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The top 10 moments of the 2023 Sarasota high school sports scene

Cardinal Mooney High football celebrates its first state championship since 1972.
Cardinal Mooney High football celebrates its first state championship since 1972.
Courtesy image
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Four state championships, several huge breakthroughs and lots of exciting performances highlight the 2023 Sarasota high school sports year. 

These are the top 10 moments of the year.

1. Mooney football wins first state title since 1972

For the first time since 1972, the Cardinal Mooney High football team captured a state title. 

The Cougars (12-2) got a 39-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Michael Valentino to junior wide receiver/defensive back Chris McCorkle with less than a minute remaining to secure a 31-27 win over Trinity Catholic (6-8) in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S state championship game, held Dec. 8 at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee. 

Mooney quarterbacks Valentino and Devin Mignery, a sophomore, combined to throw for 312 yards and three touchdowns — two to McCorkle and one to senior Teddy Foster. Senior running back Carson Beach had 19 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Cardinal Mooney senior running back Carson Beach takes the ball upfield.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Seniors Zeshon Casimir (13) and George Leibold (8) led the team in tackles. McCorkle added an interception on Trinity Catholic's Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game. 

"I'm just proud of how everyone believed in one another," Head Coach Jared Clark said. "They trusted in their teammates and trusted in their coaches. They believed that they were going to go out there and be successful."

2. Cougars beach volleyball captures one state title, nearly wins a second

The Cardinal Mooney High beach volleyball team was out for revenge at the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state tournament April 21-22 in Orlando, and the Cougars found it. 

The Cougars met Bradenton Christian School in the SSAC tournament final 11 days after the Panthers handed Mooney its only loss of the regular season, a razor-thin 3-2 match. In the tournament final rematch, the Cougars made sure things would not be close: Mooney beat BCS 3-0. It was the second-straight SSAC state championship title for the Cougars program. 

The Cardinal Mooney beach volleyball program reached the FHSAA Final Four despite missing three key seniors.
Courtesy photo

Mooney was not done. In a weekend Cougars Head Coach Chad Davis now calls "The Miracle in the Sand," Mooney went to the FHSAA state tournament in Tallahassee down three key players May 12-13 and took wins over Merritt Island High (4-1) and Bradenton Christian (3-2), the latter coming down to a final set win from freshmen pair Layla Larrick and Violet Weiser. The two wins put Mooney in the state final four, where the Cougars faced defending champion New Smyrna Beach High (28-0), ranked No. 2 in the country by MaxPreps as of May 16. 

The Cougars would fall 3-1 to New Smyrna Beach, but Davis said he was proud of his team for hanging tough and taking a game from the Barracudas despite the missing players. 

3. Sailors boys swimming, Rams girls swimming repeat as champs

At this point, it would be more surprising if the Sarasota High boys swim team and the Riverview High girls swim team did not win a state championship, rather than taking home the titles. 

That does not make the feat any less impressive. 

On Nov. 10 in Ocala, the Sailors won the FHSAA Class 4A boys title, the program's fourth in a row, by 20 points over Braddock Senior High; while the Rams won the Class 4A girls title, their third-consecutive title, by 138 points over Windermere High.

The Sarasota High boys team and the Riverview High girls team repeated as state swimming champions in November — Sarasota for the fourth-straight time and Riverview for the third-straight time.
Courtesy image

The Sailors were led by senior Aidan Siers, who won the 200-yard individual medley (1:48.33) and was third in the 500-meter freestyle (4:25.58). He also helped the Sailors to a first-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay (1:33.28) alongside senior Elias Corn, sophomore Bogdan Zverev and senior Victor Izquierdo.

The Rams were led by Florida Dairy Farmers' Miss Swimming 2023, junior Gracie Weyant, who won the 200-yard individual medley (1:58.64) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:02.41). Weyant also helped the Rams to a win in the 200-yard medley relay (1:40.81) alongside sophomore Taylor Schwenk, senior Addison Sauickie and freshman Angelina Lista; and to a win in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:20.20) alongside Sauickie, sophomore Brynn Lavigueur and senior Brianna Deierlein. 

4. Siesta Key gymnast finishes in top 10 at U.S. Championships in the pommel horse

For the second year in a row, Siesta Key gymnast Benjamin Aguilar, who competes with EVO Athletics, represented the gym and the area at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. Aguilar competed at the event in San Jose, California, in August. Once again, Aguilar represented himself well. 

Benjamin Aguilar finished ninth in the pommel horse in the Junior Men's 17 division of the 2023 U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
Courtesy image

Aguilar finished 22nd in the Junior Men's 17 division in the All-Around, but excelled in the pommel horse, finishing ninth in the pommel horse with a score of 24.45. His second-best event was the parallel bars, where he finished 14th (24.75). 

