These teams and athletes weathered adversity to triumph.
No one could have predicted 2020.
It was a year of challenges for everyone, including athletes. The high school spring season was canceled after a few weeks and the fall season was delayed and shortened. Youth, club and professional sporting events were also affected.
Practices and games that were completed were modified to meet new safety needs. Still, there were uplifting moments. There were moments of perseverance and triumph. While some occurred before the world changed, others came after, providing a much-needed sense of normalcy.
Within these moments, a handful separated themselves from the rest. Here are the top-five Sarasota sports moments of the year.
Riverview High girls golf team wins state title
After finishing third at the Class 3A state tournament, held at Mission Inn Resort and Spa in Howey-in-the-Hills, in 2019, the Riverview High girls golf team turned disappointment into motivation.
The Rams — senior Aaron Whitley, junior Jacqueline Putrino, junior Rachel Carlson and freshman Alana Kutt — were not going to finish anywhere but first place in 2020.
They followed through on that goal. The Rams won the tournament in November, shooting 589 as a team over two days. That was 10 strokes better than second-place Niceville High. Putrino repeated as the tournament's individual champion, shooting 141 (three under par), including a two-under final day to hold off Bartram Trail High's Elizabeth Kondal (142) and Lakeland High's Analiese Raath (143).
As Putrino stood on the final green, watching her opponents finish their rounds, she and Riverview Coach Joe Angelo found themselves soaked.
Her Rams teammates had drenched them with water bottles in celebration.
"It was the funniest thing," Whitley said. "We got them pretty good."
Sarasota High boys swim team wins state title
If you ranked every swim team title from "least team effort" to "most team effort," the Sarasota High boys swim team's state title win would place close to the "most" edge.
That's because the Sailors won the title without winning a single event. And it was not close: the Sailors finished with 254.5 points, besting second-place Barron Collier High (200 points). How did they do it? By believing in the value of depth, and of each other. The Sailors were helped by the arrival of senior Owen Matteson, who moved to the area from Buffalo, NY during the offseason. Matteson was part of the team's 200 medley (1:33.17) and 400 freestyle (3:09.12) relay teams, both of which finished second, and finished fourth in the individual 200 freestyle (1:41.67) and 100 butterfly (49.43).
Sophomore swimmer Evan Keogh, who finished fifth in the 200 individual medley (1:53.49), said the team wanted to jump back in the pool after winning, but new restrictions would not allow for that. Instead, the Sailors celebrated by hitting Five Guys for burgers and fries, which has become something of a tradition for them.
Mary Tucker qualifies for Olympic Games in rifle
Sarasota's Mary Tucker shot her shot, and it worked out for her.
Tucker, now a sophomore on the University of Kentucky rifle team, finished first overall at the U.S. Olympic Air Rifle Team Trials in February in Colorado Springs, Colo. She did so despite battling a broken gun two days before the Trials began. There was not much time for her to adjust to a new gun, so she had to "wing it," she said.
She won anyway.
Tucker first took up rifle at Sarasota Military Academy before leaving the school team to practice on her own. Tucker said she taught herself to shoot by watching YouTube videos and reading as many news articles on the sport as she could.
The Tokyo Olympic Games were delayed to 2021 out of COVID-19 concerns. The wait will be worth it.
Allison Kukanza makes history at Riverview High
What started as a way to stay active during a pandemic break from girls club soccer turned into history.
Riverview High senior Allison Kukanza first asked her friends about the idea — "What if I joined the football team as a kicker?" — as a half-joke. But they responded positively, so Kukanza reached out to Rams Coach Josh Smithers. From there, a talk and video proof of her skills led to a tryout, which led to Kukanza joining the team for real.
She took her lumps in practice, but she also showed Smithers the same toughness her male teammates showed. And she got better. On Oct. 2, Kukanza connected on an extra point in the Rams' victory over Lennard High. In the process, Kukanza became the first female athlete to score a point for the Riverview football team.
The Rams consistently used Kukanza at kicker after that moment through the end of their season.
Booker basketball upsets Cocoa High in playoffs
Throughout the 2019-2020 season, Booker High boys basketball coach Markus Black said he was waiting for his young players to develop winning habits. They were still young, he said. He and the team's fans had to be patient.
Those habits, that tenacity that winning teams have, did develop as the season progressed. Despite a 9-16 regular season record, Booker hung in almost every game and sneaked into the playoffs as a seven seed. The Tornadoes faced second-seed Cocoa High (20-11) on the road Feb. 20 in the Class 4A regional quarterfinals.
They were not scared. They played with toughness and heart — and won. Booker defeated Cocoa 77-61, proof of how far the program had come. Even though the Tornadoes fell in the next round, the win was proof of the things this collection of talent can do in the future.