Tigers roar into postseason

Posted on 07 February 2019 by LeslieM

By Gary Curreri

Blanche Ely girls basketball coach James Polk always believed in his team and that belief is paying dividends as the march into the postseason.

With a 58-26 district semifinal win over Ft. Lauderdale, Blanche Ely (20-7) moved into the District 14-8A championship game on Thursday at 7 p.m. against St. Thomas Aquinas. The Tigers dropped both meetings against St. Thomas this season falling 66-61 and 70-64.

“We are young,” Polk said. “I’ve got freshmen on the floor, sophomores on the floor and juniors on the floor. We try to learn and grow from our close games and our losses.”

“We expected to be fighting for the district championship,” Polk added. “Our goal this year was to represent Class 8A in Lakeland this year. We talked about being a team and goal as a team means ‘Together Everyone Achieves More.’ We are no longer a family because a family looks for favors and we are talking about being a team this year.”

Blanche Ely has gotten stellar play from Ja’Leah Williams, 5-ft., 9-in. sophomore shooting guard. Williams is averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game along with 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3 steals per game.

Williams, 16, of Pompano Beach, said the team lost some size from last year’s squad, but that wasn’t going to stop them. She compared her team to the boys teams that have won multiple state championships.

“I asked the team, ‘don’t you want to be like the boys?’” Williams asked. “I try and motivate them. We want to go to Lakeland just like them. We have to work hard just to get there too. I want to be there with them. Having fun with family and friends.”

Williams, who averaged 18.5 points last season, said basketball is important to her even though she only started playing at age 12.

“It means a lot to me,” Williams said. “Even though some girls started playing at a young age, I ran track and I never knew I was going to be this good at basketball. I think I realized I was going to be good when I tried out for my middle school team and made it. Not only did I make it, but I started as a 6th grader. We won the championship in my 8th grade year at Pompano Beach Middle School. I am going to make a championship happen again this year. I think there is a big difference in this year’s team. We are very small, but we are running more.”

Polk said during the season that there was still room to grow and they were maturing. The team has outscored the opposition, 1,677-1,220.

“I felt that we had opportunities to do some better things,” Polk said. “We had to learn how to play more of a possession game. We also had to learn how to secure the ball and take care of the ball. That was the major thing. I think we are also very aggressive defensively.”

In addition to Williams, Polk said others who have contributed heavily include junior JaNiyah Moore, sophomore Mikhia Lumsdon and freshman Breanna Gustave.

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