Under-the-radar winter sports athletes and teams keep things rolling.
With less than a month to go before the postseason begins for winter sports – somehow – it is time to bring back my potpourri column of underrated players, teams and anything else from this winter sports season that deserves recognition but has not received it. As always, there have been more performances deserving of space in this column than there is actual space, so if you're favorites aren't here, they were probably next on the list.
Brian Hershberger, a sophomore on the Sarasota Christian boys basketball team, has done a bit of everything for the Blazers. He leads the team in rebounds (10.1) and assists (3.6) per game, according to MaxPreps, and is fourth in points per game (7.3). He also leads the team in efficiency, shooting 47% from the floor. The Blazers are 4-5 this season, but Hershberger should be a nice presence in the post for the next few years. You can never have too many guys who fill the stat sheet like that.
I have to give credit to the whole Cardinal Mooney girls basketball team. After a season in which most of the team was freshmen, I was curious how things would unfold in year two under coach Rico Antonio. I don't know if anyone predicted a 10-2 record as of Jan. 8, with a title in the annual midseason Chick-fil-A Tournament to boot. And the team is still extremely young, with Kassidy Keffer, a junior, being the only non-freshmen or sophomore. Freshman forward Jordyn Byrd has exploded on the hardwood after helping the school's volleyball team take the state title. She scored 61 points over three games in the Chick-fil-A Tournament.
There's a few weeks still to go, but I will be watching this team's playoff run with anticipation. After finishing 3-18 two seasons ago, this is quite the turnaround, and everyone involved deserves kudos.
Likewise, the Sarasota High boys soccer team has gone from 5-10 in 2018-2019 to 7-0-3 this season. The Sailors, coached by Parker Thurman, have done it with a mix of stingy defense, only twice allowing more than one goal, and timely offense. Senior attacker Francesco La Rosa leads the Sailors with eight goals and 18 points, but it has been a group effort. Senior goalkeeper Nicola Piras has also been a bright spot, helping keep the rare defensive misstep from hurting the team on the scoreboard.
Riverview High girls basketball senior guard Katy Dean has also played well in the team's first season under coach Gerald Perry. The 5-foot-5 Dean is averaging 16.3 points per game and adding 2.6 steals per game. The Rams are sticking in the playoff hunt at 8-7, and Dean might will them there with her scoring ability.
The most fun part of all of this? There are still great performances out there. As the playoffs approach, the spotlights only get brighter. Make-or-break moments will happen, and yes, some won't go your favorite team's way. But some will, and those moments can land a player on a list like this.
They are what make sports so compelling. I hope you follow along as we watch them unfold together.