- December 19, 2019
Now that the college football season is more or less over — though the transfer portal is quite open and active — sports fans can turn their gridiron focus to other sports that deserve attention.
As much as I love college football, which is more than most other things on Earth, I do enjoy a chance to step back and see what else is happening on the college landscape, especially in regards to Sarasota-area athletes.
So many Sarasotans excel at other sports. Sure, there is plenty of basketball talent here, too — not exactly an underground sport — but what other communities could boast athletes that shine in rifle, volleyball and swimming, let alone all three?
Here's a look at some winter sports athletes you can follow over the next few months, plus some fall athletes for whom attention is overdue, as well as two former coaching superstars who are continuing their journey at the next level.
Walker, the former Riverview High volleyball captain, is now a junior at Kentucky, where she leads the No. 12-ranked Wildcats in sets played with 103. Walker, a libero, does not accumulate a lot of counting state due to the defensive nature of her position, but it's telling enough that Kentucky playing her more than anyone else has led to a 22-7 record and the No. 12 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats play the University of San Diego (29-1) on Dec. 8, with the winner playing either Stanford (26-4) or Houston (30-3) on Dec. 10 in the quarterfinals (Elite Eight).
A full NCAA Tournament bracket can be found at NCAA.com and the San Diego match can be watched on ESPNU at 8 p.m.
Tucker, the former Sarasota Military Academy student (and Olympic silver medalist) transferred from the University of Kentucky to West Virginia this offseason.
While it is still early in the collegiate rifle season, Tucker, a senior, has already found some 2022 success on the international circuit. Tucker won gold in the 50 meter three-positions and took silver in the 10 meter air rifle at the Continental America Championships, held Nov. 8-12 in Lima, Peru. The event doubled as a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Her college events have gone well, too: Tucker set a Mountaineers record by recording an overall score of 1,196 — four points off a perfect score — at the team's meet against North Carolina State University on Nov. 18. Tucker was named the school's Student-Athlete of the Week for her performance.
Whitley, the former Rams boys basketball star, is a senior at Southern and has earned a starting role in each of the Jaguars' eight games. Whitley, a senior, is second on the Jaguars at 10.6 points per game and 13 total steals as of Dec. 6. While Southern is only 3-5 on the year, their losses include tough games against big schools like Arizona, UNLV and Louisiana Tech. The Jaguars did defeat California 74-66 on the road Nov. 18 in the Emerald Coast Classic, which was an impressive win. Once Southwestern Athletic Conference play begins for the Jaguars in January, expect their record to look a lot better — and for Whitley's stats to get even bigger.
Like his former Riverview teammate Whitley, Caldwell has started all eight of the Mocs' games this season — and like usual, Caldwell is doing a bit of everything for his team. The ultimate "glue guy," Caldwell, a senior, is averaging 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and he's third on the Mocs with 19 assists and six steals. The Mocs are 5-3 but have won three-straight games as of Dec. 6. They will begin Southern Conference play on Dec. 29 with a road game against The Citadel.
Caldwell's stats likely won't balloon when that happens. But he'll do a lot of things, some of them invisible to box scores, that help the Mocs win games.
The Commodores are currently on a break in their schedule, but Traba, a sophomore women's swimmer, had strong fall season and should be one of Vanderbilt's top scorers when its season resumes next month.
The former Sarasota Sailor set a program record in the 1,000 freestyle (10:04.12) on Oct. 7 and finished second in program history in the 400 individual medley (4:19.81) as a freshman at the SEC Championships.
OK, technically golf is classified as a spring sport by the NCAA, but it has a fairly prominent fall season, so I'm comfortable including it here. Plus, Plattner's performance, which improved as his freshman season progressed, deserves recognition enough to fudge the rules (that I made up anyway).
Plattner, a Cardinal Mooney High alum, made impressive strides with the Bearcats. At the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate Championship, held Oct. 9-11 in Jonesborough, Tennessee, Plattner tied for seventh overall (seven under par, 209) as the Bearcats took the event's team title, squeaking by the University of Missouri by four strokes.
Plattner improved his finish in every fall season event he played, a sign that he's taking his college coaching to heart and getting better.
The native Sarasotan, who coached Booker High boys basketball to a state championship game appearance in 2018, is a graduate assistant with the Razorbacks, who have started the season 7-1 and are ranked No. 11 in the NCAA as of Dec. 6. It is Black's second season with the program after leaving Booker in 2021.
Sutton isn't technically an area alumnus, but since he did coach the Cardinal Mooney High volleyball team to a state championship in 2018, I think he's worthy of an update. After spending a year with Purdue University as a volunteer assistant coach, Sutton is now on staff as an assistant with the Chanticleers, who went 17-13 in 2022, bowing out of the Sun Belt Championship tournament in the quarterfinals.
If the trajectory continues, Sutton could be running a program of his own sooner or later.