These athletes should command much attention in the new year.
Uncertainty surrounds East County high school athletics as we enter 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic still a part of our lives.
However, the level of athletic talent in the area is a sure thing. Here are East County's top-10 high school athletes to watch in 2021.
1. O'Mariah Gordon, Braden River High girls basketball
The back-to-back Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year is the choice for this year's top spot.
Gordon, a 5-foot-4 senior point guard, is off to another great start in the 2020-2021 season, averaging 22.3 points, 5.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. In November, Gordon signed to play basketball at Florida State University.
Gordon and the Pirates are off to a 7-2 start against a tough opponents and are ranked fifth in the state (all classifications) by MaxPreps.
2. Andres Junge, Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball
Junge, a junior shooting guard, has earned an NCAA Division I offer from Eastern Washington for his development as a shooter and all-around player. His progress started during the offseason and has continued into the 2020-2021 season. Junge, who is 6-foot-4, is averaging 22.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.
Even though he and his inexperienced Mustangs teammates have started the season 3-5, Junge's has been outstanding.
3. Lavontae Youmans, Braden River High football
Youmans earns a spot on the list after a junior season in which he ran for 1,073 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. Youmans had seven games of 100 rushing yards or more. At 5-foot-8, Youmans uses his vision to find holes in the defense and his strength to knock away potential tacklers.
4. Kelsey Vogel, Lakewood Ranch High softball
The Mustangs saw the majority of their starters from last year's team graduate in May, so it will be up to Vogel to lead the way. She should be up to the task. Even though the team only played eight games in 2020 before the season was shut down, Vogel, then a sophomore, made every at-bat count.
The second baseman hit for a .533 average (second-best on the team among players with 10 or more at-bats) with four doubles and 14 RBIs. The Mustangs will need her leadership as much as her bat.
5. Dimiter Zafirov, Lakewood Ranch High boys swimming
Zafirov followed up his strong sophomore season by finishing fifth in the 100-yard butterfly (50.32 seconds) at the 2020 state meet in November in Stuart. He also qualified for the state meet in the 200-yard freestyle, but was disqualified on a technicality as his head did not break the surface of the water by the 15-meter mark.
In 2021, Zafirov will look to make up for that mistake and come home with a medal or two as a senior.
6. Grady Paxton, The Out-of-Door Academy football
Paxton was a major contributor during ODA's run to the Sunshine State Athletic Conference Class A state championship game. Paxton ran for 525 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns as a junior in 2020, giving the Thunder a consistent ground game.
7. Aurora Melzer, Lakewood Ranch High girls cross country
The Lakewood Ranch girls cross country team finished third at the Class 4A state meet in October in Tallahassee, and Melzer was the team's top runner. She finished ninth overall (19:16.6).
She also competes in track and field, and had a strong start to her season before it was canceled, winning the 3200-meter race (12:04.08) at the Larry Richardson Memorial Invite in March at Sarasota High.
8. Riley Simmons, Lakewood Ranch High track and field
Simmons, a Lakewood Ranch High thrower, finished eighth in Class 4A in the shot put (38 feet, 8.25 inches) at the 2019 state championship meet in Jacksonville. She and all other track athletes didn't get to compete in 2020, as the championships were cancelled, but she will have one more chance as a senior to finish on the medal stand.
9. Grant Hill, Braden River High boys soccer
Hill has been on a tear during Braden River's 2020-2021 season. The senior has recorded 11 goals and 11 assists in 10 games. The Pirates have a 7-3 record with him leading the way, as evidenced by the fact his 11 goals make up 31% of the team's goals.
10. Abbey Burwood, The Out-of-Door Academy girls soccer
The Thunder girls soccer team is off to a 2-5 start, but freshman Abbey Burwood is doing her part to change their fortunes.
Burwood, who played on the team last season as an eighth grader, has four goals and three assists on the season.