OKEECHOBEE — Besides trying to stay safe from the pandemic, the Okeechobee High School girls basketball players had plenty of things to work on during the summer.
Defense, cardio and team chemistry topped the Brahmans’ agenda. Their hard work has paid off. Through the first nine games of this season, the Brahmans were undefeated.
A commitment to defense resulted in keeping opponents to 30 or fewer points in six of the first nine games.
Coach Jovanny Torres, now in his third year at the helm, said the team has far exceeded his expectations.
“We’ve locked in on defense. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I love it. Our whole goal this summer was to play better defense,” Torres said.
The team has received strong performances from a trio of Seminoles – junior Adryauna Baker and senior sisters Caylie and Haylie Huff – who each bring different strengths to the squad.
Baker, a starting guard who often leads the team’s fast breaks, has picked up where she left off after an outstanding sophomore season. She plays travel ball for Chobee Nation and said her shooting improved during the summer, but she’s also quick to point out that as a team, Okeechobee’s defense is better than a year ago.
“That’s what helped us get such a lead in our games,” she said.
The chemistry factor has helped, too. It’s a tighter team that in previous years.
“We’re really a family; we’re a bunch of sisters and we really trust each other with everything – defense and offense,” Baker said.
In several games, Baker has been matched up against an opponent’s top player, but it hasn’t hampered her production. She has scored in double digits in six straight games, including a pair of 20-plus nights.
“She’s leading the team in steals, assists, points and is second in rebounds. She’s doing everything right now. I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Torres said.
He has similar sentiments about the Huffs.
As the only seniors this season, Caylie and Haylie had the senior night spotlight all to themselves. Senior nights are usually held at the end of regular seasons, but Okeechobee opted to honor the Huffs in the first game just to be on the safe side in case the season were to be shut down due to the pandemic.
A pregame ceremony with family and flowers marked their tributes.
After taking a couple years off from basketball, Haylie returned this season and has stepped up her game coming off the bench. She scored a season-high eight points in a win against Central-Fort Pierce.
“She’s doing great for a girl who took two years off from basketball,” Torres said. “She’s working on her post moves. We’re a small team and she’s not so tall, but she definitely knows how to use her body and we definitely need that against a lot of teams.”
Torres said box scores don’t begin to tell the value in Haylie’s game. Her strength doesn’t come in numbers.
“If you look at it on paper, it doesn’t look like she does much, but she’s the one creating the space for them to rebound…she’s making really good post moves and getting some of these bigger girls that we play into foul trouble, which helps us a lot,” Torres said.
Caylie also is a valuable non-starter with a soft shooting touch.
“Caylie knows her role,” Torres said. “It’s kind of hard as a senior to come off the bench, but she’s embraced that role. She comes in and she does her job. She shoots her 3s.”
With a season abbreviated to 14 regular season games, Okeechobee won’t be able to match its 20-win season from a year ago, but they’re doing just about everything else to make sure it’s a memorable season.
“We went to overtime in the first game, but since that game, they’ve been on a rampage,” Torres said. “We’re playing off our defense. We’re getting steals and layups. It’s finally all starting to come together. As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Any thoughts of an undefeated season ended Dec.17 when undefeated state powerhouse Lincoln Park Academy-Fort Pierce dealt Okeechobee its first loss, 66-50, in the Brahmans’ final game before the holiday break.
Okeechobee’s JV team, which is also enjoying a strong season, defeated Lincoln Park before the varsity game. The JV squad includes the tribe’s Giselle Micco, who has played a couple varsity games, and Jana Johnson.