- Adam Lichtenstein Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Last season ended with lots of tears for Oxbridge Academy.
The ThunderWolves, a young team with only one senior, went to Lakeland for the state playoffs, took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter of the Class 5A state semifinal - and blew it. Oxbridge went scoreless for the entire final quarter, then lost the game in overtime.
After a game like that, there are two options: You can try to move past it, or you can use it for motivation. The ThunderWolves chose the latter.
“How long do I think it took to get over that?” junior guard Alexa Zaph said. “It’s still going on right now. We’re still playing because of that game, we’re practicing because of that game. We work hard, and every drop of sweat that we have is because of that game. We’re really grinding for that game, and we want to get there again.”
Coach Tracy Wolfe, entering her third year at Oxbridge, knows she can use that game to get a rise out of her players and push them to their limits.
“They took it personally,” she said. “I can throw stats from that game at them. I can talk about our fourth quarter, where we didn’t even score a basket, and I can throw it at them. They take it the right way.
“I think I know them well enough that I can keep throwing it in their face, and they’re going to get angry and they’re going to step it up.”
Oxbridge enters the 2017-18 season, which begins today across the state, with almost the entire same roster as last year’s state semifinalist team.
“I believe we have a state-championship team,” forward Kaylon Smith said. “I believe we had one last year, but just came up a little bit short. … The girls feel it, the coaches feel it, I feel it. We’re going to defy the odds this year.”
Zaph, a Post first-team All-Area pick, and Aaliyah Stanley, also a first-team selection, anchor the backcourt. As sophomores, the two combined for 30.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 5.7 steals per game.
Smith, a second-team All-Area pick as a sophomore, rules the front court. She had 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season. She’s the team captain, and she thinks the ThunderWolves mesh so well it will be hard for opposing teams to do much against them.
“It’s a sisterhood, really,” she said. “We’ve grown together over the years. I think our bond is stronger than ever. We’re mature, and the chemistry on the court is just amazing. We see reads that other teams are not going to be able to see because they haven’t been together as long and grown together like we have.”
And all those players have gotten a taste of playing for a state championship. Now they want more.
“In a way, I feel it was a blessing for us,” Wolfe said. “They worked that much harder because of it. Every practice, the intensity level is up here. It’s really driven them.
“They won’t settle for anything less than a state championship this year. If we don’t get one, I think it will be a big disappointment.”