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East County Wednesday, Jun. 17, 2020 1 year ago

A year of triumph: The top-10 moments of the East County high school sports season

Multiple aea athletes got national and state recognition for their accomplishments this season.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

With the sports world on pause since March, the high school spring sports season became a victim of circumstance. 

That's no reason to forget the accomplishments that came before everything came to a halt. It was quite the year for East County High school athletes, with numerous teams and players reaching new heights. While we await more good times, here's a look back at the top-10 moments from the 2019-2020 high school sports season in East County. 

1. O'Mariah Gordon repeats as Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year

1. Braden River's O'Mariah Gordon repeated as the Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

Winning an MVP-type award once is an honor. 

Winning it twice is a definitive statement. 

There can be no debate: Braden River High girls basketball player O'Mariah Gordon is the best high school girls basketball player in Florida. On March 6, she cemented her status by repeating as the Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year in 2019-2020, her junior season. Gordon averaged 23.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 4.2 steals per game, leading the Pirates in each category. Gordon also helped the Pirates (17-10) reach the state semifinals for the first time in program history. 

Gordon, who is ranked 25th in the national class of 2021 by Prospects Nation and 26th in the class by ESPN, is also successful in the classroom, holding a 3.74 GPA. 

2. Avery Goelz wins Gatorade Florida Softball Player of the Year

East County can claim it had not one, but two high school athletes who stood atop their sports in 2019-2020. 

Lakewood Ranch High first baseman Avery Goelz took home the 2020 Gatorade Florida Softball Player of the Year award on May 28. In a pandemic-shortened, eight-game senior season, Goelz hit .591 with three home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.894 OPS, and held a 4.25 weighted GPA. 

Goelz, who will play for the University of Florida next season, led the Mustangs to a No. 1 ranking in MaxPreps' Xcellent 25 national team list. 

3. Lakewood Ranch boys soccer reaches state semifinals

3. Lakewood Ranch's Drew Clark celebrates after scoring a goal for the Mustangs in the state semifinal.

It was a different kind of season for the Lakewood Ranch High boys soccer team, eking out wins instead of dominating opponents, but it was no less successful. 

The Mustangs reached their second-consecutive state final four by beating Steinbrenner High 2-0 on the road Feb. 19. Senior Jacob Jordan and junior Timothy Sheredy scored the Mustangs' goals and senior Michael Plechy recorded the shutout in net. 

Even though the Mustangs would lose 2-1 to Boone High in the semifinals Feb. 22 in Orlando, coach Vito Bavaro said he was proud of the way the team improved throughout the season. They finished ranked 99th in the nation, according to MaxPreps. 

4. Lakewood Ranch boys swimmer takes bronze in state tournament

It might not have been the medal he wanted, but it was still a medal. 

Lakewood Ranch High sophomore boys swimmer Dimiter Zafirov finished third in the 200-meter freestyle (1:39.21) at the state meet Nov. 15 in Stuart, 1.13 seconds behind gold medalist Cole Parnell, a senior from Lake Brantley High. It was an improvement from his freshman season, when Zafirov finished fourth in the 500-meter freestyle (4:31.68). 

Zafirov will look to keep climbing the ranks as a junior. 

5. ODA cross country runner finishes seventh at state meet

5. The Out-of-Door Academy's Tristan McWilliam, here running track, finished seventh at the state cross country meet.

With The Out-of-Door Academy's boys cross country record (16:05.59) in his pocket, sophomore Tristan McWilliam started to make a move at the state level. 

McWilliam finished seventh at the state meet Nov. 9 in Tallahassee, traversing the tough terrain of Apalachee State Park in 16:17.78.  He finished 1:15.85 behind winner Austin Montini of Oak Hall High, a junior, but McWilliam was also the second sophomore finisher, behind Matthew Stratton of St. Johns Country Day School, who finished second overall (15:39.45). That means McWilliam is set up to finish even higher in the future. 

6. Lakewood Ranch football secures winning season under Rashad West

The Mustangs football program had not reached the six-win plateau since 2014, but that changed in the first year under coach Rashad West. 

Even with one game canceled due to inclement weather, Lakewood Ranch finished 6-3, capping its season with a 21-13 road win against Seminole High on Nov. 1. West called the season a "building block year," setting a foundation for how the program will be run and bringing excitement back to the bleachers. 

7. Krug twins commit to Duke for tennis

7. Twins Connor and Jake Krug committed to Duke for tennis. Photo courtesy Dick Vitale.

After being recruited by the top programs in the country, Jake and Connor Krug, grandsons of college basketball legend Dick Vitale, made their choice. 

The twins committed to Duke on Dec. 23, selecting the Blue Devils over Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan. The Krugs, who participate in online schooling, will begin their Duke careers in the 2021-2022 season. Connor Krug is ranked 16th overall in his class by the Tennis Recruiting Network, while Connor Krug is ranked 22nd. 

8. Lakewood Ranch wrestler finishes sixth at state meet

Mustangs senior Colby Keane scrapped and clawed his was to the top-eight podium in his final shot at the state meet. 

Keane, who wrestled in the 160-pound weight class, won his first match at the state meet, held March 6-7 in Kissimmee, before losing to second-place finisher Steven Villalobos of South Dade High and heading to wrestlebacks. Keane would win two matches in the wrestleback bracket, the second against Hagerty High's Ryan Cody, to secure his sixth-place finish. 

9. Mustang girls cross country runner finishes 12th at state meet

9. Lakewood Ranch's Jessica Neal continued her running journey by finishing 12th at the state cross country meet.

Mustangs sophomore Jessica Neal had a big effort at the state meet Nov. 9 in Tallahassee. It was an effort that signaled more improvement in the future.

Neal was raised in Southlake, Texas, and was cut from her school's track team in fifth and sixth grade. In seventh grade, she made the team, but she later missed a season with a stress fracture in her leg. 

Neal moved to Lakewood Ranch prior to her sophomore season, her first one where she entered the year confident in her abilities and her health. Her 12th-place finish at the state meet (18:42.10) continues her upward trend. 

10. Lakewood Ranch girls shot put star breaks own record

Mustangs junior Riley Simmons did not get many opportunities to showcase her talents in 2020, but she made the most of the ones she had. 

Simmons broke her own school record in the girls shot put March 6 at the Larry Richardson Memorial meet at Sarasota High, tossing it 11.99 meters (39.38 feet). Simmons bested her previous mark, which she set while finishing eighth at the 2019 state meet, by 0.20 meters (0.66 feet). 

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I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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