The 2022 East County sports year was filled with champions — on and off the playing field.
In multiple sports, the athletes of our area displayed elite skills and leadership and exceeded expectations. Some athletes came up just short of a championship, but proved themselves winners in other ways, like persevering through injury or putting themselves in their sport's elite group.
Here is a list of the top 10 moments from the East County sports season:
1. Lakewood Ranch High softball wins second-straight state title
One year after winning a Florida High School Athletic Association state championship and going 30-2, the season culminating in a 14-4 win over Park Vista High in the title game, the Lakewood Ranch High softball team repeated the feat.
The 2022 Mustangs also went 30-2 and used the championship game, held May 28 at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont, as revenge on Lake Brantley High for handing them their two regular season losses.
Lakewood Ranch beat the Patriots 8-2 in the championship game. The Mustangs beat up Lake Brantley senior pitcher Hannah Marien, who entered the game with a 0.14 ERA. Lakewood Ranch scored eight runs off Marien in five innings. Of the Mustangs' 10 hits, six went for extra bases.
Lakewood Ranch was led by senior Grace Hogie, who hit two triples, and junior Addyson Bruneman, who hit a triple and a double and collected three RBIs. Mustangs sophomore pitcher Ella Dodge held the Patriots in check, pitching a complete game, allowing two runs on five hits and four walks.
Since the title win, Mustangs Coach T.J. Goelz has stepped down from his position after five seasons, but he’s still proud of what the girls were able to accomplish.
“I’ve grown to appreciate how difficult it was even more,” Goelz said. “Winning high school softball state championships is not easy.
“Playing the team that handled us so well earlier in the season and beating them, convincingly, was truly special. We had great contributions up and down the lineup with outstanding preparation and game plans from the coaching staff. It led us to a lifelong, legendary memory.”
2. ODA senior wins track and field gold
The Out-of-Door Academy senior Tristan McWilliam was not expected to win the boys 1,600-meter run at the 2022 FHSAA Class 1A Track and Field Championships, held May 14 at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville.
So much for the expectations of others.
The senior won the 1,600 race in 4:17.97, beating Cambridge Christian junior Braxton Legg by 0.48 seconds. The time was McWilliam’s personal best and an ODA record.
"That moment of crossing the finish line was pure relief," McWilliam said. "I was expecting to finish second or third because everyone had better PRs (personal records) than me. But I am certainly happy with it."
McWilliam said he stayed near the front of the group before going into a higher gear with two laps to go. Once there were 150 meters left, McWilliam said, he knew he could bring home the gold.
3. Lakewood Ranch runner gets track and field silver
It wasn't gold, but Lakewood Ranch High's Grace Marston was still happy with silver.
Marston ended her high school track and field career with a second-place finish in the girls 3,200 meter run at the FHSAA Class 4A championships on May 14, crossing the line in 11:03.58.
Marston was in first place for seven of the race's eight laps but was passed by Coral Park High senior Penelope Sosa on the final lap. Sosa finished in 10:59.28.
Marston said she did not expect to be in front of the pack for so much of the race, but the race's initial slower pace gave her the opportunity to try to steal the race.
Despite the final lap, Marston, who will attend and run for Georgia Tech, said she was proud of the effort she gave.
4. ODA baseball gets back to Final Four
The Out-of-Door Academy baseball team was looking to repeat as state champions in 2022. While it didn’t end that way, the 2022 ODA season was still a special one.
The Thunder (20-9) played up and down to start the year as they worked new players into its lineup. ODA found a rhythm late in the regular season before making another strong postseason run. ODA beat Seffner Christian 5-4 in nine innings at home May 17 to advance to the FHSAA state semifinals.
Jack Hobson, at the time a junior, hit two home runs and pitched the final three and 2/3 innings, allowing no earned runs (one total run). In the ninth inning, junior Luca Marino hit a walk-off single, scoring senior Logan Tribble from second base.
The Thunder would lose 5-2 to North Florida Christian on May 23 in the state semifinals.
