Florence girls’ basketball team headed to state tournament

Florence's Olivia Smith tees up for a free throw shot against Maple Shade. Smith scored 18 points in the, 39-25, victory at home on Feb. 7, which helped clinch a playoff spot for the Flashes in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 1 state playoff title. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

What a difference year makes.

Just one season ago, Florence High School’s girls’ basketball team did not win a game.

This winter, Florence is heading to the state tournament.

The Flashes sealed a trip to the state tournament when they rolled to a 39-25 victory over Maple Shade High School on Feb. 7 in Florence.

Florence will now focus on winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional title.

The Flashes will take their first step toward achieving that goal when they play top-seeded Bound Brook High School on the road in the opening round on Feb. 26. at 5 p.m. Florence will bid to pull off the upset as the No. 16 seed.

Olivia Smith was the spark for Florence when it defeated Maple Shade, a foe from the Burlington County Scholastic League’s Independent division.

That victory lifted Florence to a 7-13 record. The Flashes did drop a 65-43 verdict on Feb. 9 to Overbrook Regional High School.

In the victory over Maple Shade, the Flashes were able to pull away from a three-point lead at halftime with a scoring outburst and a strong defensive effort in the third quarter.

Smith paced the way for the Flashes by driving to the rim to finish with 18 points. Sierra Barrett contributed to the victory with 12 points.

The Florence coach praised how her team stuck to the game plan to avenge a 40-31 defeat to Maple Shade on Jan. 24.

“We played Maple Shade already, so we set out a specific game plan,” Smith said. “We knew what we were going to do each quarter, so the coaches gave it to the kids, but the kids executed it well.

“Today was a big step for us because Maple Shade is a very good team and they’re well coached,” she added.

Coach Smith credited an emphasis on pregame conditioning this season, which has helped built the team’s endurance.

“We have the kids running a mile before every practice, and I think that the conditioning is affecting the way they play in a much positive manner,” she said. “You’ve got to be fit. You’ve got to be conditioned, and I think that they’ve bought into it and see that it’s working. We’ve seen [the players] become a lot closer as a unit. There’s a lot more chemistry.”

Along with a focus on comradery and fitness, coach Smith said another focal point to playing well relies on the team’s adaptability in their plan of attack each game.

“We watch the film and tweak our game plan according to what that team is,” she said. “Each game, it’s a different game plan. You can’t just have one offense and one defense. You’ve got to keep switching.”

However, even with a diversity in game plan approach, Smith pointed out that there’s a single, overriding message to the team this year through the regular season and the playoffs.

“One game at a time,” she said.

While the Flashes look to finish up their regular season with a game against Pennsauken Tech on Feb. 15 in Pennsauken, Smith also took a moment to reflect on the team’s success so far this year and what it meant to clinch a state playoff spot.

“Going 0-23 last year, this team making the playoffs, speaks volumes,” coach Gina Smith said. “The most important thing is that they believe in themselves and that they believe in each other. Without that, you’re never going to get that good. You have to believe in everybody whether you’re on the court, you’re a scout player, or you’re a statistician – everybody plays a vital role on this team.”

If Florence is able to surprise Bound Brook, then the Flashes will take on the winner of that matchup between Burlington City High School-Perth Amboy Tech High School on Feb. 28 in the state sectional quarterfinals.