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Gulf Coast sprints out to 19-0 lead after first quarter, cruising to 52-24 win over North Port in district title game Andrew Sodergren, andy.sodergren@naplesnews.com, 239-263-4731

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Gulf Coast High School’s winter sports teams will get a crash course in the state’s new classification and playoff systems next season.

The Florida High School Athletic Association recently released its classifications for basketball, soccer and wrestling for the next two academic years (2019-20, 2020-21). For most Southwest Florida schools there were minor tweaks to their districts, but they ultimately still will be competing for postseason berths with other local teams.

Not Gulf Coast. As the largest high school in Collier or Lee county, the Sharks are in the state’s largest class in all winter sports. In basketball and soccer, Gulf Coast is in a district with teams all from the Fort Lauderdale area.

The reclassification leads to a tough question for Sharks coaches – to play or not to play?

Under the new FHSAA rules, teams are not required to play district opponents during the regular season. Seeding for the district tournament will be determined by MaxPreps power rankings. However, coaches don’t want to go into the postseason having never faced their district opponents.

More: FHSAA approves new classification, playoff format using MaxPreps rankings

More: FHSAA will use RPI system for football playoff berths

“We’re excited to play some different teams but also concerned about the travel,” Gulf Coast athletic director Matt Kuk said. “We will do our best to play district opponents when we can. Some teams will have to wait to meet then for the first time in the district tournament.”

The FHSAA reduced the amount of basketball classifications from nine to seven. In soccer, the number of classes increased from five to six.

In basketball and soccer, five of Collier County’s seven public schools are grouped together in a district – Barron Collier, Golden Gate, Immokalee, Lely and Naples. Palmetto Ridge is one class above playing with Lee County teams, while Gulf Coast is one class higher than Palmetto Ridge in the winter sports.

In years past, schools could petition the FHSAA to move up or down in classification to avoid lengthy travel. But because teams are no longer required to play district opponents until the postseason, schools cannot move classes anymore.

Gulf Coast has 2,363 students, nearly 400 more than the next-largest school in Collier County, Palmetto Ridge (1,974). Riverdale (2,319) is the biggest school in Lee County, although the Raiders will play basketball and soccer in the same class as Palmetto Ridge, not the biggest classification like Gulf Coast.

“Our coaches know that if they want to play district teams (in the regular season), it has to be on a Friday or Saturday,” Kuk said. “We just can’t drive two hours over and two hours back on a school night.”

Not only does Palmetto Ridge move up, but the Bears move into a district with some of Lee County’s top boys basketball teams.

Class 5A-District 8 includes Lehigh, which averaged 23 wins the past six seasons and made it to the regional finals five times with two regional titles. There’s also Riverdale, which won a district title and a regional game this year. Two-time state champion Fort Myers is in 5A-8, along with a Dunbar team that won 16 games last season.

“It’s gonna be tough,” Palmetto Ridge coach Steve Crowder said. “There are a lot of really good, athletic teams. You’ve got to change the way you play. I’ll be learning too, making adjustments. I think it will be fun, be exciting.”

In basketball and soccer, Immokalee and Lely are in a district with Collier schools after playing the past few years with Lee County teams. That could mean fewer local teams make the regional playoffs, although that isn’t certain.

The FHSAA also is using MaxPreps power rankings to determine four at-large state tournament berths in each region. The four district champs in each region in basketball and soccer still receive automatic bids, but the district runners-up no longer do.

Lely boys basketball coach Fritz Jacques is happy about his new district because it brings more meaning to the Collier County rivalries.

“It makes those games bigger, more meaningful,” Jacques said. “It’s good for basketball down here, and that’s a great thing.”

Jacques, who led Lely to two straight district titles, is excited at the possibility of facing Naples High coach Garrett Hull in the district playoffs. Jacques and Hull grew up together in Naples, and Hull’s dad, Rick, was one of Jacques’ first coaches. Both Jacques and Hull are coaching their alma maters and played against each other in high school.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Jacques said about playing Hull. “It will be good for us.”

Immokalee boys basketball coach Brien Crowder avoids a family rivalry with the reclassification, and that’s fine with him.

The Indians are back in the Collier County district where Palmetto Ridge, coaches by Crowder’s younger brother Steve, has been recently. However, as Immokalee moves into the district, the Bears have moved out.

The Crowders still will face off in the regular season – all seven Collier County Public School teams play each other at least once in every sport – but Brien Crowder is glad he and his brother won’t have the chance of eliminating each other from the playoffs.

“We don’t like playing each other,” Brien Crowder said. “When I win, I feel like I lose. It’s a lose-lose situation for both of us.”

FHSAA winter classifications for 2019-20 and 2020-21

BOYS/GIRLS BASKETBALL

Class 2A-District 8

Donahue Academy

Evangelical Christian

Everglades City

First Baptist Academy

Marco Island Academy

Seacrest

Southwest Florida Christian

Class 3A-District 8

Bishop Verot

Bonita Springs

Canterbury

Community School

Gateway Charter

Moore Haven

Oasis

St. John Neumann

Class 5A-District 12

Barron Collier

Estero

Golden Gate 

Immokalee

Lely

Naples

Class 6A-District 12

Dunbar

East Lee

Lehigh

Palmetto Ridge

Riverdale

South Fort Myers

Class 7A-District 13

Gulf Coast

Cooper City

Weston-Cypress Bay

Pembroke Pines-Flanagan

Sunrise-Piper

Davie-Western

 

BOYS/GIRLS SOCCER

Class 1A-District 12

Community School

Donahue Academy

First Baptist Academy

Marco Island Academy

Seacrest

St. John Neumann

Class 4A-District 12

Barron Collier

Estero

Golden Gate

Immokalee

Lely

Naples

Class 5A-District 8

Dunbar

East Lee

Fort Myers

Lehigh

Palmetto Ridge

Riverdale

Class 6A-District 13

Weston-Cypress Bay

Gulf Coast

Sunrise-Piper

Coral Springs-Taravella

Davie-Western

 

WRESTLING

Class 2A-District 11

Cape Coral

Cypress Lake

Dunbar

Fort Myers

Ida Baker

Island Coast

Mariner

North Fort Myers

South Forty Myers

Class 2A-District 12

Barron Collier

East Lee County

Estero

Golden Gate

Immokalee

Lely

Naples

Palmetto Ridge

Class 3A-District 8

Gulf Coast

Lakewood Ranch

Lehigh

Bradenton-Manatee

North Port

Riverdale

Sarasota-Riverview

Venice

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