Florence High girls’ basketball team continues to build with success this season

Florence Township Memorial High School's Gabby Loftin gets air for a layup shot in a Jan. 29 home game against Asbury Park High School. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

The Florence Township Memorial High School girls’ basketball program has looked nowhere but up the past two seasons.

Just two years ago, Florence finished its season with a 0-23 record.

Last winter, Florence showed much improvement when it sealed a spot in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional tournament.

Florence finished 9-16 overall and 4-4 in the Burlington County Scholastic League’s Independence Division last year.

Now, Florence finds itself competing for a division title in the closing weeks of this winter season.

With less than a month remaining in the regular season for the Flashes, Florence finds itself in a heated race for the Independence Division title alongside local rivals Bordentown Regional High School and Maple Shade High School.

As Florence looks to clinch a potential division title and berth in this year’s state sectional tournament, coach Gina Smith said the program’s achievements in recent years can be accredited to her players’ determination to develop.

“We have talent and regardless of who is coaching them, they are willing to learn from my coaching staff as well,” Smith said. “They are willing to listen. When you are willing to buy into the program, that’s when the success is going to happen.”

Success had to be earned though for Smith’s primarily younger squad. With just two seniors on the team this year, Smith and her coaching staff have worked to gain varsity experience for their younger players.

“We are a very young team, but the [players] have played with a lot of fire,” Smith said. “They are willing to learn, try new things, and we are having success with that.”

In order to reach new heights with this program though, the Florence coach pointed to a pair of qualities her squad needed to attain: “Patience and mental toughness.”

Smith explained that as the team works to develop and reach new plateaus, these two factors will be pivotal in the process when faced with challenges.

“Learning to run a patient offense and learning to let the mistakes go. When you make a mistake, cover it up with something good on the next play,” she said. “Mental toughness doesn’t happen in a season either. It takes a long time to develop that. One of biggest goals we have to achieve is learning how to be mentally tough. If something goes wrong, just battle through it.”

The Florence coach said she saw the team’s mental toughness particularly on display in a road game against Doane Academy on Jan. 24 when it earned a 48-45 victory. Led by freshmen Alexa Taylor and Gabby Loftin, the duo combined for 33 points in the game to help Florence seal the victory.

Loftin has already put up impressive numbers this season having scored more than 220 points while Taylor has raked in more than 130 points. Sophomores Olivia Smith and Toni Jones have got in the offensive action as well with more than 190 combined points scored between the two players.

Although Florence does have notable standouts on the court, Smith, the coach, said that in-game achievements come at the price of hard work in practice, first. Smith explained that the starters must put in the work well before tip-off if they want to play.

“It’s a whole team,” the coach said. “Our starting lineup is never the same. Our starting lineup is based on practice. That’s how we roll. If you practice hard, you are starting.”

As of Feb. 3, the Flashes posted  an 11-4 record and are expected to land a berth in the state  sectional playoffs this winter. Although Florence is currently on pace to see some post season action again this year, Smith said the focus right now is to just win regular season games in hopes of being a potential host seed come state tournament time.

“It is always going to be our goal to make the state tournament, but at this point, we are trying to win so we can at least host one home game,” she said. “We are still pretty high up in our conference, so we want to try to win games and win the conference.”

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