4 Sunshine State women hoop teams in Top 25 for 1st time
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) It is a milestone week for women's college basketball in the state of Florida.
For the first time, four teams are ranked in the Top 25. Florida State leads the way at 16th, South Florida (No. 19) moved up three spots this week, followed by Florida (No. 20) and Miami (No. 21). The Hurricanes returned to the Top 25 after a week's absence but this is the first time the Gators have been ranked since March of 2008.
The four coaches say the rankings reflect the quality of basketball being played in the state, from AAU to high school to their programs.
''We're very proud of each other because we have worked hard to keep the top players in state,'' Miami coach Katie Meier said. ''This also shows the tremendous depth of four- and five-star recruits in the state.''
The quality of in-state recruits hasn't always been that way.
Florida State coach Sue Semrau said when she arrived in 1997 it was better to look at out-of-state prospects. Now the primary aim is to recruit in Florida first.
''This is a credit to everyone throughout the state because of the growth at a grass roots level,'' Semrau said. ''The level of development at high school, along with the Nike and AAU programs has been incredible.''
The national recognition of women's hoops in Florida has been steady. At the end of last season - when Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast and South Florida were ranked - marked the first time that three Florida schools cracked the Top 25.
The Seminoles (11-4) and Bulls (10-4) have been ranked in the Top 25 all season. Florida State, which has made the Elite Eight twice in the past five seasons, has been in the top 10 twice, including a high of six in the preseason. South Florida has been as high as 18.
At 14-2, Florida has been among the bigger surprises in women's basketball. The Gators already have surpassed last year's win total of 13 and defeated Florida State on Nov. 16. Miami (15-2) has been ranked three of the past four weeks.
''That's one of the biggest benefits of the ranking is that sophomores or juniors or freshmen see those names of schools that are closer to home,'' said Florida's Amanda Butler said. ''Top 10, 20, or 25, players don't have to go out of state to compete at that level. It's one of the biggest impacts rankings have.''
All four coaches have long tenures and deep roots in the state.
Semrau is in her 18th season at Florida State while Fernandez, who coached a girls high school program in Miami, is in his 15th year at USF. Meier and Butler both came from Charlotte. Meier is in her 11th season at Miami. Butler succeeded Meier before returning to her alma mater in 2007.
''All four head coaches compete against each other but there is a mutual respect,'' South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. ''Amanda and I scrimmage each other every year and I often see Katie and Sue on the recruiting trail.''
While the programs have different playing styles, the rosters have similarities in that there is a good mix of in-state and international players. Between the four schools, there are 15 Florida players and 15 international players.
With the women's game going to four, 10-minute quarters this year, having more international players has been a benefit.
Meier said another difference in the schools is what they can present to recruits. South Florida and Miami are in big cities, Florida State is in the state capital and Florida has the college-town feel of Gainesville.
And one thing they have in common: All want the good times to continue.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.