It is difficult to be considered the best-of-the-best in a talent-rich area like East County.
Year-after-year, though, we see those who showcase rare skills and an ability to use them consistently, leading to great accomplishments.
Here are East County's top 10 high school athletes to watch in 2022.
1. Cassidy McLellan, Lakewood Ranch softball
The top East County player to watch in 2022 could have been a number of Lakewood Ranch softball players as the team is full of talent. McLellan, who will be a junior when the softball season begins in February, stands above the rest for her all-around excellence. McLellan, an outfielder who is committed to the University of Florida, hit .542 with 15 doubles, six triples, nine home runs, 42 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 2021 as a sophomore, leading the team in all categories. Her on-base percentage was .609. She did not make an error.
McLellan also comes up with clutch hits when it matters most. She hit two home runs in the Mustangs' 17-2 Class 7A state semifinal win against (Miami) Palmetto High on May 21 in Clermont and ended the state championship game against Park Vista High the next day with a sixth-inning, walk-off triple, making the score 14-4.
2. Josh Cone, The Out-of-Door Academy baseball
ODA senior Josh Cone entered the 2021 season under the radar but left it after making his mark on a state-wide basis.
With 55 1/3 innings in 2021, the left-handed pitcher went 9-1 for the Thunder with a 1.39 ERA. He held opponents to a .239 batting average. Despite throwing a fastball in the mid-80s, Cone was able to accumulate 68 strikeouts thanks to his strong off-speed pitches.
Cone was able execute in the team's biggest spots. He threw 4 2/3 innings in the Thunder's Class 2A state championship game May 20 against St. Johns Country Day in Fort Myers and allowed just two earned runs.
Cone's season-long performance was enough to earn him a scholarship offer from the University of South Florida. He signed with the Bulls on Nov. 10 and will now suit up for one last high school season as the Thunder tries to repeat as state champions.
3. Andres Junge, Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball
Mustangs senior Andres Junge has had an impressive ability to knock down 3-point shots, but the rest of his game has grown throughout his high school career. Now, as a senior, Junge is putting everything together.
As of Dec. 20, Junge was averaging 16.7 points per game for Lakewood Ranch. He has made 37% of his 3-point shots this season (19-of-52). Junge is also leading the team with 5.2 rebounds per game.
He has shown an ability to take over games when the Mustangs need him to do so. In a 69-66 home win against Riverview High on Dec. 9, Junge scored 34 points and hit eight of his 14 3-point attempts.
4. Aubrey Robbins, The Out-of-Door Academy girls lacrosse
ODA sophomore girls lacrosse player Aubrey Robbins is a scoring machine.
As a freshman in the spring 2021 season, Robbins, a midfielder, had 62 goals and 26 assists for the Thunder.
Her play at the high school level as well as the club level has earned her national recognition as she represented Team Florida at the 2021 American Select Main Event tournament, held July 27-30 in Milford, Delaware. She helped the 2024 Florida team reach the tournament final. Robbins was previously invited to the Under Armour 150 Combine, which brought together the top-150 players from the 2024 graduating class.
5. Grace Marston, Lakewood Ranch girls track and field
One of the most consistent runners in Manatee County, Lakewood Ranch senior Grace Marston will look to individually take a top-three medal at the 2022 Florida High School Athletic Association Class 4A track and field championships after finishing fourth in the 1,600-meter run (4:58.33) and sixth in the 3,200-meter run (10:53.23) in 2021.
Marston already has a shared medal performance after running a leg of the 4x800 relay at the 2021 championships. The Mustangs finished the relay in 9:15.87, good for a silver medal.
6. Trayvon Pinder, Braden River High football
Trayvon Pinder was not supposed to be a workhorse running back for the Braden River High football team in 2021.
The sophomore entered the season behind senior starter Justice McDaniel. An ankle injury McDaniel suffered in the team's first game against Lakewood Ranch High forced Pinder into action and he fulfilled head Coach Curt Bradley's "next man up" philosophy. Pinder, who is 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, took control of the starting job, rushing for 1,190 yards on 208 carries (5.7 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns in 2021.
With an offseason's worth of improvement ahead of him, Pinder could be in line for a big 2022.
7. Ranson Coons, Lakewood Ranch wrestling
Lakewood Ranch senior wrestler Ranson Coons is determined to earn a state medal in 2022.
He came close at the 2021 state tournament, held in Kissimmee in March. Coons went 42-9 at the 170-pound division and won a consolation round match against Chiles High's Hunter Brown, ranked No. 3 in the state, by fall in 3:38. The win guaranteed Coons a top-six finish.
Unfortunately, Coons would suffer an ankle injury in his next match and was unable to continue in the tournament, giving him a sixth-place finish. He's so determined to improve that mark that he runs along the Fort Hamer Bridge for an hour each night to up his cardio as much as possible.
8. Brynna Sands, Braden River volleyball
The Braden River High volleyball team won its first district title in 11 years in 2021, going 21-8 and reaching the Class 6A regional semifinals.
Sands, a sophomore, was a big reason why.
Sands led the Pirates with 212 kills (37.7% kill percentage) and was second on the team with 204 digs, 47 aces and 16 solo blocks.
In 2022, as a junior, Sands should see those numbers climb even higher.
9. Felipe DeSouza, Lakewood Ranch boys soccer
The Lakewood Ranch High boys soccer team is 10-0-1 as of Dec. 20 and appears to be a state title contender once again.
Felipe DeSouza, a senior, is leading the Mustangs' charge on offense. DeSouza has 13 goals and eight assists in 11 games, leading the team in both categories. His 13 goals are 33% of the team's goals on the season.
If the Mustangs make noise in the postseason come February, DeSouza will likely be a reason why.
10. Tyler Beck, The Out-of-Door Academy track and field
As a sophomore, ODA boys track and field athlete Tyler Beck didn't quite reach his 2021 goal of breaking the school pole vault record of 14 feet, 6 inches, set by Tre Gregory in 2015, but he did well enough to make a school record a possibility in 2022.
Beck's pole vaulting skills carried him to the Class 1A track and field championships where he vaulted 12 feet, 3.5 inches. The performance was good for a fifth-place overall finish. If he can improve on his personal best vault — 12 feet, 11.5 inches — he could medal in 2022 as a junior.
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.