Now that the high school spring sports season is here, it is also time for spring NCAA sports to get started.
As always, the Sarasota area is flush with talent in these sports. This year's group is a mix of veteran playing gearing up for one last ride with their teams and young players looking to lock down permanent spots in the lineup — plus a former Olympian.
Clark Dean, Harvard University men's rowing
Dean, a Pine View School graduate, competed in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, but he's not done with the college rowing life yet. Now a senior at Harvard, Dean and his teammates in the top varsity eight boat will try to improve on their sixth-place finish (05:56.147) at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships from 2022.
Conner Whittaker, Florida State University baseball
The former Sarasota High hurler will get his sophomore season at Florida State started with the Seminoles' 5 p.m. home game against James Madison University on Feb. 17. Whittaker was named to the National College Baseball Writers Association Freshman All-American Second Team in 2022 after he pitched 36.1 innings, all out of the bullpen, and held a 2.48 ERA and a 2-2 record. Whittaker struck out 33 batters while walking just 12.
Under new Seminoles Coach Link Jarrett, it remains to be seen how Whittaker will be used, but it would not be a surprise if he ends up a consistent starter.
Devyn Flaherty, Florida State University softball
Flaherty, a junior, is as reliable a player as exists in college softball. In 2022, the former Riverview High star, hit .355 with 12 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 31 RBIs, plus 26 steals and a .980 fielding percentage on her way to a spot on the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Second Team.
Flaherty and the Seminoles, already 4-1 on the year as of Feb. 14, will continue their season at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 with a game against the No. 10-ranked University of Arizona in Clearwater.
Jack Duffy, University of Houston baseball
Like Whittaker, Duffy is a former Sailor who had an outstanding 2022 season and earned bigger opportunities. Playing at Polk State University, Duffy hit .442 — the best mark in the junior college Florida College System Activities Association — with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs as a sophomore. He was named a NJCAA Division I All-American Second Team for his efforts.
Now at Houston, Duffy, a junior, has a chance to become a big name in college baseball circles. The Cougars went 37-24 and reached the American Athletic Conference Championship Game in 2022.
Ben McCabe, University of Central Florida baseball
McCabe, a former Sailors star, is in his senior season for the Knights and is expected to once again be a leader at catcher. He's started every game of the last two seasons. In 2022, McCabe hit .298 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs and held a .979 fielding percentage.
McCabe and the Knights went 34-24 but lost to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championships.
MJ McMahon, University of Utah men's lacrosse
McMahon, a Cardinal Mooney High grad, started all 14 games for the Utes in 2022. As a sophomore he tallied 31 points (20 goals, 11 assists) with nine ground balls and ranked second in the Atlantic Sun Conference and 20th nationally in shot percentage (.417).
Now a junior, McMahon will be tasked with leading a team looking to build on a 10-4 season a year ago.
Wyatt Plattner, University of Cincinnati men's golf
Plattner, a freshman who graduated from Cardinal Mooney in 2022, had a strong start to his college career in the Bearcats' fall season. Plattner improved his finish in every fall season event he played, culminating in a seventh overall finish (seven under par, 209) at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate Championship, held Oct. 9-11 in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
The more official spring season begins Feb. 26 when the Bearcats play in the Dorado Beach Collegiate in Dorado, Puerto Rico. If he can build on his fall results, Plattner could be in for big things.
Jacqui Putrino, Florida State women's golf
Putrino, who won back-to-back individual state titles as a sophomore and junior at Riverview High, is now a freshman at Florida State. She saw action in three events during the Seminoles' fall season and played well, averaging a 73.75 round with a low round of 68. In her first collegiate event in September, she tied for 20th overall at the Schooner Fall Classic in Norman, Oklahoma, by shooting even par (210).
Like Platter's fall season, Putrino's success should set her up well for a promising spring campaign.
Shelli DiPuma, University of Central Florida softball
DiPuma is a freshman at UCF after graduating from Riverview High in 2022, so her playing time will largely depend on how much she impresses her coaches. Based on her high school performance, she could make a quick impression. DiPuma was a top-100 national recruit via Extra Innings who hit .388 with 14 home runs during her Rams career. DiPuma played catcher for Riverview but is listed as a utility player on the UCF website, which may allow her to play sooner than she otherwise would.
Jaxon Crump, Air Force Academy baseball
Crump, a former Sailor, missed the 2022 season because of an injury, which is especially tough as a freshman trying to make an impression on a new staff. But the right-handed pitcher is back for the 2023 season and will try to earn some chances to toe the rubber. Crump held a 2.60 ERA over his high school career.
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.