When it comes to girls basketball in the Bradenton area, Southeast High is in a class by itself.
The Lady Seminoles have won three state championships and made it to five final fours.
So which is the best of those teams?
It's a close call, particularly between the 1980-81 and 1984-85 teams, both of which won state titles.
It also is hard to ignore to the 2002-03 team that lost in the state final to national power Jacksonville Ribault or the 1989-90 state championship squad.
An unscientific survey of people who played and followed basketball during the 1980s gives a slight edge to the '81 team as the best squad ever in the Herald coverage era over the '84-85 team.
The '80-81 squad went 33-0, and its closest game in the postseason was an 11-point victory.
The team featured sophomore Lori Smith, the only female basketball player from Manatee County to earn Parade All-American honors, and the late Olivia Bradley, who will be posthumously inducted into the West Virginia University Hall of Fame this year.
Other key players were point guard Loretta Houston, Anita Blickensderfer and Christella Bradley. The team was coached by the late Buzz Narbut, who compiled a 140-14 record during his six
years at Southeast.
Smith led the team in scoring, averaging 22 points per game, and went on to finish her career with 1,707 points. She helped the program win 57 straight games until the Noles lost during her junior year. A sharpshooting guard, Smith earned All-American honors at the University of Tampa, where she averaged 25 points per game.
Those Lady Seminoles defeated Glades Central 70-48 in the state championship game with Smith leading the way with 20 points. Bradley had 13 points and led in rebounds, and Blickensderfer scored 17. The semifinal was Southeast's closest game; they beat Ocala Vanguard 58-47. Smith had 19 points, Bradley 17 and Blickensderfer 16.
The 6-foot Bradley averaged a double-double for the season and was the team's leading rebounder. Houston was the playmaker, Smith filled it up from long range or could slash to the basket, and Blickensderfer was the perfect complement to all that talent.
Those Lady Noles were am up-tempo team that epitomized the run-and-gun label and trapped all over the court. In a victory over Bayshore, Southeast scored 106 points. They had speed and athleticism and a big front line.
"We pressed the heck out of people and ran kind of a like a run-and-jump defense," says Smith, who now works in the medical profession as a salesperson. "Olivia was an amazing person, and our inside force and could move well. Her sister (Christella) came off the bench, and she was big. Loretta was amazingly fast, smart and sassy. She was gifted, and Coach Narbut made us special."
The team was not without its tragedy. Narbut died three years later in a car accident, and Smith's father died not long after she was graduated from Southeast in 1983.
Bradley went to West Virginia, where she set the school record for career rebounds and the single-game rebounding mark with 28 and finished her career averaging 12.7 rebounds. She died unexpectedly in 2000 at the age of 36 due to an illness.
The 1984-85 squad (34-3) was the first Southeast team under current head coach John Harder and brought him a state championship jump, starting a career that led him to the Florida Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame.
The key player was Chountelle Bullock, a tall, strong, imposing player who could score from anywhere on the floor. She went on to play at the University of Miami and was Harder's first Division I scholarship player.
The starting five included Tina Brooks (now Tina Hadley, the current Lakewood Ranch head coach), point guard Leslie Baker, Cathy Wells and Diane Roberts with Tammy Freeman the sixth player.
The team was clutch, winning the 3A state title by defeating Crestview 53-47 in overtime. The Seminoles defeated Pompano Beach Ely 44-41 in the state semis and showed their cool under pressure in the district title game when Baker hit a shot in the final seconds.
Bullock averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals; Brooks (Hadley) averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds; and Baker ran the offense, averaging 13 points, 8 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds.
"The team was cohesive. They saw each other as sisters, and we couldn't have won if we didn't have that attitude. Everyone always made practice and they practiced hard," Harder said.
Leslie and Brooks played for Cheney University in Philadelphia, where Brooks was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
Today, Bullock has her own fundraising company, CBull Enterprises and lives in Atlanta and is a licensed realtor. She says her biggest claim to fame is that she met President Obama's wife, Michelle.
Of the 1984-85 team Bullock says, "The key to our success was our chemistry. We believed in each other, and myself and Cathy provided good leadership. Tina was tough, especially on the board, and Leslie was the best point guard I had ever seen. We lost three games early in the season and then won 29 straight."
Southeast's 1989-90 team gave Harder his second state championship. It featured guard Bev Copeland, who averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds and went on to play at Georgia Southern. It lost its third game of the season and then won 30 straight to finish 32-1.
Other key players were point guard Carol Miller, second-leading scorer Tina Parrillo (17 ppg/7 reb), Teressa Martin (13.4 ppg/11 rpg) and leading rebounder Keira Rozier (14 rpg). The team also had to go into overtime in the championship game, defeating Milton 53-49.
The 2002-03 Southeast team could make a case that it is the area's all-time best girls squad. Unfortunately in the state final, it had to play Jacksonville Ribault, which was a national power and had won four straight state titles.
Southeast gave Ribault the toughest game in its five-year state title run, but fell short 63-59. Briana Phillips put in a memorable performance with 18 points and 20 rebounds. The Seminoles' struggles at the free throw line (14 of 28) hurt. Depree Bowden had 10 points, six rebounds and six blocks and had a standout final four with 31 points, 21 rebounds, 9 assists and 10 blocks. Sophomore Sharielle Smith contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds in the final. All three would wind up playing at Florida.
It was the 101st straight win against a Florida school for Ribault. The streak would end 19 games later at Southeast's home court before what is believed to be the largest crowd to ever watch a basketball game in Manatee County.
If there ever was a Cinderella squad, this was it. Led by sophomore sensation Sheila James, this team (27-4) won the school's only state girls basketball championship. The Tigers trailed Cardinal Gibbons 52-48 in the Class 4A title game with less than 30 seconds left in regulation. Carin Buhr hit a short jumper and moments later James stole a pass at midcourt and drove in for a game-tying layup. She then converted the winning free throw in overtime for a 53-52 victory and went on to have a successful career at Miami.
BEST SMALL SCHOOL1996-97 Bradenton Christian
The Panthers (27-6) won the Class 2A state title with a 46-43 win over Graceville. BCS had speed, size and versatility with track star Kamille Bratton, inside presence Kelly Cook and jack-of-all-trades MVP Jennifer Tiona. Other starters were Melanie Raitz and Lee Harris.