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Raven Hoopsters Shooting for State Title

After a record-breaking season, the Alonso High School girls basketball team has lofty goals and unprecedented expectations.

The players welcome both challenges.

“The expectation of success is now the norm with this program,’’ Ravens senior forward Veronica Diaz said. “It’s exciting. We need (championship) banners in this gym.’’

Last year became a banner season, indeed.

Alonso defeated Newsome 42-41 to win the program’s first-ever district championship. The Ravens also captured a playoff game, defeating Orlando Oak Ridge 55-52.

But the season came to a bitter end in Alonso’s gymnasium when the Ravens fell against Orlando Olympia 60-41 in the region semifinals, getting outscored 26-7 in the fourth quarter.

Even though Alonso finished 21-7 — a proud accomplishment — the last game has lingered.

“It’s one of those things you never really forget,’’ said Ravens senior guard Ariel Scott. “It was a shock. It was hard to deal with. But it caused us to refocus. We know our goals and we’re ready to go after them. That hasn’t changed.’’

One thing has changed with the program.

There’s a new head coach, Hannah Kotzen, last season’s assistant. Former head coach Bamar Lewis departed after getting a job opportunity in Atlanta.

The transition has been smooth under Kotzen, a former Gulf High School standout who played junior-college ball, then two seasons at Warner University.

Kotzen, whose college point-guard career was highlighted by games of 39 points and 18 assists, has embraced her new role and believes the Ravens will continue their upward trajectory.

“They know what I expect of them and how I coach,’’ Kotzen said. “I place a lot of demands on them. This team can go as far as it wants to go. The only obstacle is themselves.

“We have talked as a team and they want a state title. That’s a great goal. We have to stay humble and take every game as it comes. They saw how close we were last season to Lakeland (site of the state’s final four). Losing like we did was crushing. But I think it has motivated them.’’

Kotzen said she expects the offense to run through Scott, a six-footer who creates matchup problems in the backcourt, and sophomore Carly Price, daughter of Alonso’s boys basketball coach, Todd Price.

Scott averaged 13.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. She has committed to a scholarship with the University of North Florida.

Meanwhile, Price’s work ethic has impressed Kotzen.

“I’ve never seen a girl shoot the way Carly can and I’ve been playing a very long time,’’ Kotzen said. “She’s the kind of player who gets here at five in the morning and stays long after practice, just working on her game.

“Sometimes, we’ll have competitive shooting games and she will beat me. So she’s going to be a weapon for us, no doubt about it.’’

The Ravens welcome back six-foot senior center Alyssa Jones, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“Her raw talent is ridiculous,’’ Kotzen said. “She can dominate. She would’ve really helped last season. In the playoffs (against Orlando Olympia), they had a big (player) and we didn’t (inside). And that cost us.

“Now I think we have a great inside game and great outside shooting. It’s the kind of versatility you need.’’

The Ravens have added senior 5’ 8” point guard Jacquelyn  LeVay, a transfer from Sickles who started for the Gryphons. The presence of LeVay, who led the Gryphons in scoring (15.9 points per game last season) allows Price to play at shooting guard, strengthening the lineup.

Kotzen also is high on freshman six-footer Lilly Barns, who was girls athlete of the year last season at Davidsen Middle School.

“Lilly is a huge pickup for us,’’ Kotzen said. “When she gets in the weight room and develops more physically, I think she’s going to be something else. She will be huge for us next year, but I think she’s going to contribute a lot the season as well.’’

Price said the lineup looks solid. Now the Ravens have an important intangible — confidence.

“We had big goals last season and we were able to achieve some of them,’’ Price said. “It pushes you to go further and work even harder.’’

Alonso begins its regular season on Nov. 28 with a home game against Wharton.

By Joey Johnston

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