Spruce Creek Hawks’ coach and players react to winning state title
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The Spruce Creek Hawks girls’ basketball team won the Class 9A state championship with a 44-43 win over Miami High in the championship game at the Lakeland Civic Center on March 3.
The Hawks won their first hoops title and the first for a team from Volusia or Flagler counties since Father Lopez back in 2013.
“It was a great run. The girls and coaches put in a lot of hard work. It’s great being the first to do it at our school. It’s been a blessing,” said Head Coach Kelvin Hamm.
The last local boys high school team to win a state championship in basketball was Mainland in 1998.
Spruce Creek (27-5) dedicated the championship season to the memory of sophomore guard Delayna Gillard’s father, the late Dr. Dwyron Keevin Gillard who died in August.
He was a former high school and middle school band director. Mr. Gillard also is credited for writing his alma mater, Bethune-Cookman University’s fight song, “Let’s Go Wildcats!”
Delayna Gillard told the Daytona Times, “It’s actually a great feeling to win a state title. To dedicate it to my dad’s memory is even more special. He always wanted this for his girls. I just was the one that was able to be a part of one.”
The Hawks have star players in senior guards Jayla Adams (Florida Atlantic) and York Tassent (Rollins College).
Senior guard Danika Hamilton is another good player. Senior forward Keasia Edwards returned to help during the postseason after missing most of the year with a concussion.
But it was Gillard who elevated her game during the postseason, especially in the semifinal game.
She said, “I had an up-and-down season. I just was finally able to focus and do what the team needed.”
Another standout player that rose to the occasion during the playoffs for the Hawks was sophomore guard Perryonna Sylvester, who hit what ended up being the game-winning free throws in the championship game.
“It’s just a great experience and it still feels unreal. It was an amazing postseason run. I just played defense during the Final Four, but I told Coach in the championship game that I wanted it and I just played a great game,” responded Sylvester.
Also, junior forward Alyssa Derrick stood out during the postseason. She had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the semifinal game.
‘Found a way’
The Hawks won the state title but this year’s squad wasn’t their most talented.
Hamm admitted, “Yes, last year’s may have been our most talented team. We were a lot deeper. This year’s squad just fought and found a way.”
The Hawks completed an improbable and tough playoff run. They lost the district 1-9A championship game to Flagler Palm Coast and had to play on the road the entire playoffs.
They won at Lake Mary (72-52), at Flagler Palm Coast (44-43) and at Orlando Colonial (78-47) in Regional play before beating Orlando Oakridge (65-44) and Miami in Lakeland.
“We had our ups and downs all season. We started fast. We did a lot of conditioning and Coach Hamm really pushed us to be our best. Things just worked out,” said Sylvester.
‘Great playoff run’
Hamm agreed, “We lost our district championship game, but we had a great playoff run. We just kept the same goal. We knew that we had a chance before we even started.
“Once the playoff bracket was set and we saw the matchups, we liked our chances. We played in the toughest Region (Region 2). Once the teams started to lose, we felt better about our chances.”
Spruce Creek hopes that this is the start of something special.
Hamm said, “We only graduate three seniors. We will return three starts and a total of seven players next year. We also had a few players out with injury. I think we have another run or two in us. I think that we have the opportunity to try to win it the next two years.”
Other schools score
Ormond Beach Calvary Christian Academy finished runner-up in Class 2A for the second consecutive year. Father Lopez made it the Final Four in Class 7A girls prep basketball. All that made Volusia County look good in the finals.
“It says a lot. We have great players and coaches. We are letting it be known across the state,” Hamm added.