Teams, storylines and events that will make the new year exciting.
Although 2021 doesn't feel that different from 2020 yet, I'm confident this year will be better than the last.
Next week, I’ll be bringing you my top-10 East County athletes to watch in 2021, but before then, I wanted to highlight some of the events and teams I’m looking forward to covering this year.
I can’t wait for the high school spring season to get here. Those athletes got the worst of the pandemic’s early-2020 terror, getting their season canceled just a few weeks after starting.
It was painful for them and it was, selfishly, painful for me, too. I love going to the Florida High School Track and Field Championships and watching the best of East County compete (and often win) on that stage. I love watching the elite-level talent on display when the Lakewood Ranch and Braden River softball teams go at it. I love seeing the local lacrosse teams improve with each passing year.
It’s not a guarantee that this year’s season will happen with no hiccups, but I hope it does. Fall and winter athletes were given the chance to follow safety guidelines and keep their sports going. I hope spring athletes are given the same chance.
As always, I’m interested in seeing all three East County football teams next fall. All three have big question marks. For Braden River — who replaces Rice signee Shawqi Itraish at quarterback? For Lakewood Ranch — can Coach Rashad West string together his third-consecutive winning season? For The Out-of-Door Academy, can Coach K.B. Belton instill consistency, after a 2020 where a winless regular season led to a trip to the Sunshine State Athletic Conference Class A title game?
The Korn Ferry Tour's LECOM Suncoast Classic is back for its third year at Lakewood National Golf Club from Feb. 18-21. The first two tournaments have brought exciting professional golf to the area. I doubt the third will be any different. Apart from seeing who wins, I'm just as excited to see the veterans who come to town. In the past, golfers like Mike Weir and Angel Cabrera have played the tournament. Seeing those familiar faces makes it fun for even a casual golf fan like myself.
It also will be interesting to see how the tournament manages crowd control during the pandemic. Tournament organizers expect the tour will allow fans, but how many people can be managed safely is a work in progress.
I'm also looking forward to being surprised by our East County athletes. Every year, athletes improve dramatically to post amazing performances. I don't know who those athletes might be in 2021, but I'm looking forward to finding them (and bringing you their stories).
More than anything, I’m looking forward to the day in 2021, whenever it may be, when the only time I have to type the words “pandemic” or “COVID-19” are in reference to the past. The beginning of the year won’t be much easier, but the end is in sight. There will be a day this year when we can sit shoulder to shoulder at sporting events again, when athletes can give their teammates hugs after big wins again. It’s coming, and on that day, I will rejoice.
Until then, stay safe. Let’s see what 2021 has in store.