The Pensacola High girls basketball team has become a staple of the Final Four.
The Tigers have been to the state semifinals each of the past five seasons, and for six of the past seven. They also have advanced to the state championship game three times during that run. In head coach Alison Davis' 17 seasons, the Tigers have accumulated 35 state playoff victories.
But as the 2012-13 season begins this week, Davis' focus isn't on getting back to the Final Four -- at least not yet. Instead, the veteran coach still is working out the kinks that come with a young team.
"I know our limitations," Davis said. "We've got so much work ahead of us right now. I'm overwhelmed with how we're going to get that same type of performance this year. But (the Final Four) is a goal. And they know I intend to work them to try to accomplish it, because I know that's the ultimate experience for any player.
"So if they're willing to put in the work, then I'm willing to put in the time to try to make it happen for them. But we are limited, and I think we're going to have our struggles, more so than in previous seasons."
The Tigers' focal point is 5-foot-11 forward Chelsey Gibson, a four-year starter and returning FABC Class 6A all-state selection. Kayla Thompson, a 6-1 senior, also is back after averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds last season.
And the Tigers have a new player on the team, 6-2 senior D'Arcy Draper, who will start at center. She transferred to PHS from Vandebilt Catholic in New Orleans, which competed in the Louisiana Class 4A Final Four last season.
"This year, we've got a lot of height, so I think that's a plus for us," said Gibson, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds as a junior. "I feel like we're strong. We're still the same team, but maybe a little better with the height. We've always been a smaller team in the past, so we finally got what we wanted."
That height is what the Tigers hope will make up for the loss of star players Kyla Muhammad and Per-Shawna Williams, who together averaged 22 points and 20 rebounds a game. Muhammad, who now plays for Daytona State College, also was a strong leader for PHS, an intangible that Davis still is searching for this year.
"We lost a tremendous player in Kyla Muhammad," Davis said. "She was a true team leader. She was a player who really understood the game and what it takes to be a winner. So I feel like we might struggle with that.
"We've got to have someone step up and really lead this team."
Gibson -- along with Thompson and returning contributors Acey Powell and Shamina Hunter -- looks to fill that role. For Gibson, this season not only is about making it back to the Final Four, but also winning a state championship. Though the Tigers have made the state playoffs year after year, the team hasn't won a state title since 1997.
"We really want to finish stronger this year and end with a 'W'," Gibson said. "We don't want to come up short again. It's going to take hard work every practice. Every game, we have to prepare ourselves for what's down the road and focus on that. We can't lose focus on that."
Gibson and Thompson's experience is what Davis said will help the Tigers in their quest of making another deep postseason run.
"We got strength in the experience of Chelsey Gibson and Kayla Thompson coming back," Davis said. "So we really have to build the others to continue the tradition that we've had over the past few years.
"They know they're a target. They're a team that's very much aware of the high expectations everyone has for what we should accomplish every year."