With Sue Semrau, FSU women’s head basketball coach on one side, far right, and Westwood head coach Jenni Smith on the other, second from left, the Lady Wildcats pose for a celebratory photo after going unbeaten at the FSU camp recently. (Mike Harrell/Special to The Herald)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Westwood girls basketball coach Jenni Smith was hoping for just a couple of wins, just one or two defining moments to wrap up an already successful summer of basketball.
Instead, her Lady Wildcats shocked the field at the Florida State University girls team basketball camp over the weekend, sweeping some of the top teams in south Georgia and north Florida to finish 9-0 and win the tournament.
Westwood, the reigning GISA Class AA state champions, beat GHSA schools Pelham, Westover, Glynn County and Peach County.
But that wasn’t all.
The Lady Wildcats also knocked off Choctawhatchee High School from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., which was runner-up in the recent Class 6A state tournament.
“When we got down to the camp and I got the schedule, I looked at it and was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” Smith said Thursday. “I saw the teams we were playing and knew the caliber of programs they have and thought we would be lucky to win a couple of games. The competition level was stout.”
The Lady Wildcats, who finished their summer season with a perfect 14-0 record, ran the table in the round-robin of the camp to earn the No. 1 seed for Sunday’s single-elimination tournament, where they eventually beat No. 2 seed Pelham in the championship game, 47-44.
Westwood, like the public schools in the tournament, played with its varsity roster and didn’t flinch against some of the top GHSA talent in this area of the state, proving that the Lady Wildcats are serious candidates to repeat in next year’s state tournament.
“We were happy that we could do this to prove that we can play with anybody,” said Callie Smith, one of four returning starters from Westwood’s state championship team.
Callie Smith was joined by Westwood returning starters Perra Harrell, Rachel Harrell and Morgan Singleton, and the group won one defining game after another this summer.
It was a summer that even Jenni Smith didn’t see coming.
“After playing (Glynn County), everybody we played was huge,” she said. “Every team down there had a gigantic post player, and my biggest post player is 5-9 or 5-10. We would start each game with huge matchup problems.”
But over and over again, Westwood would find a way to overcome the odds.
Jenni Smith said it was her team’s fundamentally sound playing style that made the difference.
“I like to think that our brand of basketball of being fundamental and tough and doing the little things to keep you in the ball game is one that wins,” she said. “I always felt like we could compete because we played the right way. It’s defense first and doing the little things like blocking out. That’s the right way to win ball games. If you start doing all the little things together it makes you a better basketball team.”
Westwood went 5-0 at the Mercer University team camp two weeks ago with wins against Johnson County (GHSA Class A), Wilkinson County (A), Dodge County (AAA), Bleckley County (AA) and Jones County (AAAAA).
At the FSU camp, Westwood defeated eight different public schools, including three from Class AAAAAA, one from Class AAAAA and one from Class AAAA.
“It was pretty exciting, but at the same time it was nothing like winning the state championship,” said Callie Smith, who then admitted that the outcomes of the games might have been a different story if they met the teams in the regular season. “We were all pretty tired, so some teams didn’t play their normal games. If we were just playing one game on a night were each teams were fresh, it might have been different.”
Westwood’s biggest statement might have been the championship victory against Pelham, which ended last season No. 3 in the Herald’s Fab 5 poll and was one of the most dangerous teams in all of Class AA behind Super 6er Briunna Freeman before eventually being knocked out of the state tournament in the Elite 8.
Freeman and the Lady Hornets were unbeaten in the FSU camp before running into Westwood, which held on for its second straight win by three or fewer points. In the semifinal game, Westwood beat Westover, 32-30, thanks to a last-second layup from Callie Smith.
Rachel Harrell led the Lady Wildcats in the nine-game camp with 16.9 points per game, while Callie Smith averaged 8.8 points. Perra Harrell chipped in 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds, and Singleton averaged 5.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Even with all the excitement that came with a perfect record over the summer, Jenni Smith said she is still putting the success into perspective.
“It’s summer work. It’s camp. It’s not the regular season. It’s not the state tournament,” she said. “You can’t take too much away from this, but I was really proud of what we did this summer.”