- November 12, 2015
Adhering to my pledge to update you on collegiate players from the area more often, this week I am singing the accomplishments of Sarasota’s winter sports alumni.
And there are lots of them! Too many, as always, to fit in a single column, but know there are others beyond the athletes mentioned here who are succeeding on the college scene.
One of my favorite players to cover during my 2.5 years on the beat, Riverview High boys basketball grad Brion Whitley has taken on a larger role as a sophomore at Murray State, where he is backing up potential top-five NBA Draft pick Ja Morant.
(Quick aside: I know this has nothing to do with the area, but if you haven’t seen Morant’s highlights, you should fix that. Man, that guy is fun, in a Russell Westbrook way.)
Whitley is averaging 10.6 minutes per game and has played in all 19 of the Racers’ contests. While scoring 3.6 points per game, Whitley is shooting three-pointers at a 44.1% clip (15/34), which is the highest on the team. His best game of the season came on Dec. 12 against Southern Illinois, when Whitley scored 10 points in 11 minutes. The 16-3 Racers are tied for first in the Ohio Valley Conference and could make another NCAA Tournament run in March.
On the girls side of the hardwood, former Sarasota High center Madison Pack is a contributor for Columbia University, where she is a sophomore. Pack has played in 15 of the Lions’ 19 games as of Jan. 30, seeing double-digit minutes four times. Her best game came against Colgate University on Nov. 25, when she scored 14 points on 5/7 shooting.
Booker High grad Cellexia Foster, a redshirt freshman guard at Embry-Riddle, has started five games for the Eagles, a good sign for her future with the program, and is averaging 13.8 minutes per game overall.
Did you know that the NCAA starts its swimming (and diving) season in December? Why this makes sense to anyone, especially when most places outside of Florida are as cold as Antarctica right now (sometimes literally) beats me, but hey, that’s the NCAA for you. Anyway, a bunch of swimmers are tearing up the pool and are primed for huge 2019 season. Riverview grad Austin Katz is one of them. After the Texas Longhorn won a national championship in the 200 backstroke as a freshman, he’ll find it difficult to improve as a sophomore.
I guess he’s going to try anyway. Katz won the 200 backstroke at Texas’ most recent meet, against Georgia on Jan. 12, in 1:43.90. In December, NCAA.com named Katz one of the 15 swimmers to watch this season. If the governing body of your sport is using you to promote itself, you’re probably doing just fine.
Elsewhere, former Cardinal Mooney swimmer Matthew Garcia is thriving at Tennessee. The junior also swims the 200 backstroke, and also won it (in 1:45.46, not far removed from Katz’s time) at a meet against Georgia on Jan. 26. After finishing sixth in the 100 backstroke at the Southeastern Conference Championships last season, Garcia likely has bigger plans in 2019.
At Southern Methodist University, fellow Cougars grad Matthew Nutter set a personal record in the 50 freestyle (21.76) at the Mustangs’ Jan. 26 meet against Oklahoma Baptist. That’s not even one of Nutter’s prime events: The sophomore qualified for the 200 freestyle at the NCAA Tournament last year, and was part of three American Athletic Conference All-Conference relay teams, in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle.
You should watch all of these athletes — and more: Track and field season is just now starting (Again, why not wait until April?), but Riverview grad Aliyah Cunningham, a freshman at Yale, should see opportunities right away. You should be proud of all these people, putting on for our city and representing it well.