The Newsome High School girls basketball team had a winter break to remember, as they won the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational Anna Maria Island Bracket, sponsored by Seffner Christian Academy at the new Wiregrass complex.
The Lady Wolves defeated East Bay 49-37, Tampa Prep 32-17 and Durant 38-25, en route to the tournament victory. Newsome is led by fourth year Head Coach Scott Palmer. Palmer said that the wins were due to the team’s focus on stepping up their defensive intensity.
“The cool thing about our team is that we don’t have that kid that’s going to score 25 points a game, but we will play great defense and we have the kids that will get 10 points here and six points there, so it’s hard for other defenses to go and focus on one kid,” said Palmer. “We really are a complete team.”
Key players for the Lady Wolves during the tournament run include senior guard Jenna Funderburke, senior guard Casey Deck and senior wing Lydia Castro. Palmer said that sophomore wing Theresa Hospodarek played a key role on defense, starting the game by guarding the opposing team’s best offensive player. Sophomore forward Kayla Ludwig was the bracket’s MVP.
“It felt really good to win our bracket, we started to work really well as a team and got back into our winning rhythm,” said Funderburke.
Palmer said that his team in the past hosted their own tournament during the holiday break, but decided to compete in the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational this year, and will continue to do so in the future because of the strong competition. The Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational is one of the biggest and most competitive winter tournaments in the country, with plans to expand to 128 total teams divided up into different brackets.
“They came together and played as a team, and I think that they left everything that they had out on the court,” said Palmer. “If we would have lost the ball game, I wouldn’t have hung my head a bit, only because I know they gave everything on the court.”
The senior-laden team sits at 9-3 currently and has high expectations for the rest of the season. The team hopes to have one of its key players back from injury soon, that being senior Maddy Vaira, who went down with a knee injury.
“My individual goal is to return to playing after being injured,” said Vaira. “My team goal is to continue winning and to win our district.”
Newsome won their first district championship in school history in 2019 and returned to regionals in 2020. They have a chance to make three straight regional appearances.