of the five I had one that’s hurt and one that’s sick, but they showed up. As a coach, you’ve got to be proud when you’ve got five girls who want to [play] and they kept playing hard. Right there at the end, we were still fighting and battling for rebounds and playing hard, and that’s all I can ask. That’s where programs start when you have that kind of effort.”

Ahfachkee’s points were scored by Lele Gopher with six and Abby Tigertail with four.

Grandview went on to win the district championship and advanced to the regional finals before being knocked out with a one-point loss to Miami Christian.

The team played without three of their top players who were either hurt or out sick. Even with a depleted squad, Ahfachkee started the playoffs with six players and notched a first round win against Glades Day School, 45-22, on Feb. 4.

Ahfachkee shook off a bit of slow start before cruising to victory.

“You always want to take steps forward and this is a step forward,” Stephens said.

Gopher was a source of consistency as she scored eight points in both halves to finish with a game-high 16. Tigertail, who excelled at controlling the pace of the game, contributed 13 points.

Ahfachkee trailed 8-3 in the first quarter before the Lady Seminoles found their groove offensively both inside and outside. Gopher hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, which ended with Ahfachkee ahead 18-15.

Romona Jimmie sank two 3-pointers in the second half as the Lady Seminoles pulled away, much to the delight of the Ahfachkee supporters in the stands.

Jimmie, Aleah Bilie and Destinee Cypress each had six points while Thomlynn Billie, the team’s only senior, provided valuable minutes down low at both ends.

“Thomlynn is a good leader for us,” Stephens said. “She does a lot of stuff people don’t see out there. When you can occupy the other team’s big people, it helps. She gets in there and she battles. I like a lot of that intangible stuff that doesn’t show up in the [score]books and that’s what Thomlynn does for us.”

Losing just one senior should bode well for next year’s squad which will return its leading scorers and have some playoff experience to build upon.

“It’s a building process,” Stephens said. “We’ve taken some giant steps to help with that; now we’ll take some time off and we’ll come back…Hopefully the numbers will grow.”

After beating Glades Day in a first-round district playoff game Feb. 4, the Ahfachkee School girls basketball is joined by one of its biggest fans, Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger, far right. The players are, from left, front row: Aleah Billie, Ramona Jimmie and Abby Tigertail; from left, back row: Thomlynn Billie, Destinee Cypress and Lele Gopher. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Ahfachkee’s Thomlynn Billie, center, gets her hand on the ball against Glades Day. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Ahfachkee’s Ramona Jimmie lines up a 3-point shot in a district playoff game against Glades Day. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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