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Sarasota Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 5 months ago

Prose and Kohn: Winter sports athletes thriving in college

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Plus, a few non-football fall athletes did, too.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

The beginning of the year is as good a time as any to check on our collegiate athletes, as I am wont to do.

I took a look at our football alumni in the fall, but there are plenty of other fall and winter sports athletes thriving in one way or another. 

Former Riverview High boys basketball star Brion Whitley transferred from Murray State to Southern University before this season. Through 16 games, the move has worked out. Whitley, a junior, is the Jaguars' sixth man, coming off the bench to provide a spark whenever the team needs it. His stats suggest he should be getting even more time than he is now. Whitley is averaging 12.5 points a game, third most on the team. He's also fourth on the team in steals (21). His success has not been opponent-dependent, either. While his best game (29 points) came against tiny Ecclesia College, he also scored 14 points against Kentucky. 

With Whitley on board, the Jaguars have started the season 9-7. I don't know if he'll get any start as the season progresses, but it might not matter. Whitley is taking advantage of whatever is handed to him, like he always has. 

Whitley's former Rams teammate AJ Caldwell is at Tennessee-Chattanooga and is also an important piece for the Mocs. Caldwell has started nine of the team's 16 games and is averaging five points, 2.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game while turning the ball over just 17 times. Caldwell is a glue player for the Mocs. He plays strong defense and does whatever the team needs him to do on the offensive end. That's why he's getting 27.3 minutes per game, the fourth-most on the team. 

The Mocs are 13-3, so whatever Caldwell and his teammates are doing, it's working. 

At Kentucky, former Riverview High volleyball player Riah Walker got playing time for Kentucky as a sophomore. The libero played in 71 sets over the course of the season and recorded 154 digs. She only made six receiving errors. Her defensive played helped the Wildcats to a 25-5 record, though the team was upset by Illinois in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Speaking of the Wildcats, former Sarasota Military Academy athlete Mary Tucker, fresh off her Olympic silver medal performance, is back at Kentucky for another season of dominance in rifle. She's now a junior. After winning a national championship last season, Tucker and the Wildcats are off to another good start, though they did drop an early-season match against Mississippi. I doubt the slip-up will matter much. She remains one of the best shooters in the entire world. 

Isabel Traba, a former Sarasota High girls swimmer, is having a strong season at Miami. In November, Traba finished second in the 200-yard individual medley (2:04.47) and third in the 200-yard butterfly (2:02.29) at the Miami Invitational among other strong results. But she's not the only member of her family doing big things. Traba's sister, Mercedes Traba, is also a Sarasota alumna and also competed at the Miami Invitational, though for Vanderbilt. Mercedes Traba, a freshman, finished third in the 500-yard freestyle (4:51.17), the 400-yard individual medley (4:23.16) and the 1,650-yard freestyle (17:16.17) at the meet. 

Elsewhere in the water, former Riverview High boys swimmer Brett Riley is a senior at Purdue. First of all, this is a wild realization for me when I remember that I covered Riley and his teammates' quest for a fourth-straight high school state title in 2017. Time is a weird thing. Anyway, Riley has had a strong career for the Boilermakers. He scored in all three of his Big 10 Championship individual events as a junior and he's on track to end his career well this year. Riley finished sixth in the 200-yard breaststroke (1:58.72) at the 2021 Purdue Invitational in November. 

Former Cardinal Mooney High volleyball coach Chad Sutton also spent the last two season at Purdue as a volunteer assistant coach learning under the well-respected Dave Shondell. The Boilermakers are 26-7 this past season, reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before losing in four sets to Pittsburgh. Sutton will depart Purdue now, but wherever he lands, success will likely follow. 

Former Booker High boys basketball coach Markus Black is on staff at Arkansas as a graduate assistant. The Razorbacks are 10-5 in 2021-2022 but are on a three-game skid since entering Southeastern Conference play in late December. They'll assuredly get right against my beloved but quite bad Missouri Tigers on Wednesday night. 

The level of talent coming out of this area never ceases to amaze me. This is certainly not all of the names I could have included in this column. I mean, I didn't even mention Emma Weyant, our other Olympian, who continues to hone her sport at Virginia. Hopefully these columns remind you how lucky we are to be able to watch these stars on a daily basis. The next few years are going to add even more talent to this collection, too; all you have to do is look at our current crop of swimmers and basketball player to know that. As much as football is the dominant sport here — and we certainly have our fair share of great football players — the winter sports are on the come-up. 

Get on board now so you'll be able to say, "I remember them when …" 

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

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