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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 2 weeks ago

The top-10 Sarasota athletes to watch in 2020

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These local competitors are rising stars.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Sports are about excitement, energy and excellence, and while every athlete possess some of these qualities, some set themselves apart with a combination of electric play and engaging personas. These 10 athletes put fear in defenders and joy in the hearts of friends and family. Some have established accolades, while some are just beginning to reach their potential, but all are capable of putting on a show. 

Here are 10 top Sarasota high school-age athletes to watch in 2020. 

1. Riverview High golfer Jacqueline Putrino won two major tournaments in 2019.

1 — Jacqueline Putrino, Riverview High girls golf

After appearing at No. 7 on last year’s list, Putrino moves up to the top spot after winning the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A state tournament in October by three strokes with a two-day score of 5-under-par 136 at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills. Two days later, Putrino was back on the course, practicing for the Florida Junior Tour Championship. 

She won that, too, shooting par (216) over three rounds at Palm Harbor’s Innisbrook Resort. 

"She is a good golfer, but she is also so competitive," teammate Aaron Whitley said after the state tournament win. "She is super-focused. When she's practicing, she is always working hard on her game. She will even tell me that I need to focus more (during practice)."

2 — Michaela Mattes, Cardinal Mooney High

Freshman girls swimmer Michaela Mattes made Cardinal Mooney High proud when she won a gold in the 500-yard freestyle (4:46.59) and a silver medal in the 200-yard individual medley (2:02.74) in November, setting personal best times in each event. 

Mattes, who has Olympic aspirations, will look to win more than one gold in 2020.

2. Riverview High junior Madison Binkley is a star in both beach and indoor volleyball.

3 — Madison Binkley, Riverview High volleyball 

Court surface does not matter to Riverview High volleyball player Madison Binkley.

The junior plays indoor and beach volleyball for the school, and led each program to successful seasons in 2019. Binkley, a Florida State commit in beach volleyball, played as half of the beach team’s top pairing, alongside McKenna Flaherty, and the Rams finished second at the Sunshine State Athletic Conference tournament in Tavares. 

During the indoor season, Binkley proved her skills could translate. She had 276 kills, 248 digs, 39 aces and 24 blocks in helping the Rams reach the regional semifinals.

4 — J.P. Jackson, Cardinal Mooney High boys lacrosse

Cardinal Mooney junior attacker J.P. Jackson exploded in 2019, scoring 55 goals and 36 assists for one of the top teams in the state. Jackson did so while among elite scorers, making the feat even more impressive. 

With one such attacker, M.J. McMahon, headed to Utah in 2020, Jackson’s scoring touch will be needed again if the Cougars hope to advance deeper in the postseason.

5. Sarasota High junior Cheyenne Stubbs is helping usher in a new era of Sarasota High girls basketball.

5 — Cheyenne Stubbs, Sarasota High girls basketball

Cheyenne Stubbs, a Sarasota High junior guard, excelled in 2018-2019 as a sophomore, averaging 21.9 points, 4.8 assists,  five steals and 4.4 rebounds per game.

Thus far in 2019-2020, under new Sailors coach Kevin Corgan, not much has changed. Stubbs is averaging 21.3 points per game through Dec. 17, according to MaxPreps. The Sailors are young, with just three seniors, but Stubbs’ play had them at 9-2 to start the season. 2020 should hold big things for her and her team. 

6 — Jordyn Byrd, Cardinal Mooney High volleyball/girls basketball

In less than a year at Cardinal Mooney High, Jordyn Byrd has made quite the impression, in multiple sports.

The 6-foot-2 freshman first played major minutes on the school’s state championship volleyball team. Byrd recorded 203 kills (with a kill percentage of 40.6%) and 73 blocks along the way. Then she joined the basketball team, where she has continued her dominance. The season is just eight games old (as of Dec. 18), but Byrd had 22 points and nine rebounds in a Dec. 12 win against the Academy of the Holy Names and 19 points in a Dec. 13 win against Bradenton Christian.

7. Conner Whittaker had a 1.80 ERA as a sophomore for Sarasota High.

7 — Conner Whittaker, Sarasota High baseball

After a phenomenal freshman season — postseason, rather — Sarasota High pitcher Conner Whittaker followed up with a shining sophomore campaign in 2019. Whittaker held a 1.80 ERA and struck out 37 hitters in 37 innings while giving up seven walks. He was rewarded with a 4-1 record. 

With the Sailors graduating nine players from last year’s squad, Whittaker’s arm will be counted on more than ever in 2020.

8 — Omari Hayes, Riverview High wide receiver

A year after spending most of his freshman season on the Riverview junior varsity team, wide receiver Omari Hayes, the brother of junior running back Michael Hayes, proved he belonged in the ranks of the elite. 

Hayes had 516 receiving yards on a 21.8 yards per catch basis, an explosive output. He also showcased a propensity for big plays on special teams, taking numerous kick returns into opposing territory. Riverview quarterback Sean White is graduating, but whoever takes the reins next will have a go-to target at hand.

9. Nikki Yanez is a five-star recruit in the class of 2022, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.

9 — Nikki Yanez, tennis

The 30th-ranked tennis player in the class of 2022, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, Nikki Yanez has bounced back following a 2018 spent training in lieu of playing tournaments. The blue chip prospect has a 110 mph serve and has shown a propensity for closing out matches when she gets ahead. 

10 — Jason Jackson, Riverview High boys basketball

Another freshman who is making an immediate impact, Riverview High guard Jason Jackson has impressed with his offensive output in the early stages of the 2019-2020 season. He scored 16 points twice, in a win against Durant High on Dec. 3 and an overtime loss against Lakewood Ranch High on Dec. 12, then netted 21 points in a win against Evangelical Christian on Dec. 14. 

He has done his scoring inside and out, throwing down leaping dunks and swishing 3-pointers with ease. Jackson’s trajectory is trending up as the season enters the New Year.

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

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