After winning its first state title last season, American Heritage preaches defense as the Patriots seek two in a row
PLANTATION — American Heritage’s press was so suffocating, unforgiving and overwhelming in its season opener that the Patriots looked like they were already in mid-to-late season form.
Heritage used its seemingly impenetrable defense to frustrate Mater Academy Charter to the tune of a 67-24 win Nov. 20 in Plantation.
Mater was an 8A district champion last season and reached the state regional semifinals, but it was no match for the Patriots.
For the first time in school history, the Heritage girls basketball team enters a season as a defending state champion thanks to capturing the Class 6A crown last season.
Seminole sisters December Stubbs and Tiana Stubbs, of Hollywood, played key roles in last year’s championship drive and return this season as juniors on a club that lost a few key players, but still picked up where it left off.
“It’s kind of the same. Really good defense. Everybody can play,” Tiana said in comparison to last year’s squad.
“The team is good. I see us making it far because we have good chemistry; we just have to work hard,” added December, a starting point guard.
In last year’s state championship win against Ponte Vedra, the Stubbs made their presence felt as they combined for 16 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
In this year’s opener, December and Heritage’s two other starting guards – Daniella Aronsky and Jenna Laue – were all over Mater guards with a fierce, in-your-face press that forced backcourt turnovers and helped Heritage build a 49-12 halftime lead.
“We’ve been working on it because we’ve been having a tough time lately running the press, but we got to where we can turn them over and just get easy points,” December said.
Defense will likely be the determining factor to how far Heritage will go this season. A significant chunk of offense and size departed with the graduation of leading scorers Femi Funeus and Tyaliah Willis, but the team is still expected to be in contention for another trip to Lakeland and returns plenty of size with Taliyah Wyche, Tatyana Wyche and Paris Sharpe.
“This year I think we have a much deeper team,” said Heritage coach Greg Farias, who guided the squad to a 23-7 record last year. “We’re more athletic and we play better defense. We’ll struggle a little offensively because when you lose Femi that averaged 20 (points) and Ty that averaged 20, it’s a big loss, but defensively we’ve upped our game.”
December’s role has also been ‘upped’ as she was named one of three captains. She’s the only junior who is a captain; the other two – Sharpe and Laue – are seniors.
“Very rarely do we have underclassmen (be a captain), but she’s the heart and soul of our team, so with the two seniors, I selected her as my team captain as a junior,” Farias said.
In addition to her tenacious defense, December scored back-to-back layups that staked Heritage to an 8-0 lead against Mater. Tiana came off the bench midway through the first quarter and sank her first 3-pointer of the season from the corner that made it 21-2.
Tiana, who excelled from 3-point land a year ago, added another basket from beyond the arc and finished with nine points. December finished with eight points and had an assist on a layup by Tiana.
Last year Farias scheduled a tough regular season slate and this year is no different.
‘I want to play the best competition because that’s going to get us ready for states,” he said.
Heritage will play in two national tournaments, including the She Got Game Classic from Dec. 14-16 in Washington D.C. The invitation tournament will feature more than 120 teams from New England, the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Australia and Canada. The Patriots are one of seven teams from Florida in the tournament. They’re scheduled to play Eleanor Roosevelt High School of Maryland on Dec. 14, Penn Hills from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Dec. 15 and Elizabeth Seton from Maryland on Dec. 16.
In the last week of December, Heritage will cross Alligator Ally to play in the Naples Holiday Shootout which will feature teams from Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The Patriots will visit longtime state powerhouse Dillard on Jan. 9. The teams hooked up for an intense regular season clash last season won by Dillard, 52-42.
It’s a long road to get back to Lakeland – last year’s team played 30 games – but early indications have Heritage pointed in the right direction. Farias said he preaches a one-game-at-a-time mentality.
“It will be tough, but if we played the way we played (against Mater) – and I always preach defense, intensity and play hard – we’ll be good,” Farias said.
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Similar to last year, American Heritage’s junior varsity girls basketball team features plenty of Seminoles. Junior Jessalynn Osceola, freshmen Madison Jumper and Skye Stubbs and seventh-grader Armani Torres all saw significant playing time in the team’s season opening loss to Mater’s JV on Nov. 20. Madison handled point guard duties. Skye is the younger sister of the varsity’s December and Tiana Stubbs.