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The top 10 moments of the Sarasota sports season

A jam-packed list is filled with new and defended state titles, plus individual awards and history-making wins.

Sarasota's Zoe Ziegler leads his team onto the field against Manatee High. The Sailors beat the Hurricanes for their first playoff win in 18 years.
Sarasota's Zoe Ziegler leads his team onto the field against Manatee High. The Sailors beat the Hurricanes for their first playoff win in 18 years.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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What a year. 

Every year, it seems like the sports happenings and accomplishments of the previous year cannot be topped. Every year, that is proven wrong. 2022 was no different. 

It was 12 months of team and individual accomplishments. It was a year of athletes going above and beyond what they had previously done — and a year of athletes being recognized at the state level for doing so. 

It is always a difficult task to narrow the year down to 10 moments, but 2022 was a special challenge. When a state second-place finish comes in at No. 8 on the list, it's a sign of a year being out of the ordinary. There were great moments that had to be left off, but the 10 moments selected for the list were important on their own and in the context of their programs and sports. 

Here are the top 10 moments of the Sarasota sports season:

1. Sarasota High boys swimming captures third-straight state title

In the past, the Sailors boys swim team relied on depth to win the 2020 and 2021 state titles. Sarasota won no gold medals in individual or relay races during those state championship meets. 

This year, the Sailors had several, leading to Sarasota winning its third-consecutive title by 45 points over second-place G. Holmes Braddock Senior High of Dade County.

Senior Liam Heary won individual titles in the 100-yard butterfly (48.61 seconds) and in the 100-yard breaststroke (55.00 seconds). The Sailors' 200-yard medley relay team of Heary, senior Evan Keogh, junior Ethan Ooi and junior Luca Simon also took gold (1:32.91). 

1. Liam Heary won two gold medals for the Sailors boys swim team.
File photo

"I have always wanted to win the 100 breaststroke," Heary said. "Before this one, I had finished second and third and second again. Thinking about that going into it, it was emotional when I finally won. It's a picture-perfect ending to my high school career."

Though Heary, Keogh and others are graduating in 2023, the rest of the Sailors insisted that all of their focus would be on completing the four-peat next season. 

2. Riverview High wins back-to-back girls swimming titles

In theory, the 2022 Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A girls swimming state meet was anyone's to win.  

In reality, though, it was over once Riverview High showed up at the pool.

The Rams won seven gold medals on their way to a second-straight team title, besting second-place Oviedo High by 155 points.The Rams' 200-yard medley relay team of juniors Gracie Weyant, Addison Sauickie and Bailey O'Regan and freshman Taylor Schwenk won gold and set a state record (1:42.04) by 0.30 seconds. Weyant later won the 200-yard individual medley (1:58.66) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:01.68); Sauickie won the 200-yard freestyle (1:45.38) and the 100-yard freestyle (49.03 seconds); and O'Regan won the 500-yard freestyle (4:49.28).

The team's 400-yard freestyle relay team of Weyant, Sauickie, O'Regan and junior Brianna Deierlein also won gold (3:22.22).  

O'Regan, who came to the school from Ontario, Canada, during the offseason, particularly enjoyed the experience. 

"In Canada, they don't have the 500-yard race because they use a short-course meters format," O'Regan said. "I didn't know what time I was supposed to go or how I would place. I just wanted to get my hand on the wall first to get some points for the team. It ended up paying off. It was fun."

3. Mooney's Byrd named Gatorade Florida Volleyball Player of the Year

Way back on Jan. 11, Cardinal Mooney volleyball player Jordyn Byrd, then a junior, was named the 2021-2022 Gatorade Florida Volleyball Player of the Year. 

Byrd, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter, recorded 551 kills, 258 digs, 56 blocks and 25 service aces during the 2021 indoor volleyball season, leading the Cougars to a 20-8 record and a spot in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A regional quarterfinals. Though the award was for the 2021 season, she also had a great 2022, recording 571 kills, 206 digs, 48 blocks and 52 service aces. 

Mooney volleyball player Jordyn Byrd was named the Gatorade Florida Volleyball Player of the Year in January.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The Gatorade awards have been handed out to one player per sport in each state since 1985. The award recognizes athletic excellence as well as academic achievement and character on and off the court. Byrd, who will play for the University of Texas in 2023, held a 3.72 GPA at the time the award was announced.

4. Sarasota tennis player named USTA Florida Player of the Year

Sarasota's Leonardo Dal Boni was named the United States Tennis Association Florida Player of the Year award Dec. 16 at Payne Park Tennis Center while surrounded by friends and family. 

Over the previous 12 months, Dal Boni, who is originally from Milan, Italy,  won 90 of his 120 singles matches and 20 of his 30 doubles matches. His singles success included taking the title at the 2022 USTA Florida "Bobby Curtis" Championships in Orlando, regarded by many to be the biggest annual junior tennis event in Florida. 

Dal Boni's success has him ranked by the Tennis Recruiting Network as a five-star player and the No. 52 player in the national Class of 2023. Earlier this year, the 17-year-old Dal Boni and his family became American citizens, and he said he is proud to represent the American flag. 

