Swimming and cross country medals will be doled out Friday while the football playoffs begin
The trek to the fall sports state championship events is reaching its last stop.
After this weekend, only football will remain for area schools. Swimming and cross country will be done, and with any luck, our athletes will end those seasons with medals around their necks. Then all attention turns to the winter sports — which have started, by the way. Cardinal Mooney played a girls soccer game Tuesday nigh. The Cougars beat Braden River High 1-0 and former Sarasota Athlete of the Week Allessia Ukmar made five saves to secure the shutout. I'll likely be talking more about that talented Cougars team soon, but not yet. The area has championships to win first.
A week after besting Venice High by five points at the schools' district meet, the Sarasota High boys swimming team did the same thing at the schools' Class 4A Region 2 meet, this time by 13 points. The Sailors got wins in the 200- (1:28.03) and 400-yard (3:11.56) freestyle relays, plus individual wins by junior Liam Heary in the 50-yard freestyle (21.62) and the 100-yard breaststroke (57.84) and senior Cole Firlie in the 200-yard freestyle (1:43.28). Sailors junior Evan Keogh finished second in the 100-yard backstroke (51.52) and third in the 200-yard individual medley (1:56.08). Among other strong results, those top-end finishes propelled the Sailors to their overall win.
They'll have a chance to repeat as state champs — in a tougher class, remember — at the FHSAA meet on Friday at the Sailfish Splash Waterpark and Aquatics Center in Stuart. It will not be an easy task. None of the Sailors are seeded higher than third in their individual events or relays, meaning their depth again might play the biggest factor. But don't count them out. I certainly won't.
Riverview High is not in contention for the team title, but Rams senior Liam Custer does have the top-seeded time in the class in the 200 individual medley (1:52.56) and is third in the 500 freestyle (4:33.88).
On the girls side of the Class 4A meet, it's Riverview High who has a chance to do something special at states. The Rams won their side of the meet by 139 points over Venice. Rams sophomore Addison Sauickie won the 200-yard freestyle (1:49.70), senior Sarah Sensenbrenner won the 100-yard backstroke (56.65) and sophomore Gracie Weyant — the sister of Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant — won the 200-yard individual medley (2:04.40) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:03.43). The Rams also won the 200-yard medley relay (1:47.70), the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:37.42) and the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:31.33).
Sauickie's 200 freestyle time and Weyant's 200 IM and 100 breaststroke times are tops in the class entering the FHSAA state meet and Sensenbrenner's 100 backstroke time is second. Other Rams' times are also in the top five, like Bethany Rahn, who is seeded fifth in the 200 freestyle (1:53.31). The team has a chance to do serious damage and possibly get its best finish since 2015 when the Rams finished second overall to Buchholz High (which was in year one of an insane four-year title run). How cool would it be to have both the boys and girls swimming titles come home to Sarasota? It's a possibility.
By the way, Sarasota girls swimmer Sumner Chmielewski has an opportunity to bring home hardware of her own. She's seeded second to Weyant in the 200 IM (2:05.08) and first in the 500 freestyle (4:52.79).
Then we have the cross country state meets, which also take place this weekend. (You couldn't space these things out a bit, FHSAA? Help a sports reporter out!)
Sarasota High junior girls runner Ella Menke finished fourth at the Sailors Class 4A regional meet (19:42.60), held Nov. 4 at Holloway Park in Lakeland. Menke has a shot at a top-10 finish at the state meet, which will be held Friday at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. The Apalachee course is notoriously hilly and a lot of runners hate it, making any high finish there all the more impressive. Menke finished 34th last year (20:11.30) and no matter what, she's on pace to crush that time in 2021.
At the 1A level, Cardinal Mooney sophomore Addison Dempsey finished sixth at the team's regional meet (19:35.60), also held Nov. 4 at Holloway Park. Dempsey was the only Cougars girls runner to compete at the regional meet. No one from Mooney reached the girls state meet last season, either. Getting there at all is a cool accomplishment for Dempsey.
And then there's football. I wrote some objective words about the football playoffs in this week's feature story, but my column is a chance to be subjective, so here it is: I love the postseason. I love driving for an hour and a half on a Friday night to a school I've never heard of previously and watching one of our local teams beat them down over the course of three hours. I love watching that while wearing my light jacket for the first time in nine months, maybe even putting the jacket's hood up to ward off the rain, because that's real football weather. I love debating with others on the sideline about whether a team should go for a fourth down in a crucial situation, or play it safe and punt. When any given play could spell the end of a team's season, every play is exciting.
I think both Sarasota teams in the postseason — Riverview and Cardinal Mooney — can win on Friday. Will they both win? I don't know. They're both on the road. That's tough. The Rams (8-2) play at Steinbrenner High (7-3). It's a chance for the team to get payback for a postseason loss in 2019. The Cougars (7-3) will travel to Bishop Verot High (5-4), where the Cougars lost 28-17 on Oct. 22. Both Riverview and Mooney should have plenty of motivation. That's good. Ultimately, I think two wide receivers — Riverview senior Jaron Glover and Cardinal Mooney freshman Ryan Matulevich — can be the difference for their teams. We'll see if I'm right.
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