The area had plenty of sports highlights during 2016.
10 — “One-year Kickoff” to 2017 World Rowing Championships
Think people are excited about the 2017 World Rowing Championships?
The countdown to the championships officially began on Sept. 23, and Nathan Benderson Park hosted an event to get people pumped for the proceedings.
Olympic gold medal rower Amanda Polk was on-hand to ring in the one-year countdown — literally, and the park also unveiled a new sculpture, “Vortex,” created by artist Malcolm Robertson.
9 — Lakewood Ranch boys basketball ends district title drought
The Lakewood Ranch boys basketball team ended an 11-year district title drought when it defeated Palmetto 77-64 on Feb. 11.
Then-junior Justin Muscara finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and then-junior Brock Sisson contributed 12 points.
The Mustangs fell short of their ultimate goal last season, a state championship, but did accomplish something no one else at the school had done for more than decade.
8 — Braden River girls soccer takes home district title
The Braden River girls soccer team captured just its second Class 4-A District 11 title in school history with a 3-2 overtime win over North Port on Jan. 15.
Then-sophomore Joanne Gigliotti kicked the game-winner past the North Port goalkeeper less than two minutes into the extra session, and the celebration began in earnest.
The Pirates would be eliminated in the regional quarterfinals, but the memory of their district title will stay with them forever.
7 — Surge Rugby brings home the hardware
On April 16, the Sarasota Surge Rugby Club, based in Lakewood Ranch, won the 2016 Division 3 Florida Men’s State Championship, defeating the defending champ Gainesville Hogs 29-20.
It was the first title in Surge rugby history.
Then-Surge president and player Troy Nealey emphasized that the victory did just as much for the Surge’s youth program as it did for the adult team, because of the attention it brings the sport.
6 — Premier Sports Campus unveils upgrades
Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch was a big-time player in 2016, and no moves were bigger than the addition of public restrooms, training rooms and meeting space, medical treatment space and a “showcase field,” with room for 3,000 fans and a nice scoreboard. The improvements were revealed to the public during the Chargers Soccer Club's Labor Day Weekend showcase.
“The stadium probably will be the centerpiece of our marketing pieces when we’re talking about Premier,” said Rob Wells, director of sports for the Sarasota Sports Commission. “From an overall impression standpoint, it really shines and highlights the facility as whole.”
Anything that helps bring more big events to the Lakewood Ranch area is doing something right. The upgrades at PSC should do just that.
5 — European Showcase by Luis Figo a smash hit
Speaking of big events at Premier Sports Campus, perhaps the biggest was the European Showcase by Luis Figo, which took place Nov. 11 through Nov. 13.
The tournament packed 140 teams into the three-day event. Those teams came from all over Florida and beyond, including Argentina and Venezuela.
Rob Ferguson, the director of sales for Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch, said about 2,200 hotel-room nights were generated by the showcase.
Not much is better than kids from across the globe having fun while generating revenue for the community.
4 —Lakewood Ranch boys soccer four-peats
Not once. Not twice. Not three times, either.
The Lakewood Ranch boys soccer team won its fourth-consecutive district title on Jan. 22, defeating Riverview 3-1. All three goals came in the second half. Then-sophomore forward Pablo Vargas scored two of them.
The Mustangs’ season would come to an end in their next match against Wiregrass Ranch. Still, the team can take solace in being able to say it contributed to a four-peat. Could it become five?
3 —Lakewood Ranch track and field takes first place
On May 7 at IMG Academy, the Lakewood Ranch girls track and field team captured its first state championship in program history.
The Mustangs scored 68 points to win Class 4A, edging second-place Miami Southridge (62 points).
As a part of the larger team championship, then-junior Sophia Falco won a gold medal in the long jump and set a silver medal-worthy school record in both the triple jump (40 feet, 2.50 inches) and 100 meter dash (12.23 seconds).
Then-senior Reide Ryans also won a gold medal, in the high jump (5 feet, 6 inches).
2 —Out-of-Door duo wins state doubles title
Out-of-Door Academy then-senior M’Balia Bangoura and then-eighth grader Sydney Sforzo combined to take care of business on the tennis court. The duo won the Class 1A state doubles championship on April 15.
The pair was down 5-4 in the tiebreaker, but remained calm and rallied to win the match 6-3, 4-6, 1-0 (10-5). It was Bangoura’s last match for the Thunder before heading to the University of Nebraska. It was the perfect ending for her.
“I’m so happy that I could share her last match representing ODA,” Sforzo said.
1 — Mustangs girls basketball reaches state title game
The No. 1 East County sports moment of 2016 goes to the Lakewood Ranch Mustangs girls basketball team and its 47-29 win over Niceville on Feb. 19 to reach the Class 7A championship game.
It was the first Final Four appearance in program history, and the Mustangs were determined to make the most of it.
Then-junior LaDazhia Williams captured much of the attention for the Mustangs, and rightfully so. The ESPN top-50 player had a hard-fought 13 points and seven rebounds in the semifinal game. The hardest job, however, was given to then-senior Elise Spiller. She had to guard Niceville’s Jessie Day, who now plays for Troy University. Spiller was up to the task as Niceville was completely stifled on offense, scoring just four points in the second quarter.
Spiller also gave the Mustangs a spark offensively with 11 points, the only Mustang besides Williams to crack double-figures. Then-senior Kyra Klarkowski dominated the boards, registering 14 rebounds and setting the tone for the team.
Lakewood Ranch would drop the championship game to Winter Haven, but it did not diminish what the Mustangs accomplished last season. It only adds to the team’s motivation this season, as the Mustangs are looking to improve on their 2016 finish by bringing home a state championship.
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