Building off of last year’s successes, East County athletes made remarkable headlines in 2012, putting together one of the most eventful and successful years in recent history.
Throughout the past 12 months, we’ve celebrated district, regional and state championships. We’ve watched our talented athletes and teams make school history, overcome injuries and adversity and rely on one another in the crux of coaching changes.
As another year comes to a close, we at the East County Observer once again celebrate your accomplishments with our Year in Sports 2012. Included are this year’s Top 5 Moments and Top 5 Teams in East County sports. However, unlike as in years past, this year’s Top 5 Teams were chosen based on how they fit into five different categories. They may not have all won championships this year, but they all embody the spirit of the game in their own unique way.
In addition, we’ve also chosen Male and Female Athletes of the Year for the first time. Week in and week out, we highlight athletes for their individual accomplishments both on and off the field. This year’s two Athletes of the Year captured our attention numerous times throughout the year and put together seasons that will be remembered for a lifetime.
MOMENTS OF 2012
1 Olympic Hopeful
What began merely as a way to learn how to swim has since turned into a way of life for Lakewood Ranch High senior Danielle Valley.
After winning a pair of individual state titles in 2011, Valley, who swims competitively for the Sarasota Sharks, qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swim Team Trials in the 400-and 800-meter freestyles, at the Gator Swim Club Summer Invitational June 3 to June 5, in Gainesville.
Valley finished 35th in the 400 freestyle June 26, before advancing to the finals of the 800 fresstyle June 30 where she finished eighth.
Valley, who signed with the University of Florida, followed up her Olympic Trials debut with a first-place finish in the 500 freestyle and a second-place finish in the 200 freestyle, at the Class 2A Swimming & Diving Championships Nov. 8.
2 Draft Day
Zack Larson was 4 years old the first time he told his parents he was going to be a professional baseball player.
And over the past 14 years, the former Lakewood Ranch High center fielder’s dream never wavered.
After helping lead the Mustangs to the Class 6A state semifinals, Larson finally saw his lifelong dream come to fruition.
On June 6, Larson’s hard work and dedication paid off when he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins with the 610th overall pick in the 20th round of the major league baseball first-year player draft.
3 Golden Girls
Devin McDermott hadn’t run an anchor leg since her freshman year.
Olivia Ortiz briefly thought about not running.
But hours before the start of the 3200-meter relay at the Class 3A Track and Field Finals May 4, the two Lakewood Ranch High runners pushed away any doubts they might have had.
Ortiz and McDermott took their places alongside fellow teammates Natalie Novak and Kristin Zarrella and never looked back.
Novak, Ortiz and Zarrella put the Lady Mustangs in position to finish in the top 3. McDermott took the handoff and finished what her teammates had started, running a personal best 2:15 and anchoring Lakewood to a state championship. Lakewood crossed the finish line in 9:14.15, breaking their previous school record by six seconds.
4 Dynamic Duos
Twin brothers Arnav and Arsav Mohanty have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Their ability to play to each other’s strengths and know what the other one is feeling helped the former Lakewood Ranch High tennis stars capture the team doubles title at the Class 3A state tournament April 17 to April 20, while helping lead the Mustangs to a second-place finish in the team standings in their final high school school tournament.
The Mohantys, who won a combined seven medals during the tournament, also won the overall doubles state championship.
Following the state tournament, the two brothers signed with Mercer University in Georgia.
Across the court, Lakewood Ranch’s Cari Berry, who now plays for the State College of Florida, and Ashley Bongart captured a pair of state doubles titles of their own, winning both the team and overall doubles titles.
5 Prolific Passer
After spending a year-and-half as a backup, Evan Wilson took over the reigns in the fifth game of his sophomore season against Bradenton Christian and hasn’t looked back since.
Wilson led the Thunder into the postseason that same year and he’s been quietly making a name for himself over the past two-and-one-half years.
On Oct. 12, Wilson etched his name into the record books as he surpassed the 5,000-yard passing mark for his career while leading the Thunder to a 27-14 non-district victory over the Imagine School of North Port.
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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.