The year 2009 will go down as one of the most eventful in East County sports history. The area’s fields played host to both triumph and heartbreak as athletes of all ages pursued perfection. We saw Lakewood Ranch graduate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie play in his first Super Bowl. We shed tears as a car crash stole not one but two coaches from Braden River’s sidelines. We saw history made, champions crowned and scholarships signed.
In this edition of The East County Observer, we honor the teams and moments that captured the hearts of the East County. We’ve compiled a list of the top five teams and moments in 2009 sports. With so many amazing feats this year, you likely will not agree with all our choices. However, we hope you enjoy reliving these seasons and monumental moments.
TEAMS OF 2009
East County squads have been grabbing headlines for their record-breaking performances, championships and ability to bounce back from adversity.
Here is a look at this year’s top 5 teams:
1. ODA Football
In just their fourth year of varsity football, the Thunder reminded all of us that sometimes it’s the team who receives the least amount of recognition early on that finds it’s the one garnering all of the attention later on.
In 2009, ODA captured its first district title. The Thunder rolled through the postseason, defeating Admiral Farragut and Evangelical Christian and advancing to the Class 1B state semifinals.
2. Lakewood Ranch Girls Cross Country
Led by four freshmen, dubbed the Fab Four, the Lakewood Ranch High girls cross country team completed its best season in school history.
The Lady Mustangs opened the season by winning the Mountain Dew Invitational at the University of Florida. Lakewood followed up its victory with Manatee County, District and Regional Championships. On Nov. 21, the Lady Mustangs finished second at the Class 3A state finals.
3. Braden River Volleyball
The Braden River High volleyball team made school history this fall, finishing the regular district season undefeated.
The Lady Pirates went on to capture their first district title, defeating district rival St. Pete Lakewood in five games. Braden River then hosted its first regional game, facing Ruskin Lennard in the regional quarterfinals. The Lady Pirates moved onto the semifinals, where they defeated St. Pete Lakewood for the third time.
4. Braden River Football
After losing Assistant Coach Doug Garrity to a car accident in March and seeing Head Coach Josh Hunter resign, the Braden River football team spent most of the offseason healing.
This fall, the Pirates, who finished as the Class 3A-District 10 runner-up, advanced to the postseason for the second-consecutive season. Braden River defeated Winter Haven 24-21 in double overtime to advance to the regional semifinals.
5. Braden River Girls Soccer
Led by senior Nikki Gainey, the Braden River girls soccer team captured its first district title Jan. 23, shutting out three-time defending district champion Palmetto 2-0.
The Lady Pirates went on to shut out Lakeland Kathleen 8-0 on the regional quarterfinals, setting up a rematch with Palmetto in the regional semifinals. Braden River edged past the Lady Tigers 2-1 to advance to the regional finals for the first time in school history.
Braden River Softball
Braden River Baseball
Lakewood Ranch Football
Lakewood Ranch Girls Tennis
Lakewood Ranch Girls Golf
Lakewood Ranch Swimming
Lakewood Ranch Boys Soccer
Braden River Boys Tennis
Suncoast Storm 10U
Manatee East Minors All-Stars
MOMENTS OF 2009
Remember that play? The one during which palpable magic lingered in the air, when your hair stood up on the back of your neck?
We do. And here, we celebrate our athletes and thank them for their heroic efforts both on and off the field in 2009.
1. Clutch Kick
Braden River High junior kicker Kadin Kerns hadn’t kicked a game-winning field goal all season, but after watching the Pirates rally from 14 points down with under a minute to play in the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals Nov. 20 Kerns figured anything was possible. So while his teammates headed into overtime against Winter Haven, Kerns stood on the far corner of the sideline and practiced kick after kick. And after watching the Blue Devils miss a field goal in double overtime, Kerns knew his time had arrived. Two plays later, Kerns trotted out onto the field and lined up for a 24-yard game-winning field goal. Kerns fell to the ground as the ball sailed through the uprights, propelling Braden River to a 24-21 victory.
2. Flying High
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had been dreaming of this moment ever since he first set foot on the peewee playing field — although not even the 22-year-old East County native and 16th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft could have envisioned just how quickly he would land on football’s biggest stage.
But on Feb. 1 as the Arizona Cardinals’ rookie cornerback stood in the middle of Raymond James Stadium, gazing up at the dozens of screaming fans wearing his No. 29 jersey, Rodgers-Cromartie realized his moment had finally arrived.
Rodgers-Cromartie recorded five tackles in Arizona’s 27-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. And although the rookie didn’t get to add a championship ring to his list of accolades, Rodgers-Cromartie was able to return to his hometown with the Super Bowl-caliber memories that will propel him for years to come.
3. State Champion
Tevin Bryant isn’t one to boast about his athletic accomplishments. In fact, if it were up to him he would more than likely shy away from the spotlight entirely. But this spring, Bryant etched his name into the Braden River High record books a second time when he captured the school’s first state crown after winning the state title in the 219-pound weight class at the Class 1A Boys State Weightlifting Meet April 25.
Bryant benched 365 pounds and lifted 315 pounds in the clean and jerk for a combined total of 680 pounds, setting a new benchmark for Braden River weightlifting.
4. Overcoming Adversity
Trevor Barnes is no stranger to adversity. The Braden River High wrestler spent the first two months of his junior season recovering from a hematoma that had developed on his brain as a result of a concussion he suffered during football season.
After contemplating sitting out the entire season, Barnes finally returned to the mat Jan. 17 at the Palmetto Duals. The 189-pounder went 5-0, finishing atop his weight class. Barnes followed up his return with county and district titles before qualifying for the Class 1 state wrestling championships Feb. 20-21.
Following their historic undefeated district season, the Lady Pirates traveled to St. Pete Lakewood Oct. 29 with the hopes of capturing their first-ever district title. Braden River fell behind early on, losing Game 1 to the Lady Spartans, just as they had in their regular season contest. The Lady Pirates rallied back, winning Games 2 and 3, before Lakewood captured Game 4 to set up a Game 5 finale. With a district title on the line, the Lady Pirates took an early 3-0 lead and never looked back, cruising to a 15-5 win and capturing their first-ever district crown.
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.