The Lady Bulls won back-to-back district titles. (Photo courtesy of Dawn Lanier.)

The Bloomingdale High School girls’ basketball team has had its best stretch in their school’s history the last two seasons, winning back-to-back district titles, making deep regional runs and going 51-9 overall. Last season the Lady Bulls made history, winning their first district title since 1995 and reaching the state final four for the first time ever. This season, they came up one game short of that, playing in a much tougher region, but they had the best record and winning percentage in their team’s history, going 26-3.

“This season was a historical season,” said senior co-captain and all-time three-point leader Ava Knauer. “Although it didn’t end the way we wanted, I am still proud of what we did accomplish. I’m excited to see what the team does next year.”

The Lady Bulls were led by 12-year head coach Joel Bower, who said that his team’s expectations were much greater than last season. Although they didn’t reach their goals of making it back to the state tournament and winning it, Bower feels that his senior class, who had the best overall winning percentage of any class at Bloomingdale, has set a precedent for the program moving forward.

“I was proud of how the girls played and battled through the pressure, the expectations, getting every opponent’s best effort,” said Bower. “The road to win that district title and to try to get back to Lakeland was much tougher this year.”

The head coach said that his team had great depth again this season, which was a big asset to their success, along with great team chemistry. He had a deep bench, which kept the team fresh and allowed them to have competitive practices and avoid foul trouble. The squad was very balanced in terms of scoring. Five players had at least one 20-point game during the season. The Lady Bulls had nine returning players from last year, including five seniors, four of whom were on the varsity roster the last four seasons.

Bower said that he’ll miss his senior group tremendously. He also said that they helped change the culture of the program with their work ethic and leadership. Ava Knauer, Kyrstin Wolff, Melody Womack and Aleissa Perez started involuntary morning workouts at the gym as freshmen that has become a new tradition inside of the program. Most of the team now comes out, including some players from the boys’ team, to get up extra shots before school.

“Those seniors kind of created that culture of ‘we work and that’s why we get the results we have, because of all the hard work,’” said Bower. “I hope that they set the tone for the underclassmen. I hope them leading by example has shown those kids that we’ll be back, and that that’s what it takes.”

Senior co-captain Melody Womack tore her second ACL in the regional quarterfinal, ending her career prematurely. She recovered this past offseason from tearing her other ACL in the regional final last year. The team leader inspired her squad and will always be grateful for them. She plans on trying out for Hillsborough Community College after she recovers from her injury. 

“I’m thankful for my team that has been there for me during my ups and downs. I will miss my coach and my teammates,” said Womack. “My four years in high school have been better than I could’ve imagined because of my sport. It’s been a great four years; I would do it all over again.”

Bower hopes to win another district title next season, make a deep playoff run and make it back to Lakeland.

“I think it’ll look a little different next year, but I’m really excited about the kids we have coming back,” said Bower. “I think that we can be right there again next year, I really do. We want to keep it going. We’re not done.”

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Nick Nahas
Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.