In local girls’ basketball, the Graceville Lady Tigers have amassed a 12-2 record, and as of Friday the team was ranked 4th in Florida’s 1A district.
The Lady Tigers have defeated the following teams: Chipley (59-33); Samson, Alabama (57-40), Freeport (50-37); Blountstown (70-38); Poplar Springs (68-60), Cottondale twice (58-20 and 60-16); Florala, Alabama (54-32), Marianna (51-48 in overtime); Walton twice, (54-26 and 62-25); and Holmes County 46-27).
Both their defeats were to Ponce De Leon, losing 80-61 to that team as the season started and suffering a 62-41 defeat against them in late December of 2020.
Head Coach John Habali is in his first year back in that role, which he held for a decade before taking a three-year break from it.
He credits Assistant Coach and JV leader Rick Horton with helping get the team where it needs to be.
“He has been a tremendous help...practicing with them over the summer and throughout the season, he’s made a big difference for us,” Habali said.
He said he’s proud of his team. The Lady Tigers are coming off a 5-18 previous season and this year are playing more cohesively with four seniors, one junior, two freshmen and an eighth-grader meshing nicely despite their wide range in age and experience. Pushing the “team” concept has been a focus all year.
While he’s proud of their progress and their record so far, Habali said there’s no letting up if the squad expects to keep winning.
“They’ve been working hard and they’re beginning to see the rewards of that. We’re just beginning to play a better brand of basketball, and we’re in a very competitive district. It might be the toughest district in the state,” Habali said.
“All these teams, we’re all capable of beating each other from game to game, so we can’t overlook anybody, we can’t relax into that 12-2 record. We’ve got three hard games ahead of us next week and hard games the week after that and the week after that. We’re hoping to have a good showing this week and carry our momentum into the next three weeks, peaking at district playoff time if we make it that far. We try to keep getting better with every game and work on the little things that can help us do that.”
He said his team is emerging as one that can adapt to the specific challenges a particular opponent presents, as it continues to build its own court dominance and presence.
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the squad is set to play Freeport. Next up will be Poplar Springs on Jan. 14, and Bonifay on the Jan. 15. All those match-ups have district implications.
The squad won’t face Ponce De Leon again unless both teams make the playoffs.