District assignments announced for basketball

A more compact district for most Osceola County schools – creating more interest and reducing travel – was the result of the reclassification for boys and girls basketball that was announced by the FHSAA this week.

A possible plan to follow the football model of dividing schools into suburban and metro divisions was considered but the final decision was to remain status quo and classify schools based strictly on population, creating seven classes (1A-7A); although districts and region assignments changed for many schools.

Poinciana, Celebration, Harmony, Osceola, and Tohopekaliga will play in Class 7A, Region 2, District 6 for both boys and girls basketball. It is a move up for Harmony, who played in Class 6A last season. Nearby Lake Nona will also compete in the six-team district.

“I am both pleased and excited with the new district,” Osceola boys’ coach Steve Mason said. “It’s something the state should have been doing all along. The fact remains that our most highly attended games are against county opposition and both the players and general student population tend to get more excited for those games. To have five county teams in the same district is awesome. Come district tournament time travel is also a consideration, as there won’t be any ridiculously long road trips.”

Osceola, which advanced to a regional final last year in Region 3, now finds itself in Region 2 that includes a neighboring district with state powers Dr. Phillips (26-6), Oak Ridge (21-8), Olympia (21-8) and Windermere (21-7); as well as two other districts that cover the Vero Beach and Palm Beach areas.

“It could be argued that moving to Region 2 will make it difficult in the post-season,” Mason said. “But it’s something that you can’t control so why worry about it? Once you get past the first round of regional play, you are always going to be playing a pretty good basketball team, so what difference does it make if you play them in regionals or states? You still got to face them.”

St. Cloud and Liberty were placed in Class 6A, Region 2, District 7 with Bartow, Kathleen, Lake Gibson, and Lakeland. The St. Cloud girls’ surprised some teams last year, going 20-9 and advancing to a regional final despite playing with a roster dominated by underclassmen.

Bulldogs girls coach Chad Ansbaugh said his new district was “difficult but fair” with the Lake Gibson Braves presenting the biggest obstacle. St. Cloud defeated Lake Gibson on the road in the regional semifinals, 55-53. The Bulldogs open their season on the road against the Braves on Nov. 14.

“We sort of knew where they were going to put us, so when I made the schedule I wanted our kids to get used to facing some adversity at the start. Gibson has a great program and will present a challenge to our players right out of the gate.”

With a smaller enrollment, Gateway’s boys’ and girls’ teams will find themselves in Class 5A, Region 2, District 7. A relatively large district, it includes Auburndale, Davenport, Jones, Lake Buena Vista, Lake Region and Lake Wales.

It is a very similar district that the Panthers played in last year with Jones, Auburndale and Lake Wales also returning. Travis James’ boys team went 18-9 last year, losing in the district semifinal to Auburndale but capturing the at-large regional bid, where they lost to Jones in the first round.

Justin Marino returns a solid group of veterans and some talented newcomers to a team that went 22-8 last year, earned a regional at-large bid and then advanced all the way to the regional final where they lost a heart-breaking 37-35 game to Bishop Moore to fall one game short of the Final Four.

All public county teams will participate in the Orange Belt Conference Championship tournament. St. Cloud will host the single-elimination, girls’ tournament on the week of Jan. 17-20; while Tohopekaliga will host the boys’ tournament the week of Jan. 17-20. Like the regional playoff bracket, the tournament will be seeded by Maxprep’s computer rankings.

Among private schools, City of Life will play in Class 2A, Region 2, District 8 with All-Saints (Winter Haven), Legacy (Ocoee) and Victory Christian (Lakeland); while Mater Academy will be a Class 2A independent.

The first official day for practices is Oct. 24.

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