There could be a lot more success on the way for area athletes and teams.
How do you follow the most successful sports year the Sarasota area has had in some time?
We're about to find out.
Although 2022 has just begun, we're already in the swing of things. The boys and girls basketball schedules are rounding into their second halves and the boys and girls soccer postseason begins in approximately three weeks. Those are both worthy of putting on your calendar.
Plenty of other teams, individuals and stories will be interesting to take note of this year. I've put together some of the stories on the top of my list.
In the near future, by which I mean approximately one month from now, I am excited to see if any of our basketball teams — perhaps a few of them — can make a run to the Florida High School Athletic Association state final four in their respective classes. It's no exaggeration to say that both the boys and girls teams at Riverview High and Cardinal Mooney High have a shot. The Mooney girls did it last season and might be even better this season; the Riverview girls are undefeated at 13-0 as of Jan. 5; the Riverview boys have two of the best players in the state in junior Jason Jackson and freshman Jamier Jones; and the Mooney boys gave the Rams all they could handle on Dec. 30 before losing 59-58, despite being a Class 3A team going up against a Class 8A team.
Of course, I also look forward to football season every year (and it always delivers). 2022 should be no exception to that. There are storylines abound. At Riverview High, the Rams will need to replace some veteran players to graduation and figure out a way to best Venice High, which not only beat the Rams twice but went on to win the Class 8A state title. It's a bit of bad luck to have one of the state's elite programs in your backyard; the Rams are also a great program but lately have found themselves overmatched. How they go about trying to even the playing field will be fascinating to watch. Having players like defensive back Charles Lester III certainly helps; I'm guessing he will be much more involved offensively in 2022 to go with his lockdown coverage on the outside.
Can Cardinal Mooney build on its leap from 2-7 in 2020 to 7-4 in 2021? They lose senior quarterback Tayven Clark (who was also the team's leading rusher). It won't be easy. Having returning wide receiver Ryan Matulevich, who starred as a freshman, catching passes will help whoever is under center next year though. That I can say for certain.
Sarasota High started the 2021 season 3-0 before going 3-4 in its final seven games to finish 6-4, missing the playoffs. The Sailors, too, have to deal with Venice High, but also the Rams, who beat them 35-0 last season. The team has made strides under head Coach Brody Wiseman. Can it make more in 2022? Like Mooney, the Sailors will need to replace a quarterback (senior Lance Trippel) plus leading receiver TJ McKay and key defenders like Ashton Turner and Kafale Rivers. But 43 others will return, a good sign for the program's long-term development.
Booker High went 0-8 in 2021. It is the program's third-straight losing season since making the playoff in 2018 at 6-5. I don't know if there's a quick-fix solution for the program, but what I'm going to be watching in 2022 is the turnout. If the majority of the Tornadoes' players from this year come back, the team can start to build something. If there is a lot of turnover, like there has been in the past, that's less promising. Until the rosters are finalized in the fall, we won't have the answer to this question, but I hope the Tornadoes find a way to turn it around. It's a lot of fun when that stadium is rocking.
In June, the 2022 USRowing Youth National Championships will return to Nathan Benderson Park. I love the youth nationals because the emotion on the rowers' faces is always at an all-time high when they cross the finish line and their arms and legs are on fire. It's not uncommon to see them scream or splash the water with their oars or give a massive hug to someone else in the boat. Joy and the payoff of perseverance are wonderful things to witness (and capture in a photograph). It also helps that our area teams — Sarasota Crew and Sarasota Scullers — often have individuals competing in the championships. If you've never been, this is a great year to go.
I'm also looking forward to high school baseball and softball returning. I don't have any specific teams notes for this one. All our local teams could be dreadful and I'd still have a great time covering those sports. (Don't worry, they won't be.) Baseball was the sport I played the most in my youth and all the sense memories being around the diamond dredges up — the smell of fresh-cut grass, the pop of a ball hitting a catcher's mitt, the chants from team dugouts, the tension of a 3-2 pitch delivered with the bases loaded and two outs — are always enthralling.
This year, we actually get a little more baseball than usual. The U-18 Baseball World Cup, originally scheduled for 2021, will now take place Sept. 9-18 at Ed Smith Stadium and Bradenton’s LECOM Park. It's a unique opportunity for fans of the game to see stars before they're stars. Not just Americans, either. In the past, international players like Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman have participated in the event. Oh, and so did some guy named Shohei Ohtani.
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