Southeast's longtime girls basketball coach John Harder and Tina Hadley, the coach at Lakewood Ranch, wanted to be battle-tested heading into the postseason.
It's a reason they agreed to be part of a doubleheader Saturday at St. Petersburg Northeast that will offer stiff competition and a playoff-like atmosphere.
Lakewood Ranch, ranked second in Class 7A, will face Class 7A No. 1 Winter Haven. In the nightcap, Class 5A Southeast will meet host St. Petersburg Northeast (16-8), a Class 6A team.
Both games will be televised by Bright House Networks, and to ensure a good crowd, all fans will be admitted free. Lakewood Ranch plays at 2 p.m. and Southeast at 4 p.m.
"I usually never schedule a game that close to districts, but it's a chance to be on TV and our kids have earned the opportunity and right to be recognized," Harder said.
The Hall of Fame coach also was looking to get a scholarship for senior guard, Breyonna Reed, his leading scorer (14.4 ppg.) and arguably his best player. Reed received her first offer this week when Edward Waters College presented her with a full scholarship after her game against Sarasota. If she accepts, Reed will join former Palmetto star Jermisha Collins, a freshman guard and the second-leading scorer (11.5 ppg) for NAIA Division I EWC (14-4).
Hadley scheduled Winter Haven (16-3) because if both programs run the table they would meet in the Class 7A state championship game.
That's a long way off and Hadley, who played for Harder at Southeast (19-3) wanted to get to know
a potential rival. She did the same thing last year in scheduling Fort Myers.
"It's important to get an idea of what they (Winter Haven) have, and I always think we need to be battle-tested," Hadley said. "They press and we need to learn how to handle that. If we can handle the press it will be a great game. If we can't it's a lesson learned and something we need to fix."
Lakewood Ranch (20-4) likely will not be at full strength.
LaDazha Williams, the Mustangs' junior center has tendinitis in her knee and could see limited minutes. The 6-foot-2 center is averaging 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Senior guard Kyra Klarkowski (8.4 ppg./4.8 rpg.) is battling a sore Achilles and likely will not play.
But this is a much better Lakewood Ranch team than last year especially with the growth of guard Kailyn Scully (11.1 ppg./4.5 rpg.) and and forward Aleah Robinson (11 ppg./4.5 rpg.).
"We depended heavily on LaDazha to score for us last year and this season the scoring is more spread out. On any night any of our starting five can lead the team in scoring," Hadley said.
The Southest game is a big event at Freedom Village, a retirement center where Don Bailey, an 82-year-old resident, will see the Seminoles for the first time this season.
"He had come to our games for 12 straight years until this season because of health reasons and so it's very important for him," Harder said.
The Seminoles' coach is feeling upbeat because his team won a coin flip with St. Petersburg Lakewood to determine the No. 1 seed in next week's district tournament, which means they will be home for the district title game.
Southeast has won 10 straight games and Lakewood Ranch is on an eight-game win streak.