A new women’s college basketball tournament is adding a dose of legitimacy to Pasco County’s still-young “Sports Coast” identity.

The Florida Sports Coast rebranding began in 2019, the idea being to increase tourism by promoting Pasco’s water sports, fishing, boating and diving opportunities. It’s evolved to encompass team sports and utilizing Pasco for sports training, so Harry Elifson, a women’s college basketball scout, said the Trinity-based Florida Sports Coast office was the door he knocked on to help bring the Sun Coast Challenge Basketball Tournament to Pasco. It will be held Dec. 19-21 in the gym at Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey and will be the first time a women’s college tournament has been held here, he said.

“I can’t say enough about the support we got from the Sports Coast and Pasco-Hernando (State College),” said Elifson, a former women’s assistant basketball coach at USF between 2000 and 2007. He also coached the girls’ team at Boca Ciega High to two state championships. He lives in Pasco and for the past three years has organized the Southern Jam tournament basketball series for middle- and high-school girls in Wesley Chapel in the spring.

The Sun Coast Challenge will bring three women’s Division 1 teams, Mississippi State University, University of New Mexico and Old Dominion University, to town to face off in tournament play that will count toward their season records.

“It’s going to be a very high level of play,” said Elifson. “We’re looking forward to a great tournament.”

The first day, Mississippi State takes on Old Dominion. On day two, Old Dominion takes on New Mexico, with the final day New Mexico facing Mississippi State. Tickets are $10 per game online at https://preferred-athlete-scouting-services.ticketleap.com/ or at the door. To make the games accessible to more people, Elifson is offering free tickets to members of K-12 club teams, middle and high school team members, seniors, and military members. Just email him at harry@preferredathlete.com.

“We want to stimulate interest and get as many people out as possible,” said Elifson, who hopes the tournament will inspire young players to stay on a path to higher and higher levels of play.

Elifson said the growth of women’s pro basketball in recent years, better pay and wider television exposure has shown that the girls have a path to follow and a potential future in the sport as pros ahead of them.

“Women’s basketball has exploded because of TV,” he said. “All that exposure has made a huge difference.”

Elifson said women pros now are earning “some good money,” and some are earning very good money.”