- August 18, 2022
Four weeks into the high school fall sports season, Sarasota has already seen some amazing performances.
Even though some fall programs have had a roller coaster of a month, there have been as many great individual showings as there always are in the area. That being the case, I thought it was an apropos time to bring back my occasional look at under-the-radar fall sports performances in the area, ones that might not make headlines but deserve recognition anyway.
As always, the list of players isn't comprehensive, there's simply too many great players in the area to name.
The Sarasota High football team is 3-1. While Sailors coach Brody Wiseman would likely chalk this up to a team-wide effort — and the Sailors have indeed played well as a unit — it's difficult to win without a threat at the quarterback position.
Sailors sophomore Alexander Diaz, who according to MaxPreps is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, had thrown for 510 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions. It hasn't been a perfect season: Diaz completed five of 17 passes in the team's loss to Manatee High. But for a first time varsity starter, Diaz has been more than solid, and Wiseman has confidence that he'll continue to get better as he gains experience.
Over at Booker High, junior Ahmad Hunter and sophomore Rashad Peterson have become a two-headed monster at running back. Hunter transferred from Riverview High; Peterson transferred from Braden River High and began the year at wide receiver before converting to the backfield.
Both have settled in at their new school. In the Tornadoes' 42-7 win against North Port High on Sept. 16, Hunter had 18 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown while Peterson had 10 carries for 83 yards, including a 40-yarder. It has been an up-and-down first month of the season for the Tornadoes, but their newfound rushing attack could become a stabilizing force.
The Sarasota Christian football team, in its inaugural, eight-on-eight season, is still finding its footing. The Blazers are 1-3 and lost 29-0 to St. Petersburg's Shorecrest Prep on Sept. 16. But a bright spot has been freshman running back Austin Kerle, who is averaging a 9.3 yards per carry on the year. I don't care what kind of football you're playing, that's impressive.
Riverview High volleyball got off to a rough start this year, losing its first six games, but has gone 5-3 since, including four straight wins before to Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to Venice High. As the Rams have improved, they have been led offensively by their only senior, Ja'Lona Wright, who led the Rams with 66 kills (2.4 kills per set) entering Tuesday. Wright is also second on the team with seven blocks. As the young Rams continue to learn, they have a superb upperclassmen teammate to watch.
The Cardinal Mooney High volleyball team, which entered the season with typically high expectations, is still working through some challenges. The Cougars are 5-6 but have only played one home match, a 3-2 loss to Venice High. With the home half of their schedule approaching, the Cougars still have a chance to put together a season up to their standard. They will be led by senior Jordyn Byrd if they do. I admit that it's a stretch to call Byrd, a University of Texas commit and the reigning Gatorade Florida Volleyball Player of the Year, underrated, but I do think her eye-popping stats have been taken for granted by the general sports fan. Byrd has recorded 257 kills and is third on the team with 21 blocks as of Sept. 20. Byrd's 6.3 kills per set ranks fourth in Florida, according to MaxPreps leaderboards. Her dominance is a thrill to watch.
Booker's swim team is not usually a powerhouse, but junior Toby Schwenk is proving himself among the state's best. Schwenk finished sixth in the 500-yard freestyle (4:41.68) and 10th in the 200 yard freestyle (1:45.79) at last year's state championships. At the Tampa Bay Swimming and Diving Classic, Sept. 16-17 in Tampa, Schwenk finished second in the 500 free (4:53.58) and eighth in the 200 free (1:50.39). The times this year are slower because it's early in the season and swimmers ramp up their speed as the postseason approaches. The important thing is that he's on pace to best his old times by the time this year's championships arrive — and he does seem to be.
A bit of cheating for this last one, but I wanted to give a shout to the Sarasota High boys and girls cross country programs, both of which finished seventh as a team in the Elite Boys and Elite Girls divisions of the North Port XC Invitational, held Sept. 16-17 at North Port High. It's one of the biggest regular season meets of the year on the Gulf Coast and doing well there means the teams will likely do well in the postseason. The program always seems to be rock solid despite the constant turnover of high school athletics and losing star runners like Ben Hartvigsen (who is now running for Harvard University). Ben's brother, Will Hartvigsen, had the school's best finish at North Port crossing the finish line 13th (16:09.93).