PHU girls hoops is the team to beat in Pinellas County

PALM HARBOR ­— Last Friday represented more than just a big district win for the Palm Harbor University girls basketball team.

It represented progress. Progress toward reaching a level never before realized by any past Hurricanes teams, but attained in large part because of those previous efforts.

When PHU traveled to St. Petersburg High last week and convincingly handled the Green Devils, 62-49, it was another in a growing line of positive steps in that direction.

“We really wanted to show the county who’s boss,” said junior forward Megan Ingram, who dropped a game-high 20 points on St. Pete. “That was our motivation and drive. It’s a great confidence boost for us because we’re really trying to make a run in states this year. We’re trying to play as many good teams as possible to help us get better and play faster.”

The win improved PHU to 11-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Class 8A District 8 standings, one game ahead of St. Pete (10-1, 1-1).

While ascending to hoops relevancy over the past few years – due in large part to the presence of former star Kristine Fuller – the ‘Canes still struggled to beat top-tier squads. Clearwater, Lakewood, St. Pete, all remained slightly out of reach.

This season, though, PHU has appeared to have caught up and turned a corner.

Ten days prior to the St. Pete win, the ‘Canes dealt previously unbeaten Calvary Christian its only loss of the year.

Fueling the Hurricanes’ surge in 2013 is depth. Rather than living and dying on one big scorer, PHU has three girls currently averaging double digits in scoring. That list includes guard Amber Jennings (12.7 points per game) who transferred over the summer from rival East Lake.

Jennings has teamed up well with fellow backcourt mates Chardonay Aldrich (11.4 p.p.g.) and Kaylin Ingram (4.0 assists per game).

Kaylin, a senior, is one of three Ingram sisters helping to keep PHU’s record perfect. Leading scorer and forward Megan Ingram is putting up 12.9 p.p.g. and grabbing 6.6 rebounds a night, while freshman Julia Ingram contributes over seven points per contest.

Megan, a junior and the middle Ingram sister, said Friday she believes the team is steadily beginning to realize its capabilities.

“Before, Palm Harbor really wasn’t anything. So we’re really excited to make a name for the program and make it a basketball school.”

That’s something Dublin’s been striving toward in his nine-plus years at PHU, and all those previous small steps are now starting to turn into big strides.

When asked about his program’s progression, Dublin recalled a somewhat prophetic statement made by his former star Fuller, now a redshirt freshman at Brigham Young University.

“I think two years ago, Kristine’s senior year, she told a reporter that no one’s respecting us now as a powerhouse,” Dublin said. “But sooner or later they will.”

A couple highlight-reel wins and an 11-0 start has PHU pointed in the right direction. Just how accurate Fuller’s soothsaying is, or if it even applies to this season, will be revealed only by how the Hurricanes finish.

PHU hasn’t reached the postseason since 2009, boasts just three appearances total and is 0-3 once in the tournament.

As Megan Ingram alluded to last week, the ‘Canes are already succeeding in making a name for themselves. But to officially climb up another status rung on the Pinellas County girls basketball ladder, PHU needs to prove itself with an assertive month of January and beyond.

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