5. Lakewood Ranch wrestler earns bronze medal
Talk about toughness.
Mustangs senior Ranson Coons, a 182-pound wrestler, earned a third-place medal at the Florida High School Athletic Association State Wrestling Championships, held March 3-5 at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. It would be a notable finish even if Coons had completed the feat healthy.
Coons wrestled in the tournament despite a shoulder injury suffered at the school's district tournament two weeks earlier which left him unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder. Coons was cleared by doctors to compete at the state tournament. In the end, it was up to Coons how much pain he could tolerate.
After losing his first match of the tournament, Coons won five-straight matches to take third place, including an 18-2 win over Newsome High senior Peyton Turner, the wrestler who was facing him when he was injured weeks earlier, in the consolation finals.
6. EVO Athletics gymnast competes at U.S. Championships
He didn't leave Tampa's Amalie Arena with a medal on Aug. 19, but Lakewood Ranch-based gymnast Jaden Blank, who trains with EVO Athletics, fulfilled a dream anyway by competing at the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
Blank, who will compete for the U.S. Military Academy next year, finished 21st overall in the event's Junior Men 17 division. His highest score came in the vault, where he earned a 13.30 from the judges, good for 18th place.
Blank qualified for the event by securing the Level 10 All-Around Championship (78.750) at the 2022 Florida Men's State Championships, held March 4-6 in Alachua.
7. Jamie Springstead sets SSE scoring record
The earliest 2022 moment on the list belongs to Saint Stephen's Episcopal girls basketball player Jamie Springstead, who lives in Lakewood Ranch. Springstead, then a senior, broke the school's basketball career scoring record, for either boys or girls, on Jan. 6 in a 59-29 home win over Patel High.
Springstead entered the game with 1,357 points, just four points off the record set by Mack Barnes, a 1981 graduate. Springstead scored 14 points against Patel to break the record.
Springstead finished her Falcons career with 1,605 points.
8. LRHS boys soccer reaches regional finals
After an impressive regular season, the Lakewood Ranch boys soccer team (18-2-1) fell short in its chase for a state championship, but did manage to reach the FHSAA Class 7A regional finals.
The Mustangs got there thanks to a 1-0 win over local rival Riverview High (12-2-4). Senior Drew Clark scored the game's lone goal on an assist from senior Sam Leavy. The Mustangs' suffocating defense did the rest; the Rams managed just three shots, and two shots on goal, which senior goaltender Josh McManis stopped.
The Mustangs would take Plant High to overtime tied 1-1 in the regional finals before eventually losing 3-1.
9. ODA girls lacrosse has program turnaround, reaches postseason
Thanks to a newfound "positive mental attitude," which includes specialized breathing techniques, The Out-of-Door Academy girls lacrosse team made a big leap from 2021 to 2022, going 15-2 and reaching the FHSAA Class 1A regional semifinals one year after finishing 8-8.
The Thunder beat Barron Collier High (11-7) 18-5 on April 19 to reach the semis. Senior Dani Taraska led the Thunder with five goals while senior Megan Dowdell, sophomore Aubrey Robbins and sophomore Emma Arrigo all added four. Junior goalkeeper Emma Bonacuse made 10 saves.
ODA would lose 7-6 to rival Saint Stephen's Episcopal (14-3) in the regional semifinals.
10. Mustangs surprise community member in need
Some sports moments are great not because of on-field results, but because of the impact they have off the field.
On March 3, members of the Lakewood Ranch High baseball team surprised Lakewood Ranch resident Chris Olander by showing up at her door with roses. Olander was diagnosed with breast cancer and on Feb. 21 had a double mastectomy. On Feb. 27, Olander developed pulmonary embolisms as a complication of the surgery.
To help Olander feel better, her friend Angela Combs and Combs' son Ryan Combs, plus his Lakewood Ranch teammates, concocted the roses plan.
It worked; Olander's husband, Sean Olander, said the moment was "overwhelming" for her, in a positive way.
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.