sealed championship with 13-game winning streak and 65-37 win over Bayshore Christian
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Falcons and Cinderella rarely go hand-in-hand, except at Florida Preparatory Academy, where the school’s Lady Falcons basketball team are the protagonists of an amazing Cinderella story.
Like their swift namesake, the Lady Falcons swooped in on their target, their first-ever FHSAA Class2A State Championship, and flew away with the championship, even though the majority of team members are in middle school.
The victory seemed unlikely at the beginning of the season, which did not start well for the Lady Falcons, but the team, under the leadership of coach E.J. Murray, gathered strength and determination from early stumbles such as the 80-38 loss to powerhouse teams such as Miami Country Day School, ranked fourth in the country, and the process, became a formidable foe for the unfortunate teams that faced the “Falcon fury” later in the year.
The team sealed the championship with a 13-game winning streak and a 65-37 win over Bayshore Christian, a fairy tale ending in the high school basketball career of point guard and team captain Jayla Johnson, the only senior.
“We did it for Jayla,” said sophomore Aleah Sorrentino, who averaged 14.5 points per game.
Aleah, a native of Boston, began playing basketball only three years ago.
She is so good at the sport that in her first year she was drafted by the USA Under 16 Olympic Team.
In many schools, student-athletes like Jayla and Aleah are often treated with kid gloves and not expected to excel academically. Not so at Florida Prep.
Coach Murray sets high standards, both on the court and in the classroom, for his players.
The strategy pays off in young people ready to tackle any challenge that come their way.
“Coach Murray has a very firm hand when it comes to academics,” said Jeanette Middleton, Florida Prep’s director of marketing and communications. “If student grades drop, they do not play.”
The school’s philosophy that excellence in sports and the classroom go hand in hand is ultimately for the benefit of the students.
It is evident that for these players, academic performance is as important as is their performance on the court.
Team members Emma Risch, Ashaunti Rolle, Aleah Sorrentino and Antoaneta Alexe are all on the Florida Prep President’s List, composed of students who have earned straight A’s in every class for the entire school year.
This is all the more remarkable for Antoaneta Alexe, given the fact that she is Romanian and English is not her first language.
Fellow players Payton Smith, Jazmine Major, Alonya Waldon, Paige McDonald and Jayla Johnson are on the Florida Prep Honor Roll, scoring solid A’s & B’s in all their classes.
“Students who attend Florida Prep are treated as student-athletes,” said Florida Prep principal Lisa Gray.
“Academics come first, and any changes to academic status are communicated with the students, their parents, and their coaches. Student-athletes need to learn to organize their time and commitments and learn the skills of time management. We work with these students to help prepare them for success and for college and the future. By placing a focus on academics, we ensure that students are getting college opportunities for both their athletic performance and their academic abilities allowing the student to have the opportunity to attend the college and university of their choice.”
Student-athletes such as Jayla Johnson shine with discipline, character and determination.
“When I’m not playing basketball, I’m usually either studying or working with my mom at her daycare, helping her with the kids,” said Jayla, whose plans include medical school for obstetrics after she graduates in May.
“I think of my teammates and family and how hard they’ve worked to get me where I am now so I can’t let them down by getting behind in school and basketball. They are my motivation to remain focused and get things done.”
Like some of her teammates this year, Jayla began playing basketball in middle school.
“Being out on the court is a lot of fun, but I really love the team part,” she added.
She does not have to reach far for a role model.
“My mother is my inspiration,” said Jayla. “She is a hard worker who has taught me the value of commitment. She’s always at my games supporting me and she’s the reason I have so much success today.”
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: The Florida Prep Lady Falcons captured the FHSAA Class 2A State Championship. Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynski stopped by the campus and spoke with head coach EJ Murray, senior Jayla Johnson and other members of the championship squad.
Jayla is inspired by her mother, but she herself is also inspiring others.
“She has motivated me to be a better person, on and off the court,” said ninth-grader Paige McDonald.
“She has taught me so many lessons about life.”
Paige, who plans to attend USF or the University of Florida, is already considering a career in law or education.
“I do homework most of the time,” she said. “I also write and read because it’s fun to be creative.”
Fellow Lady Falcon Ashaunti Rolle plans to attend the University of Miami to study nursing. Since she is a ninth grader, college is still far in the horizon, but this young scholar-athlete is wasting no time.
“My school work is always my first priority,” said the point/shooting guard. “It’s very important to multi-task and as soon as I get my assignment, I start to work on it.”
Paige’s fellow teammates are a young bunch, primarily eighth and ninth graders with one junior and one sophomore for good measure. However, what they lack in years, they more than makeup in drive to excel.
Take eighth-grader Emma Rischt, the youngest member of the team.
“Despite her youth, she has already received two written college offers,” said Middleton.
Emma played Little League Baseball until she was advised she could not go any further because “she was a girl,” so she has turned to basketball for the past years. By the time she graduates from Florida Prep in 2023, she may well have five state championships to her name.
The Lady Falcons not only have the distinction of having FSCA District 12 Player of the Year Jayla Johnson as their captain, but their coach E.J. Murray was also singled out as Coach of the Year by FSCA District 12 and with good reason.
“We don’t care about stats, we don’t care about awards, we care about each other,” said Murray.
“We care about the process of becoming high achieving individuals on and off the court!”
For more information on Florida Preparatory Academy, call 321-723-3211 or visit flprep.com
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