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PECS girls conclude season with championship win

The Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School girls basketball team shows who is No. 1 after winning the Around the Lake tournament championship Jan. 14, 2023, in Brighton. Front row, left to right, are Zoie Foster-Snow, Elainna Fonseca, Adreaonna Gore, Eriyana McQueen, Melaine Bonilla, Kulipa Julian, Cherrish Micco and Ila Trueblood. In the back row, left to right, are assistant coach Amanda Julian, Dyani Kayda, Ciani Smith, Eleanor Osceola, Azariah Washington, Annaleise Gore, Jalene Smith, Charisma Micco and head coach Jovanny Torres. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

BRIGHTON — When Jovanny Torres was a head coach at Okeechobee High School, his girls basketball teams – which had plenty of success – were known for their tough defense.

Nothing changed when Torres became head coach at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, where he is also the athletic director.

“I preach defense,” he said. “Anybody can score, but not a lot of teams can play defense.”

Not a lot of teams could play defense the way PECS did in the championship game of the Around the Lake conference tournament.

Playing on its former home court – the Brighton Recreation gym – PECS stifled LaBelle from start to finish on its way to winning the title, 21-13, on Jan. 14.

Hoisting the championship trophy marked the end to a memorable season for PECS, which didn’t have a team the past two years due to the pandemic.

PECS players, from left to right, Cherrish Micco, Charisma Micco, Jalene Smith, Kulipa Julian and Azariah Washington battle LaBelle for a loose ball against LaBelle in the Around the Lake championship Jan. 14, 2023. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

“We’ve only been playing together for two months and it’s all come together. I’m super proud of them. They did a super job,” Torres said.

PECS came as close to perfection as possible. A one-point loss to LaBelle in the regular season was the lone blemish in a 13-1 record.

At the Around the Lake, PECS won all three of its games in the three-team double elimination tournament that included LaBelle and Sebastian Charter. Charisma Micco led PECS with eight points in the title game (LaBelle would have had to beat PECS twice to win the title). Melaine Bonilla (five points) and Azariah Washington (four points) were the team’s other top scorers.

Micco, an 8th grader, was a standout at both ends of the court in the tournament.

Strong defense from Kulipa Julian, left, and Melaine Bonilla, right, played a big role in PECS’ championship win in the Around the Lake tournament Jan. 14, 2023, in Brighton. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

“She’s a tremendous athlete and she’s the most humble kid you’ll ever meet. Very respectful. She’s been a pleasure to coach,” Torres said.

Bonilla came off the bench and hit a pivotal 3-pointer when neither teams’ offenses were clicking.

“She’s probably the best shooter on our team. She hit that 3 and that was huge for us,” Torres said.

In the tournament opener, PECS defeated LaBelle 26-17. Micco had nine points followed by Washington with six points and Ila Trueblood with five points.

Trueblood, an 8th grader, was a force on defense throughout the tournament, forcing turnovers and bad shots by opponents. Offensively, she made several drives to the hoop that often resulted in points or drawing fouls.

“Ila Trueblood is also an amazing athlete. She’s everywhere on offense and defense,” Torres said.

In its second game, PECS defeated Sebastian, 31-23. Cherrish Micco was the team’s top scorer with eight points. Charisma Micco had seven points and Washington had five points.

After winning the conference championships in volleyball and basketball, PECS will seek the trifecta in softball with many of the same players. Torres said he expects it will be another championship season.

PECS’s defense frustrated LaBelle all game with plays like this from Ila Trueblood, who prevents a pass by a LaBelle player in the Around the Lake championship Jan. 14, 2023. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
PECS guard Eriyana McQueen dribbles the ball past a LaBelle defender during the Around the Lake championship Jan. 14, 2023, in Brighton. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
PECS players enjoy getting their hands on the Around the Lake championship trophy Jan. 14, 2023, in Brighton. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at