It was the year Sarasota became a city of champions.
Like all years, 2019 was filled with ups and downs, but for Sarasota athletes, it leaned toward the ups.
There was history made. There were medals captured. There was glory achieved. The athletes who fought for these things will remember 2019 forever.
Here are the top-10 Sarasota sports moments of the year:
1 — Cardinal Mooney volleyball wins state title
A year after falling in the fifth set of the state championship, the Cardinal Mooney volleyball team took Westminster Christian to the limit after appearing to be headed toward defeat. In the winner-take-all fifth set, the Cougars found the strength they knew they had all along, and defeated the Warriors 15-12 to take the match 3-2.
Down two sets to one at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, it appeared that Cardinal Mooney was headed for heartbreak again. The Cougars trailed 10-2, and senior Anna Klemeyer admitted the team had allowed doubt to creep into its mind. But a pep talk from Sutton changed everything.
"You always have two conversations in your head," Sutton said. "One is positive and one is negative. We didn't start that set the way we wanted. When we came out of our timeout, we said 'We are not going to be denied.' On the court, we kept saying, 'Not today. Not today.' You have to have an attitude of refusing to lose. We are not doing this again.”
The fifth set, too, found the Cougars in hot water. They took an early lead at 5-2 before Westminster charged ahead. At 9-6, things looked dicey. But another timeout allowed the Cougars to make a decision: They simply refused to lose.
"It's just a feeling of awe," Klemeyer said. "Obviously, that did not always go the way we wanted it to [go]. We had a tough time at the beginning of the match. I'm so proud of my team. To finally get it after last year and this whole year, to finally have the recognition we worked so hard for, we're all just trying to figure out what to do. We got it. It's pure satisfaction and awesome."
2 — Sarasota senior makes gold medal leap at track championships
Sarasota High senior Robbie Peterson was not the favorite to win the triple jump at the 4A state meet in Jacksonville on May 4.
He qualified fifth, a good effort, certainly, but not gold medal quality. Not only that, but Peterson had been dealing with a shin injury in the days before the competition.
He was not supposed to win, but that is, as they say, why they play the games.
Peterson captured gold with a leap of 49 feet, 0.25 inches (or 14.94 meters). He got the score on his first jump of the day. He rested afterwards. It was the longest jump in the state for the 2019 season, and beat Peterson’s previous best mark (46 feet, 5.5 inches) by more than two feet.
"I never doubted," Peterson said. "I have been training all (football) offseason. I came in with the mindset of jumping a high 14 (meters) and that is what happened.”
3 — Riverview girls swimmer wins twice at state meet
Emma Weyant has done this before.
The Riverview High senior girls swimmer won two individual gold medals at the 2018 state championships. In 2019, at the Class 4A state meet, held Nov. 15-16 in Stuart, Weyant did it again.
Weyant won the 200-meter individual medley (1:58.10) and the 500-yard freestyle (4:40.85). She won the IM by more than two seconds. She won the 500 free by more than 10 seconds. It was no sweat for Weyant, who has her eyes set on the 2020 Olympic Trials, held next summer in Omaha, Neb.
Before the season, Weyant, who will attend the University of Virginia in the fall, said she wanted to enjoy this final year of high school as much as she could, and swim for fun. Two more gold medals to add to her stunning collection certainly qualify as having fun.
4 — Riverview girls golfer aces state tournament
Jacqueline Putrino, a sophomore golfer at Riverview High, had a chance to win the Class 3A individual championship at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, held on Oct. 29-30. She was three strokes better than second-place Madison Hewlett of East Lake High and the putt was from two feet.
Putrino said she was nervous all the same. This was the biggest win she had ever, potentially, had. Putting would make it real.
She sank it, finishing at 5-under-par 136.
Two days later, Putrino was back on the course, ostensibly practicing for the Florida Junior Tour Championship, which was held the following weekend, but really practicing because there was nowhere else she would rather be.
5 — Mooney swimmer get gold, silver at states
Michaela Mattes, a freshman swimmer at Cardinal Mooney, received both gold and silver at this year's Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A state championship meet, held Nov. 8-9 in Stuart. The gold in the 500-yard freestyle (4:46.59) and the silver in the 200-yard individual medley (2:02.74).
Both times were a personal best. Still, like any good swimmer, Mattes said it is the silver that bothers her the most, the one that keeps her up at night. It will help her next high school season, she said, giving her something to work toward.
Hey: The gold is pretty cool, too.
6 — Mooney lacrosse attacker makes history
On a night when the Cardinal Mooney boys lacrosse program repeated its deepest postseason run, one of its players made history of his own. He did it, as his teammates said, by going “McMahon mode.”
Senior attacker MJ McMahon recorded his 400th-career point in Mooney’s 15-5 home win against Barron Collier High in the Florida High School Athletic Association regional semifinals April 30. It came on a goal that gave Mooney a 5-2 lead in the first half. He finished with three goals and three assists.
The Cougars would lose in the next round, but McMahon's effect on the school's lacrosse program will linger for a long time
7 — Jaelen Childs throws first pitch at Mooney baseball game
Senior Jaelen Childs never played an inning for Cardinal Mooney baseball. Childs, a outfielder and pitcher, moved from Chicago to Sarasota during the 2018 summer and was looking forward to joining the team.
On Jan. 31, his Lexus was T-boned by a car running a red light, leaving Childs with a broken pelvis and left femur, plus internal bleeding. His injuries required multiple surgeries and kept him in the hospital until April 1, though Childs’ mother, Lisa Childs, said doctors anticipate an eventual full recovery.
Three days later, he threw out the first pitch at Mooney’s game against Bishop Verot High.
It was a perfect strike.
8 — Booker High girls basketball reaches Elite Eight
Bringing in four transfer players meant the Booker High girls basketball season got off to mixed results.
Their on-court and off-court chemistry needed time. They would fight at practice, players said. The Tornadoes were winning, but not how coach Shantia Grace thought they could be, or should be. Then, after a loss to Braden River High on Jan. 4, the Tornadoes ripped off 13 straight wins, carrying them into the playoffs and taking them to the Class 6A regional finals (Elite Eight).
That solved the in-fighting for good.
The Tornadoes would lose 37-36 to Southeast High on Feb. 22 in the regional finals, but they found a culture that will extend into the future.
9 — Riverview beach volleyball finishes second in first season
For years, Riverview High has run a successful indoor volleyball program.
In 2019, the Rams expanded that success to beach volleyball.
Riverview took second at the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state tournament, held April 27 in Tavares, in its inaugural season. The Rams were led by a No. 1 pairing of sophomore Madison Binkley and freshman McKenna Flaherty, but the team’s depth was its biggest strength, according to head coach Annie Howard.
The Rams lost to Merritt Island High in the finals, but considering the circumstances, silver never felt so good.
10 — Sarasota football collects first winning season in 13 years
Sarasota High football (6-4) did not make the postseason, missing out by percentage points in the new, formula-driven system devised by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
That is OK. When a program has not had a winning season in 13 years, six wins is an acceptable first step.
The success came from the hands of coach Spencer Hodges, who helped turn the program around in two years. The Sailors set a record for most points scored in a year (335) and the defense averaged more than two turnovers forced per game. Senior running back Brian Battie, a South Florida commit, starred for the Sailors, averaging 9.5 yards per rush and scoring 15 rushing touchdowns.
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