Basketball stock image

On the heels of a holiday break that featured no competition, the next phase of the 2020-21 high school varsity basketball season tipped off last week.

And, barring any additional virus-related shutdowns like the one implemented in Polk County before Christmas, the regular season will officially be in the books fairly soon. The last regular-season playing date for the girls is currently scheduled for Jan. 30, while the boys are set to conclude the regular season on Feb. 6.

On Dec. 15, Polk County Public Schools temporarily suspended all athletic programs in part to a high number of cases among student-athletes participating in winter sports (basketball, soccer, wrestling, girls weightlifting, and competitive cheerleading). All practices and competitions were subsequently cancelled until Jan. 4.

Last week marked a busy varsity basketball schedule, and several interesting matchups remain prior to the start of the Florida High School Athletic Association district tournaments.

Here are some recent hoop storylines as local teams advance through the month of January:

* Auburndale High’s boys varsity team got off to a 10-0 start, which featured December victories over Winter Haven, Hardee and Windermere High in addition to double-digit decisions this month against Lake Region and Victory Christian Academy. Depth played a key role in the Bloodhounds’ 61-33 win over VCA last Thursday as sophomore Kervin Knaggs paced a balanced effort with 12 points and senior Isaiah McClain added 11 points.

Auburndale, which is part of Class 5A-District 7 with Lake Wales, Lake Region, Hardee, Lake Gibson and Sebring, had its season-opening streak halted on Saturday (Jan. 9) at the 14th annual Dante Anderson Memorial Showcase hosted by Eastside High School in Gainesville. The Bloodhounds carried a 26-22 lead into halftime against The Rock School, but they fell to 10-1 following a 62-47 defeat to the Lions.

Head coach Eric Robinson’s team is slated to meet Tenoroc on Wednesday (Jan. 13).

* All Saints Academy also helped complete the Dante Anderson Memorial Showcase lineup. Playing their third game in five days, the Saints fell to 3-8 after dropping a 58-28 decision to Hawthorne over the weekend.

ASA, which competes in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference and is also a member of the FHSAA’s Class 2A-District 11, opened the new calendar year with a split against Oasis Christian and Winter Haven Christian. The Saints lost 66-48 to Oasis Christian on Jan. 5, but they rebounded two days later to defeat Winter Haven Christian 74-68 despite a 41-point performance by Warriors senior Josiah Vargas.

* The Dec. 15 pause officially wiped out several tournament games for Winter Haven’s girls varsity team. The Blue Devils’ original 2020-21 schedule had three tourney appearances between Dec. 17 and Jan. 1 – which included trips to South Carolina and Georgia – and last week’s LeDawn Gibson Holiday Classic was reportedly cancelled as well when too many teams opted out.

Winter Haven was set to play Eustis on Jan. 11 – results were unavailable at press time – in a rematch of its 75-49 victory over the Panthers on Nov. 23. The Blue Devils had last played on Nov. 30 when they improved to 5-0 with a 64-28 win over Clearwater High as Jayla Murray scored a team-high 13 points, freshman Anovia Sheals had 12 points, and Shomari Phillips and Trinity Hardy contributed 10 points apiece.

* Defending Class 6A boys state champion Bartow High snapped a two-game skid and raised its overall record to 5-3 with last Friday’s 78-55 win over Lakeland. The Yellow Jackets held a 48-27 combined scoring edge during the second and fourth quarters as Iona College signee Walter Clayton finished with 19 points; Jordy Lowery had 18 points, five rebounds and four steals; and Jaiden Wynn collected 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals.

Clayton (11 points) made his season debut on Jan. 7 in a 65-58 loss to Oak Ridge High, which entered this week at 11-1 overall. Kjei Parker topped Bartow with 15 points and Daithan Davis posted a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Bartow was scheduled to play Osceola on Monday (Jan. 11) before meeting Lake Howell (Jan. 13), Edgewater (Jan. 14) and rival Winter Haven (Jan. 15) on consecutive days.