The first month of the 2013-14 girls basketball season wraps up this week, and Highlands County has produced its fair share of disparity.
In Sebring, the Blue Streaks are off to a terrific start, boasting an 8-1 record in November. The Streaks capped off the month with a dismantling of Avon Park, extinguishing the Red Devils by a score of 64-40.
"We're off to a pretty good start," Sebring coach Mike Lee said. "The key now is to not get too comfortable. As a coaching staff, we want to make sure the little things don't start to slip. We can't forget what got us here."
Thanks to its wealth of size in the post, Sebring forwards Jameis Wiley and Jazmin House - both 5 foot, 10 inches - have paced the Streaks with their physical play and tenacity.
"Some of our obvious strengths are in the post," Lee said. "But we've got that right combination of experience and youth - and I know it sounds cliché - but the girls' attitudes have been great. They're playing unselfishly and really trying to make each other better."
The Streaks jump right back into the fray with three Class 5A-District 11 games in their first week back following Thanksgiving break. Sebring opens with back-to-back district games on the road at DeSoto and Lemon Bay before returning home for a nondistrict game against Lake Wales on Dec. 5. Sebring concludes the four-game swing with a home game against district rival Hardee on Dec. 10.
But Lee isn't worried about the time off affecting his team.
"We'll have some light practices and give the girls a few days off," he said. "But we've worked hard on our conditioning and our fundamentals this season, so I expect us to continue to play well when we get back. We've just got to keep our routine."
After reaching the 4A-10 state playoffs last season, Lake Placid brings a handful of fresh faces to the hardwood this year. The Green Dragons lost their best player, guard Alex Coyne, to graduation, but coach Jackie Coyne believes her squad has a lot of potential.
"We have three freshmen who I'm really up on," Coyne said. "Aleigha Peterson, Morgan Roberts, Julia Tuason - they've all got a ton of potential. But it was a hard game to walk into.
"They're all good ball handlers and I expect them to come around, but it's going to be a process."
The Dragons don't have a favorable schedule this season, which doesn't help their cause. After losing big against Sebring earlier this month, they'll meet the Streaks again in January. And there's still meetings with district-leading McKeel Academy and Frostproof looming in December.
But Coyne knows that having her girls face stout competition will only work to improve their game. There's just one problem; many of the teams the Dragons face this season don't have junior varsity teams for Coyne's underclassmen to get experience against.
"That's going to be a big decision," Coyne said, "whether or not I move a girl up into a new situation, or let them develop in JV. But some of the teams in our district don't have JV teams for them to face."
The Red Devils have the talent to be successful, but it's going to take time for the team to develop into a formidable unit.
In Friday night's game against Sebring, Avon Park showed flashes of its potential. Toryana Jones torched the Streaks for a game-high 21 points. Sebring simply didn't have an answer for her, as the Devils managed to take a two-point lead into halftime.
"The first half was our best of the season," said Avon Park coach Paulette Daley. "We knew Sebring had some seasoned players and we played them tough.
"We moved the ball and executed our offense real well in the first half. We took our time, looked for the open player and that's the way we need to play."
It helps that the Devils and Dragons were both assigned to Class 4A-District 10 this year, so each team will get a chance to earn bragging rights over Highlands County.
Avon Park has a handful of tough opponents left on the schedule. When the Devils return from Thanksgiving break, they'll have to face McKeel and Frostproof in back-to-back games before hosting Sebring on Dec. 12.