The helmets have been strapped.
High school football practice returned Aug. 1, and I, for one, could not be happier.
Partly because I have missed being on the gridiron each Friday night and partly because it means we are one step closer to semi-tolerable temperatures, but excitement all counts the same. In addition to our look at Sarasota Christian's attempt at starting a football program in this week's feature, we'll bring you our annual full-squad football previews, two a week, finishing just in time for the Preseason Classic games Aug. 19.
Like I said, I'm excited for all of it. But the schedule being what it is, it doesn't leave much room for previews of the other fall sports, which always feels a bit wrong to me. There is a heck of a lot of talent in those sports in Sarasota and, by the way, those sports have also started practicing for their seasons. They deserve time in the spotlight, so here it is: A preview of each of the non-football fall sports, where the chance of another state championship is high.
Can the Sarasota High boys team and the Riverview High girls team repeat as Class 4A state champions? Those are the biggest questions, in my mind, entering this season. For the Sailors boys, it would mean three state titles in a row. Difficult and impressive, certainly, but not impossible — the Riverview boys team won four in a row from 2014-2017, after all. And I think the Sailors could indeed three-peat thanks to their depth. They lose the now-graduated Cole Firlie, who got them two individual sixth-place finishes last year. But the rest of their heavy hitters, such as rising seniors Evan Keogh (third- and sixth-place individual finishes) and Liam Heary (fifth- and sixth-place finishes) and rising junior Casey Aten (eighth place finish). The Sailors also finished second in two relays last year, which should be strong again and count for a lot.
On the Rams girls side, rising juniors Addison Sauickie and Gracie Weyant combined to win three gold medals last year. I would expect more gold from them in 2022, which is good for the team's overall chances. They will lose graduated swimmers such as Julia Brzozowski, who finished second in the 500 freestyle, but the program has a number of younger swimmers who should be able to step up.
Over at Cardinal Mooney, I don't know if the Cougars will be in the hunt for a team title, but I do know that rising senior Michaela Mattes will be a threat to earn her third-straight gold in the 500-yard freestyle, as well as jump up from silver in the 200-yard individual medley.
After winning a beach volleyball state title in the spring, is Cardinal Mooney High ready to repeat the feat indoors? It's possible. The Cougars have a deep squad, led by rising senior Jordyn Byrd, a University of Texas commit. Byrd helped the program win its first-ever state championship as a freshman in 2019. It would be apropos for her to close her Mooney career the same way. She'll have plenty of help, with players such as rising junior Helena Hebda and rising seniors Gracie Page, Madeline Carson and Sawyer DeYoung pushing the Cougars forward. After getting a tough draw and being ousted by Bishop McLaughlin in the regional quarterfinals last year, the team will be out for revenge.
The rest of the volleyball landscape is tough to read. The normally strong Riverview High program had a down year in 2021. Can the Rams get back to their district-winning ways? Booker went 9-11 in 2021, but that was an improvement from past seasons. Can that trajectory continue and lead to a winning record? Sarasota High has a new coach in Daris Rodriguez, who brings a ton of experience from playing in Puerto Rico and from coaching in the WAVE Volleyball travel program. Will Rodriguez be the one to bring the Sailors program to prominence?
I don't have the answers to these questions. If I did, there wouldn't be much point in asking them, now would there? We will all have to watch and find out together.
This is a sport where Sarasota High typically leads the way. Last year, the boys program finished 13th at the Class 4A meet and had three runners in the top 100. Two of those runners — William Hartvigsen (48th; 16:42.30) and Alec Miller (51st; 16:47.20) — will return as seniors this fall. That's a good foundation, with the expectation that some younger runners will improve their times as well.
On the girls side, Sailors rising senior Ella Menke finished 21st (19:49.20) at last year's state meet and should do well again in 2022. But Cardinal Mooney rising junior Addison Dempsey might have the best shot at a high finish of any individual runner; she finished 12th (19:27.30) at the Class 1A meet in 2021.
The Cardinal Mooney High boys team finished sixth in Class 1A last season thanks in large part to a tied-for-fifth performance to the now-graduated Wyatt Plattner, who is moving on to the University of Cincinnati. If top-30 finishers Nicolas Bencomo, a rising sophomore, and Tommy Tyler, a rising junior, have strong seasons, the Cougars could finish high again.
The Riverview High boys team finished tied for 10th at the Class 4A state tournament last year, but the Rams lose Connor DeMichele — who finished tied for 10th as an individual — to graduation. The Rams will need golfers such as rising senior Aksel Moe and rising junior Justin Zullin to have strong seasons if they want to replicate that state finish as a team.
No area girls golfers qualified for the state tournament last season.