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Prose and Kohn

Beyond the gridiron: Sarasota-area fall sports packed with big storylines

With returning state champs and rising talent, swimming, golf, cross-country and volleyball deserve time in the spotlight.

Nico Bencomo takes his second shot on the No. 9 hole at Laurel Oak Country Club's Jones course. Bencomo is one of Cardinal Mooney's top boys golfers in 2022.  (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
Nico Bencomo takes his second shot on the No. 9 hole at Laurel Oak Country Club's Jones course. Bencomo is one of Cardinal Mooney's top boys golfers in 2022. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
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While high school golf, volleyball, swimming and cross-country might not start their seasons with the fanfare of football, they feature plenty of talented and exciting athletes — including some defending state champions. Yet football always gets the most attention. 

Football previews will come soon, but I like to even the scales a bit at this time of year. So let's take a look at the athletes and storylines I will be following as the other fall sports' respective seasons get underway later this month. 


Can the Sarasota Sailors boys team make it four state championships in a row? That's the biggest question facing the pool as the 2023 season approaches. The Sailors have never done it with the biggest stars, instead using the squad's immense depth and strong relay performances to outlast the competition. With key contributors from 2022 like gold medal winner Liam Heary and Evan Keogh now graduated, this fourth championship run might well be the team's most difficult yet. But the Sailors has earned the benefit of the doubt, and I would not bet against them. Seniors Ethan Ooi and Luca Simon return from the team's gold medal-winning 200-yard medley relay team (1:32.91). 

Addison Sauickie, Bailey O'Regan and Gracie Weyant were individual gold medalists for the Rams girls swim team in 2022, which won the state team title.
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Meanwhile, the Riverview High girls team is trying to make it three state titles in a row, and unlike the Sailors boys, the Rams return several key contributors, including individual 2022 gold medal winners Gracie Weyant, Addison Sauickie and Bailey O'Regan, all of whom will be seniors. The Rams won by 155 points as a team last season; it will be difficult for any team to close that gap in 2023. 


Can any area golfers rekindle the fire that lit up Riverview High boys golfer Aksel Moe in 2022?

Moe captured the Class individual state championship last season, shooting a 2-under-par 70 in the state tournament, shortened to one day thanks to inclement weather. Moe competed in the event alone, as Riverview did not qualify as a team. 

On the boys side, it is a pair of Cardinal Mooney golfers who perhaps has the best shot. Cougars now-junior Nico Bencomo finished tied for second overall at the state tournament in Class 1A at 71 in 2022, one stroke behind winner Jack Quinn of Florida Atlantic University High. Cougars teammate Tommy Tyler, now a senior, was one stroke behind Bencomo at 72, tied for sixth overall. With Bencomo and Tyler back, the Cougars should also be strong as a unit: they finished third as a team in 2022. 

On the girls side, no one from area schools qualified for the state tournament. But all that means is there's plenty of room for someone to surprise in 2023. 

Addison Dempsey. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The area girls do have some excellent returning competitors here. Cardinal Mooney senior Addison Dempsey is a serious state title contender in Class 2A. She finished second overall (17:54.0) at the FHSAA state meet in Tallahassee, seven seconds behind Jillian Candelino of the Bolles School — but Candelino has since graduated, so there's no one from last year in front of Dempsey. As long as she runs her best, she has a great shot at a medal. Oh, and last year was only her second actual year of cross-country, so another year of experience should only help her. 

Others to watch on the girls side include Sarasota High sophomore Aubri Antczak, who finished 46th as a freshman (20:27.90) in 2022. 

On the boys side, Mooney senior teammates Christian Kline and Gage Hassler have a chance to be the area's highest finishers. Kline finished 37th in Class 2A in 2022 (17:02.80) while Hassler finished 43rd (17:10.40). Sarasota High senior Cole Homer also could finish high; Homer was 84th in Class 4A a season ago (17:21.60). 


It feels odd to place volleyball last in this column, as the Sarasota area typically has several strong indoor volleyball programs. But that's what happens when the other fall sports either have reigning state champs or runners-up. 

So don't take volleyball's place on this list as an indication that it will be a down year for the sport in the area. Cardinal Mooney had the best finish of anyone in the area in 2022, going 18-10 and reaching the Class 1A regional finals (Elite Eight) before losing 3-1 to eventual state champion Clearwater Central Catholic. Mooney will feel the loss of two-time Gatorade Florida Player of the Year Jordyn Byrd, who is now at the University of Texas, and other graduates, but Mooney coaches are confident in the squad they have returning. Senior Helena Hebda had 920 assists last season and junior Riley Greene had 64 blocks. 

Elsewhere, things are more cloudy. Riverview has a new coach in Jason Mocherman after Nickie Halbert stepped down following six seasons on the job. The Rams went 8-17 in 2022 but return senior Gabrielle Meese, who was second on the Rams with 87 kills as a junior. 

Sarasota High finished 9-16 in 2022 but returns senior Jillian Davidson, who led the team with 109 kills and 48 blocks. 

Booker High went 8-10 last season and returns senior outside hitter Jenasia Behn (60 kills) and senior setter Cheyla Zastrow (50 assists). 



Ryan Kohn

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.

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