- December 29, 2016
With 2017 behind us, it's time to look forward. Here are 10 athletes area sports fans will hear a lot about in 2018.
10 — Josie McCrea, Booker High
The Sarasota Military Academy junior plays for Booker High because the Eagles don't field a softball team, and play she does.
McCrea pitched in every game of the Tornadoes' 2017 season, winning 13 games and taking the team to the Class 5A, District 11 final. To get there, McCrea held Southeast High in check for a 4-2 win that included forcing a triple play in the bottom of the final inning. The team lost to Bayshore High in the final, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment.
Durability is something of a lost art in pitching, but McCrea has plenty of it. In 2018, McCrea returns to the mound with bigger plans.
9 — Ben McCabe, Sarasota High
Sarasota High senior catcher/outfielder Ben McCabe wasn’t a starter for the Sailors much of the 2017 season. That’s what happens when you’re behind a Division I prospect such as Cole Madden, who now attends the United States Military Academy at West Point).
McCabe’s talent shone through, anyway. He was handed designated hitter duties during the Sailors’ postseason run to the Final Four. That, plus his travel ball experience, turned McCabe into a Division I player himself; he signed with the University of Central Florida on Nov. 8.
With Madden graduated, the catching job should be McCabe’s to corral. With him behind the plate, Sailors pitchers will remain in good hands.
8 — Kali Plattner, Cardinal Mooney High
In 2016, Kali Plattner was a reserve defensive player on the Cardinal Mooney High volleyball team.
In 2017, she moved to outside hitter and stunned coach Chad Sutton.
“She just … boom,” Sutton said in October, making a rocket motion with his left hand. “She has completely taken to the role and the responsibility that comes with it.”
She had 21 kills in an Oct. 10 win against Charlotte High, an example of her dominance.
The Cougars reached the regional quarterfinals before falling to Bishop Verot High in four sets. If they advance further in 2018, Plattner will likely have a lot to do with it.
7 — MJ McMahon, Cardinal Mooney High
Don’t be fooled by MJ McMahon’s size.
The Cardinal Mooney High boys lacrosse junior stands 5-foot-6, but he plays bigger than his opponents anticipate.
He was named to the All-District team last year following Cardinal Mooney’s trip to the District 17 championship game, where the Cougars lost 9-8 in overtime to Riverview High. Acting mainly as a distributor, his best game might have come in a 14-8 loss to Barron Collier High on March 29, when he recorded a hat trick and two assists.
With players such as Patrick Warren now graduated, it’s time for McMahon to take on an even larger role in the offense. The Cougars hope this leads to a state tournament appearance, too.
6 — Johnnie Williams IV, Booker High
The Booker High boys basketball team is in the midst of a revival, and leading the charge is junior Johnnie Williams IV.
The Tornadoes are 9-0 and ranked fourth in Class 6A by MaxPreps as of Jan. 2. Williams IV has been a monster in those games. He scored a team-high 18 points Dec. 30 in the team’s 71-66 Suncoast Classic championship game victory against Riverview High.
He’s worked on his efficiency, he said, to still be able to score while taking fewer shots. It makes the team better and allows Tornadoes teammates such as seniors Jaylen Jones and Jordan Curtis to contribute more.
He also said his goal is to be named the Class 6A Player of the Year. We’ll find out in a few months if that dream becomes reality.
5 — Kelly Brown, Sarasota High
When Sarasota High girls basketball guard Kelly Brown joined the Sailors as a freshman, she showcased natural skills, but she was 5-foot-1 (or thereabouts), she said, and lacked muscle mass and a killer instinct. She also lacked experience: She had only played the sport for two years at that point. If she was going to star at the varsity level, she needed to add bulk and play with aggression.
Two years later, Brown is a wrecking ball. She’s now a 5-foot-9 junior who recorded a triple-double Dec. 1 against Riverview High: 18 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.
Ironically, the girl with impeccable court vision wears goggles while playing. They make Brown stand out to spectators, but her play would do that, anyway. The Sailors captain’s progress is something to watch in 2018. Head coach Wade McVay said Brown will leave the school as one of the best players it has ever seen.
4 — Brian Battie, Sarasota High
The Sarasota High football team may not have a head coach, but it does have a star in its backfield that the next coach will be thankful to inherit.
Brian Battie’s sophomore season was a success even though defenses knew all about him. Against Lakewood Ranch High on Oct. 27, Battie rushed for 147 yards and four touchdowns. Even against Braden River High, one of the top teams in the state, on Oct. 13, he dominated, running for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Entering his junior season, Battie should begin turning the heads of collegiate scouts.
Uncertainty remains for the Sailors in 2018, but one thing’s for sure: Brian Battie is for real.
3 — Veronica McCurdy, Riverview High
Riverview High girls lacrosse’s most prolific goal-scorer is back for more.
Veronica McCurdy, a senior, amassed 49 goals and 31 assists in 2017. Not many outlets keep girls lacrosse stats, but according to MaxPreps, McCurdy’s gaudy stats landed her 38th nationally in goals and 11th in total points.
What makes McCurdy’s stats more unbelievable is her experience level. She started playing as a freshman and didn’t learn advanced techniques, like using her left hand, until her sophomore season. A year later, and she became a superstar.
Well, it’s another year later now. If McCurdy can improve as much this go-round as she did before, she could be primed to put up historic numbers.
2 — Jaasiel Torres, Sarasota High
Not many athletes have the sky-high potential of Sarasota High senior Jaasiel Torres — and his is literal.
At the 2017 Class 4A boys state championship meet, Torres took home the gold. He leaped 6 feet, 7 inches, short of his personal best but 4 inches better than second-place finisher Brian Edwards of Miramar High.
Not bad for someone who started jumping two years previous. He started because he was told he bounced around a lot as a child, and the first time he jumped, he hit 5 feet, 10 inches, or his own height.
Now entering his third year of competitive high jump, Torres could compete not just for state supremacy, but national supremacy.
1 — Malachi Wideman, Riverview High
The top spot on our list goes to one of the highest-ranked recruits in the area — in two sports.
Riverview High sophomore Malachi Wideman stars for both the Rams’ football and boys basketball teams. The 6-foot-4 Wideman is a four-star wide receiver, according to Rivals, with a scholarship offer from the Florida Gators. He missed the 2017 football season because of a wrist injury suffered playing AAU basketball in the summer.
He says he’ll be back on the gridiron next fall, not that he needs to be: Wideman is just as good, if not better, at basketball. He’s the kind of player who can nail a through-the-legs dunk during an actual game, as he did Dec. 21 against Gibbs High. Videos of his performances have reached upward of 30,000 views on YouTube.
If you haven’t seem him, 2018 is the time. His profile is going to explode over the next 12 months.