Dal Boni owed some of his success to his strong mental game, which he said comes from training and from taking the advice of great leaders like Marcus Aurelius and Sun Tzu. 

"It's not just about reading them," Dal Boni said. "It's about being mindful of them. I always try to apply what I read the next day or next match." 

5. Cardinal Mooney wins beach volleyball state title 
Cardinal Mooney's Madeline Carson and the Cougars beach volleyball team won the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state title on April 30 in Taveras.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The Cardinal Mooney beach volleyball team defeated Merritt Island High 4-1 in Tavares on April 30 to capture the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state championship.

It was closer than the final score indicates. Two of the individual matches Mooney eventually won went to three sets, and Mooney occasionally trailed in them, but the team's depth allowed the Cougars to pull it out. 

"When the last two games went to a third set and we were on the verge of winning, we felt it," junior Madeline Carson said. "We were about to serve for the win when they (freshman Izzy Russell and junior Gracie Page) won their game. Everyone trampled on each other and we were all screaming." 

It was the beach volleyball program's first-ever state title; the school's indoor volleyball program won an FHSAA state title in 2019. 

6. Riverview golfer wins FHSAA title

Riverview High senior Aksel Moe finished off a strong 2022 campaign with a win at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A state championship tournament, held Nov. 8 at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills. 

The tournament was scheduled to be two rounds, but adverse weather from Tropical Storm Nicole limited the tournament to one day. Moe used that to his advantage, shooting a 2-under-par 70 over 18 holes to finish one stroke better than three other golfers. 

Moe, who signed with George Washington University on Nov. 11, previously shot 2-under par to win the American Junior Golf Association's UHY Baltimore Junior event at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, Maryland in August. 

7. Cougars girls basketball reaches second-straight state championship game 
Mooney freshman Kali Barrett and the Cougars girls basketball team reached its second-straight state title game in 2022.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The Cardinal Mooney girls basketball team defeated King's Academy 50-42 in the FHSAA Class 3A state semifinals on Feb. 23 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland to reach the state title game two years in a row. Cardinal Mooney never trailed against King's Academy. The Cougars were led in scoring by freshman Kali Barrett who had 19 points. Junior Olivia Davis had 16 points. 

The Cougars reached the title game by playing their signature aggressive style. Mooney's will to win often gave the Cougars the edge in big games. Once they had the lead, it was difficult to get it away from them. 

Mooney's shooting went cold in the state championship game against Westminster Academy, costing the Cougars a state title, but appearing in two-consecutive title games is an accomplishment in and of itself. The program's strong run has continued into 2022-2023, as Mooney is 6-1 as of Dec. 19.

8. Sarasota High runner takes silver at track and field championships 

Sarasota High's Alec Miller, then a junior, did not win the Class 4A boys 1,600-meter run at this year's event — held May 11-14 at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville — but he came close, and that was good enough to get Miller to smile wide on the podium. 

Miller, who entered the event seeded first with a time of 4:19.86, ran in second place for most of the race and finished there as well (4:13.50). Miller tried to catch Hagerty High junior Brayden Seymour for first place, sprinting home on the final lap, but Seymour had built too big a lead over the course of the race and won by 1.74 seconds. 

"I was curious if I was going to be able to catch him (Seymour)," Miller said. "It didn't happen, but I'm psyched I was able to drop six seconds (from his personal record) against a huge field like this. That was awesome."

9. Booker girls basketball reaches Final Four

The Booker High girls basketball team won 74-50 over Port Charlotte High in the FHSAA Class 4A regional finals on Feb. 19, securing a spot in the Class 4A Final Four.  Junior Chariot Johnson led the Tornadoes with 20 points. Junior Kymani Freeman had 15 points. It was a win that made Coach Ty Bryant especially proud. 

The Tornadoes were not carried on the back of one superstar. They played as a team, with different Tornadoes making winning plays each game. It was the little things, such as senior Jaydn Lattimore's ability to set screens, opening lanes for Johnson to get to the rim, that allowed Booker to thrive. 

Booker senior Jaydn Lattimore, senior Ty'anna Ash and junior Chariot Johnson helped the Tornadoes girls basketball team reach the Final Four.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The end result was a team stronger together than it was apart. Although the team's journey ended in the state semifinals, its postseason run was more than enough to engender hope in its future. That hope is paying off in the 2022-2023 season; Booker is 10-1 as of Dec. 19.  

10. Sarasota High football wins first playoff game in 18 seasons

With a quarterback making his first start of the season, the Sarasota High football team traveled to Manatee High on Nov. 11 and came home with a 30-20 win, its first playoff victory in 18 seasons.

The team was steadied by its running game — junior Joe Ziegler and sophomore Takurian Smith each ran for a score — but was given a boost by junior quarterback Michael Bendever, who threw touchdowns to senior Tyler Pack and junior Jackson Mullett and did not throw an interception. 

Bendever, who comes from a baseball background, had taken some first-string reps all season during practice. The Sailors unleashed his arm thinking he was ready, and they were right.

The Sailors would lose in the next round of the playoffs to rival Riverview High, but they still made history and finished the year with a 5-5 record. 



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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