High School Sports

Siplin's unselfishness keys Southeast's winning streak

BRADENTON - She could have shouted, pouted and quit.

She could have dented a few lockers with her fists and given her coach a shoulder colder than an Alaskan winter. She could have made the least of her new role, and worse, could have brought her teammates down with her.

Had many senior basketball players, especially those who know what it takes to win a district championship, lost their starting spot to a sophomore - a sophomore! - during the middle of the season, chaos may have ensued.

Then there's Breona Siplin.

"(Southeast athletic director and football coach) Paul Maechtle calls this generation the ESPN generation," Southeast girls basketball coach John Harder said. "We've seen a lot of kids moving schools, and a lot of self-identity and self-gratification. . . . And the thing I've enjoyed about Breona Siplin is that she doesn't seem to be a part of the ESPN generation."

Harder's hopes were fleshed out earlier this year when, with his team mired in a four-game losing streak, he benched Siplin, a senior forward and co-captain who helped the Seminoles to a seventh straight district title last season, in favor of sophomore Carolyn Taite.

It was more a case of Taite playing better rather than Siplin playing worse, Harder said. But Siplin was a starter all through last season and was supposed to be a starter all through this one. Now, she was first off the bench. So how did she take the news?

"(Harder) pulled me in the office, and he was talking to me about how I feel about becoming the sixth man, and I told him I didn't have a problem with it," Siplin said. "I said, 'If you feel like (Taite) can get the job done better than I can, then go ahead.' I can't argue with him. He's been here (23) years. This is my third year here. Of course, he knows more than I do."

Siplin learned how to play under Harder - and about toughness, too - from her mother, Teressa Martin, who helped the Seminoles to the state title in 1990, the same year she led Florida in rebounding. Then in April 1992, Martin broke her neck in a car accident, leaving her paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

Siplin, who was 3 years old at the time of the accident, helps put her mother to bed at night and wake her up in the morning and does all the things for Teressa that Teressa cannot do for herself.

"She's very independent," Siplin said.

It's not an easy thing to deal with. But it's part of the reason she's been able to take this year's benching in stride.

"It doesn't bother me as much," Siplin said. "There's going to be some hard times in life. . . . (Basketball) is a piece of cake."

One of the team's two seniors, Siplin has made the most of her new role. She scored four points in overtime to lift the Seminoles past Venice in the Class 5A-District 12 semifinals, and two nights later against North Port, she came off the bench, scored four points and helped Southeast win its eighth straight district title.

Tonight, she'll try to lead the host Noles (18-9) past St. Petersburg Lakewood in a Class 5A-Region 3 quarterfinal at 7 p.m.

"Breona would quit, as most seniors would at a school, if she didn't have some inner fiber," Harder said. "She won the Venice game . . . and she won the North Port game with that same kind of rebounding and key baskets in the fourth quarter.

"My legacy, I hope, is in the children that I've coached, in the Breona Siplins, sucking it up and coming off the bench and doing what she needs to do."

Harder stops short at calling Siplin the best sixth player he's ever coached, something that doesn't seem to bother the senior Seminole. Starter or role player, Siplin just wants to pitch in.

"I just want to see my team go far," Siplin said. "This is not a 'me' thing - this is about the team."