Our columnist looks ahead to the biggest questions and events of the new year.
The calendar has turned the page, and I need to turn with it.
Sports are about looking forward, after all. There is always another game to win, another player on the rise, another good story to be written. In that spirit, I wanted to share what I am looking forward to covering in 2020. Hopefully, some of you will be looking forward to the same things.
Even though the 2019 high school football season just ended, I am looking forward to the 2020 season, in particular Lakewood Ranch High’s season. As Rashad West enters the second year of the turnaround, the Mustangs are losing a lot of their producers from their 6-4 season, including wide receiver Michael Cucci, who accounted for 654 of the team’s 993 receiving yards, and running back Isaiah Harrison, who had 536 of the team’s 779 rushing yards. Finding play makers to replace Cucci and Harrison should be priority No. 1 for West as spring football approaches.
On the positive side, the Mustangs used a two-quarterback system in 2019, and both parts of that duo — Jimmy Kelly, who will be a senior, and Cameron Madison, who will be a junior — return in 2020. Their improvement with a full offseason under West will be something to watch, as will the development of the defense, which under defensive coordinator Cody Montgomery was as pleasant a surprise as any in 2019.
I am excited for Nathan Benderson Park to host another major rowing event, this time the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials in April (exact dates to be determined). This will be a chance for the public to watch rowers at the highest level of the sport duke it out for a spot on the U.S. roster for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics events in July and August.
Any time there is an event like this at Benderson Park, I look forward to it, because Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) and USRowing do a wonderful job of hosting and putting on a show in a difficult spectator sport. If you have never been to a rowing event before, this is a great opportunity to get on board.
The LECOM Suncoast Classic is back in February at Lakewood National Golf Club. Last year’s inaugural tournament was one of the highlights of my 2019, in that I got to chat with some of the most talented golfers in the world and also was able to spend four days outside on the course. It was a gorgeous way to spend work time. I cannot wait to see what improvements have been made in its second year, now that it is the Korn Ferry Tour, and I cannot wait to see which golfers emerge.
As was the case last year, I am still waiting to witness my first East County team state championship in person. Will it be Braden River High’s girls basketball team, led by junior guard and all-world sensation O’Mariah Gordon? Will it be the Lakewood Ranch High softball team, filled with Division 1 talent and now with the experience of playing in a state title atmosphere? Will it be someone else?
I don’t know, and that is the beauty of sports. We love them because they surprise us. We love them because underdogs become overachievers and the elite prove why they belong on top. In 2020, anything is possible, and I hope you will join me as we watch these stories write themselves.