Several area high school basketball teams will reunite in district play this upcoming season after the Florida High School Athletic Administration released its new classifications for both the boys and girls teams on Monday.
Venice will jump up from 6A to 7A and join North Port while Charlotte will move down from 6A to 5A and DeSoto County, Lemon Bay and — maybe? — Port Charlotte will meet in 4A competition.
“I haven’t seen it, but the only thing that I can figure is that we’re in the district with Lemon Bay and DeSoto, like the volleyball districts,” said Pirates boys basketball coach Kip Rhoten after Port Charlotte was left out of the FHSAA’s new classifications. “Besides the names of the teams, I don’t really know much about it. I don’t even know the color of their uniforms.
“Our goal every year is to win districts and we’ll play whoever’s there.”
If Rhoten’s hunch is accurate, the Pirates, Mantas and Bulldogs will all have some added familiarity this season — especially when the games matter most.
The new classifications also impact regional and state playoffs, but that’s looking a bit too far ahead, even for some area teams with high expectations, like the Charlotte girls basketball team.
“We want to win another district championship. It would be awesome to go back-to-back,” said Charlotte girls basketball coach Matt Stephenson, who led the Tarpons to their first appearance in the Final Four last season. “That’s something I’m looking forward to because you want to be the top seed and host in the playoffs.
“I’m trying not to think into it too much, but it’s definitely something we focus on.”
Here’s how each new area district breaks down:
Venice and North Port (7A-District 8)
The Bobcats and Indians are back in the same district again, but will have to play against some of the top teams in Southwest Florida — Riverview, Lehigh, Gulf Coast and Sarasota.
The Rams and Lightning stick out as teams that will be tough to beat on the way to a district championship on both the boys and girls side while Gulf Coast will be a tough out on the girls’ side.
The Indians, however, also move away from tough teams like Charlotte, Fort Myers and Braden River while the Bobcats will ditch Lakewood Ranch and Durant.
Charlotte (5A-District 11)
A year after both the boys and girls basketball teams won regional titles, the path should be a bit easier for both squads as they try to return to the final four.
The Tarpons had to contend with some tough teams like Fort Myers and Braden River — especially difficult on the girls’ side — and even tougher competition deep in the 6A playoffs, like Mater Academy for the boys and St. Thomas Aquinas for the girls.
All of that changes this upcoming season as the Tarpons will slide into a district resembling Port Charlotte’s in 2020-21 — with Cape Coral, Dunbar, Ida Baker, Island Coast and Mariner.
“We don’t have that same setup as last season where Braden River had their studs and Fort Myers had a really good team,” Stephenson said. “Dunbar is a good team and we played Cape last year.
“It definitely looks a lot better for us this year.”
There should be some different teams in the way after the district playoffs, too, as Mater Academy and St. Thomas remain in 6A.
Lemon Bay, DeSoto County and Port Charlotte (4A-District 12)
While the Mantas and Bulldogs remain in 4A, the district has a much different look — including Port Charlotte, dropping down from 5A.
These three locals should be the top contenders in a district that also includes Bonita Springs, Clewiston and LaBelle.
“For the most part we play all of those guys anyway,” Lemon Bay boys basketball coach Sean Huber said. “I think it’s going to be super competitive. I think it’s about time that the FHSAA put us with teams that are local instead of sending us all the way up to St. Pete.
“I’m looking forward to playing those guys and battling it out like we normally do.”
Imagine School (3A-District 7)
Life will look relatively similar for the Sharks in district play next season as three teams — Out-of-Door, Cardinal Mooney and Saint Stephen’s Episcopal — remain with Imagine.
Meanwhile, the district’s top team from 2020 — Bradenton Christian — will depart along with Parrish Community while Sarasota Military Academy will be a new addition.
Community Christian (2A-District 11)
The Mustangs will remain in 2A competition with a somewhat similar district — keeping Canterbury and Keswick Christian but losing Bayshore Christian, Sarasota Christian and Lakeside Christian.
Joining the Mustangs in this new district will be Bradenton Christian, which has strong boys and girls teams, along with Gulf Coast HEAT and Indian Rocks Christian.