5. Riverview lacrosse's Lowther finishes 25th in nation in goals
Riverview High girls lacrosse senior Susan Lowther is committed to Clemson University.
File photo

Riverview High girls lacrosse player Susan Lowther proved in 2023 to be one of the best goal-scorers in the sport.

Not just in Sarasota. Not just in Florida. In the country. 

Lowther finished 2023, her junior season, with 112 goals, good for 25th in the United States according to MaxPreps data. Lowther's goals per game average of 5.6 was higher than five players ahead of her in the raw goal totals, so a case could be made that Lowther had a top-20 season. Either way, Lowther proved her name belongs among the elite.

Lowther is now a senior and is committed to Clemson University. She has one more season of high school lacrosse to try to climb even further up the goal rankings. 

6. Area track and field athletes find sweetness in silver
Sarasota High junior Tyler Boyer earned a silver medal in the 110 meter hurdles.
File photo

At the FHSAA track and field championships, held May 17-20, no area athletes took gold, but three athletes left the University of North Florida in Jacksonville with silver medals around their necks — a nice consolation prize. 

Riverview High boys junior Luis Castaneda finished second in the Class 4A discus with a throw of 50.12 meters, 1.22 meters behind winner Terrance Powe, a junior from Niceville High. Rams girls junior Susan Lowther — who also had a record-setting year as a lacrosse player — finished second in the Class 4A discus with a throw of 41.86 meters — 0.25 meters behind winner Lydia Kentis, a junior from Goleman High. 

Sarasota High boys senior Tyler Boyer finished second in the Class 4A 110 meter hurdles (14.14 seconds). Boyer was 0.26 seconds behind winner Markel Jones, a senior from Lake Mary High. 

7. Mooney girls basketball reaches third straight title game
Mooney sophomore Sy'monique Simon drives to the basket against Miami Country Day's Sofia Mendez.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The end result hurt, but getting to a third straight FHSAA Class 3A state championship game, even with roster turnover and a new head coach, is something for the Cardinal Mooney High girls basketball team to celebrate. 

The Cougars (21-6) got there thanks to strong play from its main scoring trio of senior Olivia Davis and sophomores Kali Barrett and Sy'monique Simon, as well as overall tight defense instilled in the team by Head Coach Marlon Williams and his staff. 

Mooney got to the championship game with a 52-39 win over King's Academy in Lakeland. Sophomore Bri Behn exploded for 17 points while Davis added 14 and Simon added 11. 

The team's season ended with a 54-38 loss to Miami Country Day in the championship game. 

8. Dempsey finishes third at cross-country state meet

Cardinal Mooney High senior Addison Dempsey started her running journey in Dubai during the COVID-19 pandemic, not knowing where it would take her. Dempsey, previously a soccer player, said she ran around palaces and she ran around fish markets, and she did it all in Dubai's sweltering heat, which could reach 106 degrees or more.

Cardinal Mooney senior Addison Dempsey spent seven years living abroad in Dubai.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Eventually, after moving to Sarasota in 2021, running for fun took Dempsey to competitive cross-country. Now Dempsey has earned a third-place medal at the FHSAA Class 2A state cross-country meet. 

Dempsey completed the 5K run, held Nov. 17 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, in 18:01.9. The run was won by Annabella Tomasic, a seventh grader at Lake Highland Prep, in 17:32.9. 

9. Booker girls basketball gets to back-to-back Final Fours
Booker High junior Jakai Peterson drives the lane against Gibbs on Feb. 17, 2023.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

For the second consecutive year, the Booker High Tornadoes used solid team basketball to pick off opponents in the playoffs and reach the Class 4A Final Four. 

The Tornadoes (22-8) took down the Academy of the Holy Names 61-48 in the regional finals. Senior guard Sariah Bradley scored 17 points while junior Jakai Peterson added 13 points. The Tornadoes forced 13 steals and had 6 blocks as a team. 

Booker's season came to an end with a 65-35 loss to Lake Highland Prep in the Final Four. 

10. Sarasota softball reaches regional quarterfinals
Sailors senior pitcher Ryleigh Bennett held a 14-1 record and a 1.44 ERA in 2023.
File photo

Although it ended earlier than the Sailors would have liked, the 2023 season was a breakout campaign for Sarasota High softball. The Sailors went 21-5 and recorded two wins over traditional local power Lakewood Ranch High, including a 5-3 win in the district championship game. 

The Sailors then earned a 10-4 win over Winter Orange High in the regional quarterfinals before a 10-0 loss to Windermere High ended their season. 

Sarasota was led by senior pitcher Ryleigh Bennett, who went 14-1 with a 1.44 ERA.



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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