BC celebrates landmark title

The Cougars delivered the first basketball crown — boys or girls — in Collier County history

In a gym packed with over 1,000 students along with teachers and administration, the Barron Collier girls basketball team was greeted with what has become a trademark during their run to the state title — deafening applause.

Members of the Barron Collier High School girls basketball team, the new Class 5A state champions, laugh while talking to their coach Mike Hamburger, bottom right, before the start of an assembly in the school gym Monday recognizing the team and another individual athlete.

Photo by Tracy Boulian, Daily News

Members of the Barron Collier High School girls basketball team, the new Class 5A state champions, laugh while talking to their coach Mike Hamburger, bottom right, before the start of an assembly in the school gym Monday recognizing the team and another individual athlete.

The school honored the champions with an afternoon pep rally Monday, celebrating the first-ever basketball championship in the 84-history of Southwest Florida high school sports. Like they did during the regional finals and Final Four, the raucous student section rocked the gym with roaring cheers when each member of the team and coaching staff were announced. Barron Collier freshman state wrestling titlewinner Ben Carter was also honored at the event, making it a true celebration of champions.

"I think the kids are touched by what they saw today and what they've seen in the past three weeks," Barron Collier coach Mike Hamburger said. "They've really appreciated the support the students have given them. This is what high school sports is all about, bringing people together. This team has brought the school together. It's the most enthusiasm I've ever seen by a student body."

The Cougars ended the season 31-2, winning their last 18 games and beating No. 1 Winter Haven in the 5A title game, 43-36.

"In your senior year, you know you have one last push, one last chance to do something special," senior Courtney Jacob said. "It still hasn't completely sunk in. We got to play in front of 4,000 people in Lakeland and when you factor in the media attention, the interviews, it was just an incredible experience."

Jacob is one of four seniors on the Cougars' roster — the others are fellow starters Kasey Will and Karady Gatz and reserve guard Allison Naretta.

"No other state champ has gotten this kind of pep rally," Gatz said. "Everyone in the school was here supporting us. When you get to varsity, you dream of winning a state championship. Knowing our picture is going to be up in the school forever, it's amazing."

Will said winning a state championship was the best possible way to end her four-year playing career at Barron Collier.

"I was thinking about it and already I wish I could relive Friday again," Will said. "It made me teary-eyed looking back on it. I've got the greatest teammates and coaches, and I couldn't have asked for a better way to finish my senior year."

Ken Benson, left, and his daughter, junior forward Brittany Benson, embrace after she and her Barron Collier girls basketball teammates were recognized at a Monday pep rally in the Cougars' gymnasium for winning the Class 5A state championship.

Photo by Tracy Boulian, Daily News

Ken Benson, left, and his daughter, junior forward Brittany Benson, embrace after she and her Barron Collier girls basketball teammates were recognized at a Monday pep rally in the Cougars' gymnasium for winning the Class 5A state championship.

As he was driving home from Lakeland Saturday, Hamburger said he thought about what his team had accomplished and the history behind it.

"Do you know how many coaches have coached basketball in Southwest Florida in the last 84 years? Probably thousands," he said. "Our coaching staff is the only one who has won a championship and there have been many great programs and coaches. We had an extremely tough road to win the title. Four of the five teams we played in regionals were in the top 10 and the other one was Dillard and they were 11th or 12th. To beat a team like Winter Haven, you need an unbelievable effort and I don't know if I've ever seen our girls play a better game."

Gatz shared Hamburger's pride in the Cougars' historic achievement.

"What I'll remember most are my teammates, so many good friends I've made and I don't think we'll ever lose contact," Gatz said. "We made history, the first team in Southwest Florida to win the championship, boys or girls. No matter what happens in the future, we're always going to be the first."

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