- May 15, 2022
The 2021-2022 East County high school sports season included state titles, records and some of the most talented athletes of anywhere in Florida.
In other words, it was a typical season for the area.
Here are the top 10 moments of the East County high school sports season.
The theme of Lakewood Ranch High softball's 2022 season was R.E.B.A. which stood for "run everything back again."
That is exactly what the Mustangs did. A year after going 30-2 on its way to a Florida High School Athletic Association state championship, culminating in a 14-4 win over Park Vista High in the title game, the Mustangs 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, to get revenge on Lake Brantley High for handing them their two regular season losses.
Lakewood Ranch beat the Patriots 8-2 in the title game. The Mustangs knocked around Lake Brantley senior pitcher Hannah Marien, who entered the game with a 0.14 ERA. They collected eight runs off of Marien in five innings. Of the Mustangs' 10 hits, six went for extra bases. They were led by senior Grace Hogie, who hit two triples, and 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.
"It is fun to have what we have here with this program," Mustangs Head Coach T.J. Goelz said. "These kids understand there is a way we do things here and they have bought in. They get used to winning and they don't accept anything else."
The Out-of-Door Academy senior Tristan McWilliam was not the favorite 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.
But he finished first.
The senior won the gold medal in the 1,600 in 4:17.97, out-kicking Cambridge Christian junior Braxton Legg by 0.48 seconds. The time was a personal best and an ODA record for McWilliam.
"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 than me. But I am certainly happy with it."
McWilliam said he stayed near the front of the pack in the 1,600 before turning things up a level with two laps to go. Once there were 150 meters left, McWilliam said, he knew he had it won.
Lakewood Ranch High senior Grace Marston ended her high school running career with a silver medal in the girls 3,200 meter run at the FHSAA Class 4A on May 14, finishing in 11:03.58.
Marston led for seven of the race's eight laps but was overtaken 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. It almost worked.
Despite the final lap, Marston — who will attend and run for Georgia Tech — said she was proud of the effort she gave and happy with the result.
Like the Lakewood Ranch High softball team, The Out-of-Door Academy baseball team was looking to repeat as state champions in 2022.
Unlike the Mustangs, the Thunder were working many new players into its lineup and pitching staff. As a result, the Thunder (20-9) played up and down to start the year, and settled into a late groove before making another deep postseason run.
ODA beat Seffner Christian 5-4 in nine innings at home May 17 to advance to the FHSAA state semifinals. Junior Jack Hobson 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 in the semifinals May 23.
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. He didn't. Coons competed in the tournament despite a shoulder injury suffered at the school's district tournament two weeks earlier. The injury left him unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder. He was cleared by doctors to compete at states, but it was up to Coons how much pain he could tolerate.
It turns out he could tolerate a lot. After losing his first match of the tournament, Coons would win five-straight matches to take third place, including a win over Newsome High senior Peyton Turner, the wrestler who was facing him when he was injured weeks earlier, in the consolation finals. Coons crushed him 18-2.
Saint Stephen's Episcopal senior Jamie Springstead, who lives in Lakewood Ranch, broke the school's basketball career scoring record 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.
After another strong regular season, the Lakewood Ranch boys soccer team (18-2-1) fell short chasing a state championship.
The Mustangs trotted their way into the Class 7A regional finals 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 fall 3-1 to Plant High in overtime in the regional finals.
For much of the 2021 season, the Braden River High football team had a wide receiver playing quarterback, a defensive back sharing time at running back and a host of other athletes playing out of position.
Somehow, Pirates Head Coach Curt Bradley and his staff made it work.
The Pirates went 9-2 and peaked with a 30-16 road win over Countryside High (5-4) in the FHSAA Class 6A regional quarterfinals Nov. 12. Senior Nehemiah Jenkins ran for 162 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, junior Craivontae Koonce caught two touchdown passes from senior Bryan Kearse and senior Aaron Tijerina returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Braden River would lose 49-9 to eventual state champion Jesuit High in the next round.
Thanks to its "positive mental attitude," 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.
The Thunder (15-2) beat Barron Collier High (11-7) 18-5 on April 19 to do it. 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 Saint Stephen's Episcopal (14-3) in the regional semifinals.
Braden River High's volleyball team was in a district title drought heading into the 2021-2022 school year, not winning one since 2010.
The drought ended on Oct. 21 when the Pirates (21-8) swept Bloomingdale High 3-0 in their district championship game. Pirates sophomore Aryanna Spainhower led the team with 12 kills while junior Courtney Kawcak had 23 assists.
Braden River would beat Fort Myers High (12-16) 3-1 in the next round before losing 3-0 to Riverdale High (24-7) on Nov. 3.