BRADENTON -- Janelle Gould calls the Southeast girls basketball team a sisterhood.
The point guard says love has enabled the team to win 29 of 30 games and quality for Friday's Class 5A state semifinal at the Lakeland Center.
"We don't need stars. We have trust and we have love for each other; that is what has gotten us this far," Gould says. "We always have each other's backs. We might get mad at each other, but we are always there for each other. We have a bond with each other. We are a sisterhood."
If Gould sounds like a child from the 1960s, it's because she is says, John Harder, in his 30th year as the Noles' Hall of Fame coach.
"She is the coach's dream and can charm you," Harder said. "She is a neighbor kid who can walk home after practice. She wanted to be a two-guard, but I convinced her that we needed her at the point. She never complained or whined and did it well enough to take her team to state."
The road wasn't easy for Gould. She started as a sophomore and became sixth man last season. Now she leads the team in steals and assists.
"I understood what needed to be done. On this team, I do what is needed," Gould says.
This is a diverse sisterhood bonded by the love Gould talks about.
Leading scorer DeAngela Mathis, who averages 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, is the closest thing the Noles have to a superstar and the only player on the roster to receive a scholarship offer to play basketball at a four-year school.
The 5-foot-9 senior is on the quiet side, but she leads by example. Extremely intense, she often looks inside herself to get focused for a game and admits some people might take that the wrong way.
"We know the real goal is the state final game," Mathis said. "I don't try to isolate myself purposely, but sometimes I have to gather my state of mind. I have to get myself together first to lead this team; some people might take that the wrong way."
Mathis does seem to know the personalities of her teammates and the right way to motivate them. She is particularly mindful of 5-foot-10 Keshawna Robinson, the Noles' tallest player, second-leading scorer and top rebounder (14.4 points, 8.2 rebounds per game).
"She is a cool person, but doesn't like to be yelled at, so you have to be careful how you to talk to her. You want to keep her up at all times," Mathis says.
Robinson agrees with Mathis. She didn't have a particularly good game in the Noles' region final victory over Cape Coral, but vows things will be different Friday when Southeast faces Land O'Lakes.
"We are all very sensitive, so when you say something you have to watch out how you say it. Someone might get mad, and it would mess up their game," Mathis said. "Against Cape Coral I felt like I wasn't there. Honestly I was scared, but I rebounded and got a few key boards. This Friday, I will be better. I am very confident I can bring my A game."
Harder says Robinson can bring her A game anytime. He can't forget during the regular season, when the Seminoles were down by 18 points at halftime against Calvary Christian. Robinson, who failed to score in the first half, poured in 18 after intermission to spark Southeast to a victory.
"She had 26 good games and one bad game. Calvary Christian was the greatest half of basketball she ever played," Harder says. "So sometimes she needs me to motivate her and maybe I didn't do a good job against Cape Coral. I helped her grow up, and it was difficult when she lost her grandmother the first week of the season. I was blessed to be able to her get through that."
If there is a rock on this team, it appears to be senior guard Bevin Mays. A four-year starter, she leads the team in free throws and free-throw percentage (116 of 153 for 76 percent) and field-goal percentage (57 percent). She is the third-leading scorer (11.8 ppg), is second in steals and fourth in assists.
"We are like all one together, and we can read each other on the court," Mays said. "DeAngela has her days when she wants to be away from us, but has other days when she loves to be around us. You have to catch her in a good mood. We don't have one standout leader because we all have our own say-so. I think that's good because we made it this far."
Harder labels Mays a defensive standout and cites her demeanor and love of the game as her best attributes.
"She is a natural athlete. I don't remember her being out of a game for a minute in four years," Harder says. "She is our co-captain and can jump through the gym, and that is saying a lot."
Breyonna Reed, a sophomore, is the only underclassman in the starting lineup, and senior Daisha Kelly is the sixth man. Reed has 86 steals and is third in assists. Kelly has 44 steals and is fifth in steals.
This is Harder's fifth trip to the state final four. He has won two state titles (1985 and 1990), was state runner-up in 2003, was a semifinalst in 2004 and has won 19 district titles.
With 711 career victories, you might think Harder is a little comfortable.
Not so, says Mathis.
"At this point, he is strictly business. He doesn't like to be embarrassed and is not a losing coach. He does everything to get us well-prepared. We are winning because everyone on this team can do something. We all play for a reason," Mathis says.