BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The Mainland High Buccaneers girls’ basketball team returned to the playoffs after a down year last season.
Mainland (14-11) was the district 6A-4 runner up after falling short in the district championship game but was ranked high enough in the rankings for an at-large playoff berth.
The Buccaneers played at St. John’s Creekside on Tuesday night in the regional semifinal. Mainland won 68-61 and now advance to the regional to face Wekiva. The Bucs lost to Wekiva twice this season.
They upset the top seed in 6A Region 1 Tallahassee Lincoln 63-49 on Feb 13. It was their first playoff win in 16 years.
“It’s important for our program. The girls need to understand that the culture is different. No knock on any coaches from the past. We’ve had some successful ones. I may be tougher. We’re excited about where this can go,” said Brandon Stewart, the team’s head coach.
Coach’s first year
Stewart is in his first year leading the program. He was a standout at Bethune-Cookman University as a walk-on in college. He believes his experience helps his players.
Stewart emphasized, “I credit B-CU women’s head coach, Vanessa Blair-Lewis. I was a scout team player for her from 2011-2017. I was a scout player for her before I made the team, when I was on the team and after. I wasn’t much of a factor my freshman and sophomore years.”
Mainland is led by junior guard Isys Grady (12.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg), who returns this year after spending last year at DME Sports Academy.
“I’m happy to be back. I love Mainland, the school, students and faculty. As a basketball player, I am up to the challenge to do what it takes to lead and help the team. It just makes me better on and off the court,” responded Grady.
Senior guard Delayna Gillard (5.8 ppg) transferred from Spruce Creek.
Senior guard Jasmine Dorsey (8.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.2 spg) and sophomore guard Nyasia James (6ppg, 2.8apg, 2.2apg) are also key contributors, and junior forward Lauren Troutman is finding her way.
Stewart said, “I want to name everyone but I can’t. Isys (Grady) can do it all. Delayna (Gillard) is also versatile. Nyasia (James) is young but will be good. She can shoot. Jasmine (Dorsey) is a track star and dangerous in transition. Lauren (Troutman) played more than 13 minutes for the first time last game; she is doing well defensively.”
It was an up and down season for the Bucs.
“What has worked is that we have played very well defensively, in transition and patiently on offense. Our challenge has playing fast on offense and when we take one shot on offense,” expressed Stewart.
Dorsey echoed, “We were put together late. This team wasn’t the same team as it was during the summer. We grew and came together as a team. I think we jelled together.”
The players also are enjoying the playoffs.
“The win was truly incredible. I just turned 17 in January. I’m blessed to be a part of it. We want to keep it going,” noted Grady.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, the Bucs believe they can do more.
“We just have to play our style of ball. We’re a fast and athletic team. We also must play together and play hard,” said Dorsey.
Stewart agreed, “The girls don’t understand how good they can be. We got to do it as a team and not as individuals. I use the football analogy. Run your route. A wide receiver never knows when he will get the ball but he must run his route.’’
ppg=points per game
rpg=rebounds per game
apg=assists per game
spg=steals per game
bpg=blocks per game