As the regular season melts into postseason with the start of the district tournaments next week, several teams find themselves leaning heavily on the play of freshmen.
McKenna Beach is averaging a team-high 18 points per game for the Cape Coral Seahawks with an equally impressive 6.5 rebounds per game, 5.7 steals and 3.9 assists.
Leanne Ellis is averaging 13 points per game for the Island Coast Gators with an equally impressive five assists per game.
Ellis and Beach have been listed by the recruiting website rivals.com in the Top 15 freshmen in Florida. Ellis leads all freshmen in Florida in assists and three-point goals while Beach leads the list in scoring.
Beach and Ellis already have attracted wide attention in college recruiting circles as have three other area freshmen standouts - Kiara Desamours and Keri Jewitt of Dunbar, and Emily Lines of Naples First Baptist Academy.
Part of the reason for the Seahawks (18-4) entering district tournament play as the No. 1 seed has been the all-around play of Beach.
"She has meant a lot to our team," said Seahawks coach Kirk Myers. "She makes sure the other girls are in the right places and sets the tempo for what we want to do."
Beach is touted as the best point guard among all freshmen in Florida. She attracted attention in the summer leagues as a crisp passer, but is scoring and rebounding at a higher level in her first high school season.
She has scored 20 points in a game 10 times this season, including all three games in the Queen of the Palms Classic holiday tournament played at Ida Baker between Christmas and New Year's. She recorded a season-high 27 points in the semifinal game to help the Seahawks win their division championship.
"For a first-year player she has adjusted great to the high school game," said Myers. "She has played AAU ball and played against guys for a long time, so it was easy for her."
Beach has recorded 10 steals in a game four times this season and had double-figure rebounding games four times. Her 6.5 rebounds per game is second-best to junior teammate Camary Williams.
"All the girls worked extremely hard over the summer when they realized we had some good talent," said Myers.
The Seahawks' biggest drawback has been at the free throw line, prompting Myers to put extra emphasis on that aspect for the postseason.
"We have to elevate our game, our intensity level to a playoff level," Myers said. "We have to go in with the mindset that if you lose you go home, so the girls have to decide if they want to keep playing."
Ellis is considered a premier shooter. She has scored in double figures in 18 of 23 games this season and had three or more three-point baskets in 22 games. She is making three-pointers at a 55 percent clip compared to 53 percent overall from the floor.
"What makes them special is their ability to drible, pass, shoot and see the floor," said Gators coach Jerry Ellis. "They have quality point guard attributes. They both should be first-team all-county this year."
The District 5A-13 Tournament begins Tuesday at North Fort Myers.
District 6A-13: Ida Baker worked hard all season to earn the No. 2 seed for the tournament that starts Tuesday at Fort Myers, but the Bulldogs won't be satisfied with anything less than the school's first girls' basketball district title.
"You go into any tournament to win it," said Bulldogs coach Jason Briggs. "Our goal is not to just stay No. 2, but to win the title. It'll be an uphill battle because (No.1 seed) Fort Myers has some good shooters and they put it on us before. We have to play a good game Wednesday against South Fort Myers and then we'll go from there."
The Bulldogs () get a lift heading to districts with the return to the lineup of Ali Nicloy from an ankle injury.
"Her ankle feels good and I hope we get her in (condition) by then," said Briggs. "She is good at seeking out the ball running our press."
Briggs expects his most consistent scorers in Alicia Emmons and Jessey Placher to continue their contributions, but looks for Hannah Del Negro to bump up her point production some.
"We need to get her some confidence so she can step up and drain some shots for us," said Briggs.
Island Coast (9-14) opens the tournament at 5 p.m. Tuesday against Riverdale with the winner advancing to face Fort Myers in Wednesday's semifinals.
"We have a good perimeter game, but have not been able to finish at the rim," said Ellis. "If our big kids put together a good game inside it will help loosen up the perimeter for Ellis and (Caroline) Ortiz. They've got over 100 three-pointers together this year. It's a tall order, but we have to get some offensive rebounds and a little work inside."