It's time for a new start at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
The girls and boys programs lost a combined 10 seniors, leaving behind two young squads that coaches Joy Fraychineaud and Dakota Kalis can mold over the next couple of years to be contenders for the Deaf championships.
It’s an exciting time for Dragons’ basketball. The teams’ young leaders and their coaches are excited for the new journey they’re about to embark on together, laying the foundation of the respective programs on their terms.
Olivia Brown, the girls leader in scoring, assists and steals last year, is gone. Kayla Debrow, who paced the team in rebounds as a freshman last season, has become the squad's new face. She and fellow sophomore, Ivabella Essex, will lead a young group of freshmen, sophomores and one senior.
So far, they’re off to a 3-0 start.
The Lady Dragons finished 17-8 last year and got their first playoff bid under Fraychineaud, a huge step in the right direction. The challenge, this year, is to keep that success going with this younger group. The way to do that is to establish and implement team roles early, Essex said.
“Those roles become identities and attitudes,” Essex said. “We learned them from our seniors and we carry them on now.”
Debrow and Essex will help carry on the Lady Dragons’ culture of “F.I.R.E”, which stands for family, intensity, respect and excellence. With this new group, though, Fraychineaud can get innovative.
“It’s a great time to make some changes, rebuild and reconstruct our program,” Fraychineaud said.
For example, Fraychineaud has a lot of guards this year, including Debrow, who played mostly center last season. Debrow has upped her ball-handling skills and taken a step as a vocal leader on the team.
This Lady Dragons will also look to work on their shooting and better their defense.
Now is the time to iron out the wrinkles.
“Now, it’s OK,” Debrow said. “Now is the time to make those mistakes and really practice them. Maybe we win, maybe lose. It really doesn’t matter. Good competition, that’s what’s really important."
On the boys’ side, Kalis lost six seniors. Luckily, some returners remain, including seniors Will Devis, Phoenix Lambirth and Sincere Vazquez.
Those guys are the new leaders of the team and are ready to fulfill their roles as veterans.
“I looked up to those six seniors,” Kalis said. “Now, it’s my turn to provide that for our new players. My role is to show them that they’re able to be better, that we’re able to cooperate as a team.”
Vazquez often pulls his teammates to the side to chat with them and explain concepts at practice. Often, there are several different conversations among players and between players and coaches at practice, all in an effort to encourage a learning environment.
Kalis is extending his team more autonomy this year. He wants players to be able to coach themselves and take control of their development. Boys players journal about what they learned after each practice to track their progress.
Another shift from last year is that the Dragons, who finished 10-11, are focused less on the future.
“We’re not worried about tomorrow, we’re worried about today,” Kalis said. “We’re worried about focusing right now.”
The team hasn't circled any games that will serve as a litmus test. Instead, it will focus on the next game.
The strong culture of brotherhood is still there. They'll work on improving communication this year, Kalis said.
“This will be a wake up call for us,” Kalis said. “There will be a lot of people who realize that this team can grow.”
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To inquire about enrollment eligibility or schedule a campus tour, contact Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information about FSDB, visit www.fsdbk12.org.