Heart of a Champion:
Lakewood Ranch Baseball
The Lakewood Ranch High baseball team entered its 2012 campaign with lofty expectations.
Coming off a year in which Lakewood saw its season end with a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning of the regional semifinals, the Mustangs wanted to prove to themselves, their school, their community and their opponents that they were capable of playing alongside the state’s best.
And it wasn’t long before Lakewood began to see its hard work pay off. With 12 seniors on its roster, Lakewood put together its most successful season since 2003.
The Mustangs came from behind to capture their first district title in nine years, giving, then-head-coach Mike Mullen his first district title since taking over the program five years ago.
Lakewood went on to defeat Tampa King 6-4, in the regional semifinals, and Winter Haven 4-1, in the regional finals, to earn a berth in the state semifinals for the first time since the Mustangs won the state title in 2003.
After sparking a seventh-inning rally and nearly pulling off another come-from-behind victory, Lakewood saw its dream season come to a disappointing end with a 6-4 loss to eventual state champion Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy.
The Mustangs may not have been able to add another state championship to their banner, but the players saw their careers come full circle from the time they walked onto the Little League field together nine years ago until they walked off together for the final time as Mustangs. Through it all, they overcame adversity, tested their limits, learned valuable life lessons and helped shaped their programs future.
And for that, the Mustangs are winners.
Crowning Comeback: Braden River Softball
The Braden River High softball team entered 2012 coming off its best season in school history — a season that saw the Lady Pirates advance to the state semifinals for the first time.
And yet, there was still something missing.
It had been three years since Braden River had won a district title; and with rival Lakewood Ranch, who had beat the Lady Pirates each of the past two seasons, no longer in its district, Braden River believed the time had come for them to reclaim their district dominance.
And that they did.
After defeating Venice 10-0 in the district semifinals April 18, the top-seeded Lady Pirates overcame a 4-2 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning and went on to defeat Sarasota 5-4, in the Class 7A-District 11 championship, April 20.
With the win, Braden River earned a berth in the regional tournament for the sixth consecutive season. The Lady Pirates went on to defeat Stuart Martin County 9-0, in the regional quarterfinals, April 25, before falling to Okeechobee 1-0, in the regional semifinals April 27.
Most Improved: ODA Volleyball
A year ago, The Out-of-Door Academy volleyball team failed to win a district match, finishing the season 0-7 in district play.
This fall, under the leadership of first-year head coach Chris Wolfe and its six seniors, the Lady Thunder found themselves heading off in a new direction. ODA earned the No. 3 seed in the Class 3A-District 10 tournament and after defeating No. 2 seed Cardinal Mooney 3-2 in the district semifinals, the Lady Thunder advanced to the district championship for the first time since 2007.
ODA eventually fell to top-seeded St. Stephen’s, to finish as the district runner-up. As the district runner-up, the Lady Thunder earned a berth in the regional tournament where they faced Clearwater Central Catholic in the regional quarterfinals Oct. 31. It was there that the Lady Thunder ultimately saw their season come to a close with a 3-0 loss to the Marauders.
Lakewood Ranch Volleyball
The Lakewood Ranch High volleyball team came into this season looking to build off its historic 2011 campaign in which the Lady Mustangs captured their first district championship and advanced to the regional finals for the first time in the program’s history.
Behind the leadership of seniors Mariah Robertson, Jordan Wopinski and Emily Ruple, Lakewood picked up right where it left off. Focused on making a name for itself and building tradition, the Lady Mustangs cruised through their district season, capturing their second-consecutive district title with a 3-1 victory over second-seeded Seminole Osceola Oct. 25.
With another district championship to add to its banner, Lakewood turned toward its next goal — winning a regional championship.
The Lady Mustangs went on to sweep Tampa Strawberry Crest and Tampa Sickles, before powering past Winter Haven to capture the program’s first regional championship and earn a berth in the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
It was there Lakewood saw its historic season come to a close. The Lady Mustangs were within two points of advancing to the state finals, before St. Augustine mounted an improbable comeback.
Lakewood Ranch High Softball
There was never any doubt that this year’s Lakewood Ranch High softball team was special.
Under the Fab Five — seniors Huntyre Elling, Amber Ozment, Dana Hutchins, Quillan Toler and Cristiana Burns — the Lady Mustangs wanted nothing more than to leave a legacy — one that’s focused on commitment, passion and leadership.
For five months, Lakewood refused to take anything for granted.
Sure, they were loaded with talent, but the Lady Mustangs continued to work hard day in and day out reminding one another than nothing is guaranteed.
They focused on helping one another and in doing so captured their third consecutive district championship.
Lakewood breezed through the regional tournament, defeating Tampa Jefferson 7-0, Seminole Osceola 5-4 and New Port Ritchey River Ridge 10-0, to earn the program’s first regional championship.
Riding an emotional high, the Lady Mustangs took the field for the Class 6A state semifinals May 9.
The Lady Mustangs saw their season come to an end with a 4-0 loss to eventual state champion Pembroke Pines Charter.
It wasn’t the dream-ending Lakewood had worked so hard for, but throughout it all the players refused to give up hope.
They cheered for one another and relied on each other for strength.
They played with their hearts. And most importantly, they played every game like it was the last, knowing for some of them it would be.
State Champion —
Lakewood Ranch High boys golf
Coming off a perfect campaign in 2011, the Lakewood Ranch High boys golf team captured its second consecutive Class 2A state championship Oct. 30 and Oct. 31, at Deer Island Country Club in Tavares. The Mustangs finished the season 127-8, posting a new school record for the most wins in a single season.
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Food and fun
The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and its Young Leaders Alliance have something to talk about: the organizations collected 764 pounds of nonperishable food and $1,295 cash to benefit The Food Bank of Manatee/Meals on Wheels PLUS.
River Club’s Cheryl Kaufman says she’s still pinching herself.
A little “Ho! Ho! Ho!” can go a long way this holiday season.