It is difficult to be considered the best-of-the-best in such a talent-rich area as Sarasota.
Year after year, though, we see those who showcase rare skills and an ability to use them consistently, leading to great accomplishments.
Here are Sarasota's top 10 high school athletes to watch in 2022.
1. Jordyn Byrd, Cardinal Mooney High girls basketball/volleyball
When a player is as dominant in two sports as Cardinal Mooney junior Jordyn Byrd is, the No. 1 spot on this list requires little thought.
Byrd, a 6-foot-4 junior, stars in volleyball and girls basketball for the Cougars. In the fall, Byrd — who is committed to Texas for volleyball — helped the Cougars to a 20-8 record and an appearance in the regional quarterfinals. Byrd led the team with 551 kills (62.3% kill percentage) and added 56 blocks, 258 digs and 25 aces.
The Mooney girls basketball team is 10-2 as of Jan. 3 and Byrd is once again a big reason why. She is averaging 9.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, controlling the post against all opponents and opening opportunities on the perimeter for her teammates.
2. Charles Lester III, Riverview High football
Riverview High sophomore Charles Lester III started getting collegiate attention before the 2021 football season, but his play put everyone who was not paying attention to his game on notice.
Lester, a 6-foot-2 defensive back/wide receiver, was used more on offense as the Rams' season went along, finishing with 19 catches for 298 yards (a team-high 15.7 yards per catch) and tied for the team lead with five touchdown catches. He was also a shutdown defender on the outside; teams rarely threw at Lester, limiting his chances for interceptions — though he did snag one in the team's 31-7 playoff win against Steinbrenner High — but he did finish with 18 tackles.
As he heads into his junior season this fall, Lester's game and profile should continue to rise.
3. Gracie Weyant, Riverview High girls swimming
Former Rams girls swimmer Emma Weyant earned a silver medal in Tokyo last summer, but that was not the only splash made by a Riverview swimmer — or even by a member of the Weyant family.
Gracie Weyant, Emma Weyant's sister and a sophomore at Riverview, won the 200 individual medley (2:01.15) and the 100 breaststroke (1:01.61) at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4A state meet Nov. 12 in Stuart, helping the Rams beat Winter Park High 275-256.5 to capture the team title. It was the program's first team title since 2013.
Weyant said she was hopeful about winning both of her individual races but especially wanted the 200 IM since Emma Weyant won that event when she was in high school. Winning it this year was a footsteps-following moment for Gracie Weyant, who said she has learned numerous things from watching her sister swim over the years.
With two years of high school and club swimming still to go, even bigger things could be on the horizon.
4. Jakai Peterson, Booker High girls track and field/girls basketball
Booker High sophomore Jakai Peterson does a bit of everything in the world of athletics.
Peterson helped the Tornadoes' 4x100 relay team (49.40 seconds) capture a silver medal at the 2021 Class 2A state meet, held May 8 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and she finished eighth in the long jump (16 feet, 9.25 inches).
She also plays for the school's girls basketball team. Peterson is averaging 7.2 points, 2.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game for the Tornadoes, who are 9-4.
5. Michaela Mattes, Cardinal Mooney High girls swimming
Cardinal Mooney High girls swimmer Michaela Mattes has consistently proven herself to be among the top swimmers in the state.
Mattes, a junior who is committed to Florida, overcame a plural effusion and won a gold medal in the 500-yard freestyle (4:45.51) and a silver medal in the 200-yard individual medley (2:00.71) at the FHSAA Class 1A state championship meet, held Nov. 6 in Stuart. It was Mattes' third-consecutive gold medal in the 500 free, stamping the event as her own. She also won the 200 IM in 2020.
6. Ryan Matulevich, Cardinal Mooney High football
No freshman football player burst onto the scene like Ryan Matulevich did in 2021.
Matulevich, a 6-foot-0 wide receiver, caught 41 passes for 559 yards (13.6 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns in his debut season at Cardinal Mooney. Matulevich added 24 carries for 174 yards. His production helped power the Cougars to a 7-4 record and a playoff appearance.
Despite his age, Matulevich already has a Division I offer from Arkansas State.
7. Michelle DiPuma, Riverview High softball
Riverview High softball senior captain Michelle DiPuma did everything the Rams asked of her in 2021.
As a junior, DiPuma led all Rams regulars with a .400 batting average five doubles, three triples, four home runs and 17 steals and was second with 16 RBI. The infielder also had a .922 fielding percentage. DiPuma's leadership helped guide the Rams to a 16-9 record and a 10-2 district tournament win over Ruskin High.
DiPuma, who signed with Central Florida on Nov. 10, will have one more chance at a postseason run with the Rams in 2022.
8. Rex Smith, Sarasota High baseball
Unlike others on this list, Sarasota High sophomore isn't on this list mainly based on what he's done; he's here because of what he might do in the future.
Smith, an infielder on the Sailors baseball team, only saw in action in six varsity games last year as a freshman, but made the most of his opportunities, collecting four hits in nine at-bats, including a home run. Smith — who bats left-handed but throws right-handed — actually finished tied for seventh on the team in RBI (six) despite his limited playing time.
It is a small sample size, but Smith has proven in travel ball and at showcase events that his bat is legitimate. Smith, who is 6-foot-1, has performed so well that he's already been offered by and committed to Duke. With Smith in line for a more prominent role on the varsity team in 2022, his development will be one of the more interesting storylines of the spring season.
9. Tyler Pack, Sarasota High football
The Sarasota High football team will lose many of its offensive contributors to graduation this offseason, but one returnee with a chance at a big season is junior receiver/defensive back Tyler Pack.
Pack, who is 6-foot-2, finished the 2021 season second on the team with 16 catches for 254 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and a touchdown. Pack was also sixth on the team with 36 total tackles (three tackles for loss) and led the Sailors with two interceptions.
10. Jack Bates, Riverview High boys soccer
The Riverview High boys soccer team has yet to give up a goal during play in the 2021-2022 season and has allowed just one total, a penalty kick against Manatee High on Nov. 8. The 9-0-2 Rams have the area's best defense and junior fullback Jack Bates is in the heart of it all.
Bates is a steady presence for the Rams, having played 785 minutes through 11 matches, and though defense is always first on his mind, he's not afraid to contribute to the team's offense; Bates has two assists this season.
Bates said the team's communication is the key to its stoutness as many of the team's defenders have played together for years. As the season progresses and the defense keeps getting tested, Bates and his fellow Rams will have a chance to prove how effective their system can be.
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.