• Columbia guard Taylor Ivery gets ready to shoot a free throw during Thursday's game against Fort White (PHOTO BY THOMAS RIX/Special to the Reporter).
    Columbia guard Taylor Ivery gets ready to shoot a free throw during Thursday's game against Fort White (PHOTO BY THOMAS RIX/Special to the Reporter).

COMMENTARY: Lady Tigers continue to grow up under Perry’s watch

Columbia coach Anthony Perry has no complaints about his basketball team.

And how could he?

The Lady Tigers are leaps and bounds better than a year ago, when Perry took over for then-coach Sheena Carter midway through the regular season. It’s been a rough go this decade for the Columbia program, which has struggled to even put together a .500 record and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009.

But this year may be very well be a different story. Columbia is in the thick of the District 4-7A race with a 4-4 record, which includes wins over leader Gainesville and third-place Vanguard.

Although the Lady Tigers are currently seeded fourth in the district, they’re not afraid of anybody (just ask Gainesville). They continue to get better night in and night out, with Thursday’s 70-33 blowout win over Fort White just another example of the foundation Perry has started to lay at Columbia.

“These girls are fighters. They’re fighters and they don’t give up,” Perry said. “They go through adversity and they keep going and that’s a testament to their character and I enjoy working with them and being around them, but I’ll tell you they don’t give up. They’ve been through so much and I think they’re enjoying playing basketball now. I think that’s one of the big differences about them learning all this and I appreciate that.”

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by those watching either. Just ask Fort White coach Shea Showers, who has seen Columbia mature immensely as a program in just a short amount of time under Perry.

The Indians simply had no answer for the Tigers on offense or defense. Quianna Dillard continued her double-double spree with 21 points and 13 rebounds while Renee Clines put together 14 points and five steals.

That sophomore duo is just another reason why Columbia has taken a long-awaited leap this season.

“They’re a lot better,” Showers said. “They’re playing a lot better together and they’re getting a lot out of their coach as well.”

Thursday’s win now has the Lady Tigers two games over .500 with a 11-9 record overall. Finishing above .500 is only one goal —  making the playoffs is a much greater one.

And don’t expect them to back down from the moment when the district tournament arrives in just over a week. The Lady Tigers’ 70-69 win over Gainesville back on Dec. 5 — the program’s first over the Hurricanes since 2008 — has them feeling they can now beat anybody.

“Unlike last year, they’re ready to play. They’re not scared so it’s just a matter of executing,” Perry said.

Consistency continues to be the key for Columbia. While Perry is pleased with the growth of the team, he’ll also be the first to tell you it’s a work in progress.

Inconsistency has been evident by the fact the Lady Tigers split their two meetings with Gainesville and Vanguard while losing both games to Forest by single digits. That’s why Columbia sits in the four-spot in the district, which would force it to play Lake Weir in the play-in game shall the standings hold to their current form.

But the growth the Lady Tigers have shown in just a short amount of time is something Perry is counting on in the tournament. At least, he hopes.

“It better, simply because those teams that they lost to already, I think they want to snatch a victory from them,” Perry said. “All we need is one (win) and we keep moving so that’s the goal. Look, go in, get one win and then we’ll worry about everything else later. Just keep moving and keep advancing.”

Just like the program continues to do under Perry’s watchful eye.

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