- December 4, 2021
So what do we do now?
I always have that thought at this time of year because the school sports season is over.
With the Lakewood Ranch High softball team finishing its season with its second-straight Class 7A state title, that's it.
When I'm not an area school at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, it feels wrong.
Like any past season, I do have some personal favorites from the just completed school year. These often are not championships or important wins, though they could be. They are a collection of moments that stood out to me for one reason or another.
Let's start with Braden River High football, which is always fun.
Head Coach Curt Bradley and his staff always get maximum effort out of their players, which makes games a joy to cover, and it was more of the same this year. After sophomore quarterback Nick Trier went down with a leg injury, senior wide receiver Bryan Kearse stepped into his role, a role he had not undertaken since middle school.
The Pirates made it work, like they always do. Braden River went 9-2 in 2021, including a road playoff win over Countryside High, 30-16. Kearse finished the year with 651 passing yards, a 57.1 completion percentage and 11 touchdown passes to just one interception.
It was not just Kearse who filled a void. Multiple Pirates starters went down with injuries and their teammates rose to the occasion, like sophomore running back Trayvon Pinder, who finished with 1,190 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns when pushed into action at running back. Instilling that type of resiliency can be special to watch.
Speaking of injuries, Lakewood Ranch High senior wrestler Ranson Coons, who competed at 182 pounds, fought through an injury to his sternoclavicular joint in his left shoulder to take a bronze medal at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class state tournament in March. The injury left Coons unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder, yet he managed to win the consolation bracket, finishing his high school career with an 18-2 win over Newsome's Peyton Turner, the wrestler who injured Coons' shoulder in a district tournament match two weeks earlier. Coons finished the year with a 54-4 record.
It's difficult enough to medal at states while fully healthy. Coons doing it while fighting through a substantial amount of pain is one of the more impressive feats I have seen. Coons might have wished for a gold medal, but I bet bronze felt quite good after some reflection. Coons gave 100% of his heart to wrestling and was rewarded for it.
It was fun to learn about all the mental health initiatives The Out-of-Door Academy girls lacrosse team implemented this season, like "crocodile breathing" and yoga sessions. The players said it helped them and the team's on-field results backed up that assertion. ODA went 15-2 in 2022, and only one of those losses was to a team from Florida. Unfortunately, that loss was a 7-6 home loss to Saint Stephen's Episcopal in the FHSAA Class 1A regional semifinals.
The Thunder will be back, though. ODA does lose two of its top seniors, Dani Taraska (57 goals) and Megan Dowdell (52 goals), but returns sophomores Aubrey Robbins (56 goals) and Emma Arrigo (46 goals) as well as junior goaltender Emma Bonacuse. I'm excited to see where the team's positive approach takes it next year.
Watching the Cardinal Mooney girls basketball team — which features a number of players from the Lakewood Ranch area, including leading scorers Olivia Davis (16.2 points per game), Kali Barrett (11.7) and Jordyn Byrd (9.3)— come within a few buckets of a state title for the second year in a row was enthralling. The program's games have an electric atmosphere to them and the girls care so much about the game and each other. They play with tenacity.
It makes for a joy to watch, even when — as in this year's Class 3A championship game — it ends in Mooney heartbreak. The Cougars lost 44-41 to Westminster Academy.
Davis, Barrett and Byrd all return, meaning Mooney will have a shot at another run in 2023 if no one transfers and they stay healthy. I hope the energy of their games sticks around, too.
All of the above things were impressive, but sometimes the best sports moments are not about sports at all.
Getting to write about what the Lakewood Ranch High baseball team did for Lakewood Ranch resident Chris Olander — a parent of someone on an opposing team — as she dealt with the fallout of breast cancer treatments was inspiring. The idea was kickstarted by senior Ryan Combs and his mother, Angela Combs, but all of the Mustangs deserve applause for surprising Olander with flowers hand-delivered to her front door. You can tell from the photos how much the gesture meant to her.
There has been a lot of bad national news as of late. It's nice that a local sports story could make us smile.