The Knights established themselves among the state elite last year as they went 22-8 and won the Class A private school girls’ title.
For St. Francis coach Aisha Kennedy, the state crown was a culmination of a process that began when she assumed the reins in 2008.
“It meant everything for our school,” Kennedy said. “We’ve been working hard since I’ve been there the last five years to get there. We made it to the elite eight the year before, so our goal was to get to the state championship and the girls really worked hard and did it. It was the first state championship in basketball at St. Francis, so it was a really big deal for the basketball part of things at St. Francis.”
While the Knights lose two key players from last year’s championship team – leading scorer Antoinette Brown, who is now playing on the collegiate level at Alabama State, and Gia Greene – they do return most of their core squad.
Five-foot-6 senior point guard and three-year starter Candice Williams, 5-4 senior guard and West Florida signee Jade Davis, 5-5 senior point guard Amanda Tremble and 5-10 junior guard Abby Grant, a Syracuse commitment, return to provide veteran leadership.
“They are very experienced athletes who will help us along the way,” Kennedy said. “We know what to expect with them, because they are very composed and very mature players.”
Providing a strong presence in the middle will be 6-3 freshman center Cassiana Kushkituah, who is the seventh-ranked center in the nation in the ESPN Hoop Girls listings.
“Once she gets a couple of looks in and gets used to the level of this game, she will be tremendous for us and it will really help our guard play and open up shots for Abby Grant, who is our 3-point shooter and open up the lane for our other guards to penetrate,” Kennedy said.
The Knights will also feature a couple of other promising freshmen in 5-6 guard Michele Tampa and 5-3 point guard Taja Cummings – who are both being heavily recruited already by ACC and SEC schools.
“They will be able to come in and help us offensively and defensively, to be able to give our seniors a break,” Kennedy said. “I think they are very mature and already very experienced and that’s going to help us with depth. I don’t think people are going to be as deep as we are.”
For Kennedy and her team, a second consecutive state is the main focus.
"Our goal is to repeat and [our players] talk about it a lot of times," Kennedy said. "We have a tough schedule. We had a tough schedule last year and we do that, because I want to make sure that we are prepared come tournament time. As long as we stay healthy and as long as the girls stay focused, we should definitely be able to make another run."