MONTICELLO, Fla. (WTXL) — For basketball teams in the state of Florida, Lakeland is where you want to end up at the end of the season. If you do, you're one of the best four teams in your classification. The Aucilla Christian girls know what it takes to get there, as they went three straight years from 2017 to 2019, and they're ready for a return trip.
Sandwiched between I-10 and US 90, Aucilla Christian Academy is a small private school in Jefferson County.
They are also the Florida High School Athletic Association's newest member of the 1A Rural classification, which was created in 2011. That's good news for Warrior girls hoops, the classification was designed specifically for small, rural high schools in Florida.
"The bigger teams, they're harder to beat, and we come in there knowing that," said senior Sammi Drawdy. "This year, it's more of a level playing field."
"It's better to play teams with like minded rural schools that don't have the big cities to pull from," added head coach James Burkett.
The proof is in their record. Aucilla Christian is 13-4, and just one of those losses is to another rural program.
"I think this year, being senior led, most of these girls have played the last 3-4 years on varsity since the ninth grade," said Burkett. "I think that's one reason, they're playing so well together."
The Warriors boast nine seniors, and two of those nine remember their last trip to the state final four.
"We never know, us as a small school, we never know how often that's going to occur," said Drawdy. "I remember just soaking it in and having the best time of my life."
A time this team is looking to experience again this season.
"We told them it's a once in a lifetime experience," said Drawdy.
"I know they want to get back to it because this is it for them," added Burkett. "Once this season is over, their time is done. It has to come out of them and how they want to play."
Play that's now on level ground. The Warriors have two regular season games to go before the Florida Christian Athletic Conference tournament. They will then begin postseason play under the FHSAA.