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Not all top East County athletes wear a helmet

Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn

Swimmer Dimiter Zafirov should be a state medal contender for Lakewood Ranch High.
Swimmer Dimiter Zafirov should be a state medal contender for Lakewood Ranch High.
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High school football is back.

But so is swimming, golf, cross country and volleyball.

While football tends to dominant the local scene, plenty of talent will be on display in those other sports as we start the new school year.That includes Lakewood Ranch High sophomore boys swimmer Dimiter Zafirov.

Last season, Zafirov made his mark by finishing fourth in the 500-yard freestyle (4:31.68) at the state meet, a swell feat for a freshman. During the offseason, he has made even more waves, setting the top age 13-14 division times in the state in the 100-yard butterfly (49.88) and the 200-yard freestyle (1:39.08) at February's Florida Spring Age Group Championships in Orlando.

His butterfly would have won him the state title at last year's meet and his freestyle time would have placed him third. 

"I'm still discovering what I can do," Zafirov said. 

Zafirov credits his surge to always giving 100% of himself during practice, even if a given day's "100%" is only 10% of the energy he had the day before. Basically, he said, as long as you try your best, practice will be successful, and you will start to see improvement. 

Zafirov said he does not know which events he will swim at this year's state meet yet, making the all-but-guaranteed assumption he qualifies. That is part of the fun of high school swimming, he said. You don't know what the season will bring. Discovering your improvements is the best part of the journey. 

"I am excited," Zafirov said. "I have no idea what is going to happen." 

As Zafirov takes steps toward his goal of reaching the medal stand, other athletes will be starting their journeys, too. Here is a breakdown of players to watch in the non-football fall sports:

Cross country

The Out-of Door Academy's Tristan McWilliams and Braden River High's Grace Marston qualified for the Class 1A boys and Class 3A girls state meets, respectively, as freshmen in 2018. McWilliams finished 20th (16:55.57) and Marston finished 40th (20:19.97). A whole year of high school training should see both of them shoot higher in the standings. 

ODA will also have a current freshman ready to make noise: Maria Shaw, who finished 15th (19:47.13) at the Class 1A girls meet in 2018 as an eighth grader. 


Lakewood Ranch junior Ashleigh Angelo will be one of the top area golfers this season.
Lakewood Ranch junior Ashleigh Angelo will be one of the top area golfers this season.

Lakewood Ranch's girls team finished eighth in the state last season. The Mustangs will be led by junior Ashleigh Angelo, who finished tied for 35th (15 over par) at the 2018 3A state tournament in Howey-in-the-Hills, and senior Ashlyn Einwachter, who finished 55th (26 over par). 

The Mustangs boys team graduated its lone state competitor, Drew Angelo, during the offseason, but with longtime coach Dave Frantz returning to the program, it may only be a matter of time before the team is competing for state titles again. 

Neither Braden River nor ODA had a golfer qualify for the state tournament last season. 


Both Lakewood Ranch, in Class 8A, and ODA, in Class 3A, reached the regional semifinals in 2018 before falling. Senior leadership may push both teams past that mark this season. The Mustangs are led by seniors Anna Shelby Dees and Yami Zamarripa. The Thunder will rely on senior BreAnn Brown, plus juniors Shelby Fulton and Sophie Fedder. 

Braden River was eliminated during the district semifinals last season, but returns the core of its team, including juniors Emma DeCastro and Arianna Osika, which may prime the Pirates for a deeper run. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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