One state championship, several huge turnarounds and lots of exciting performances highlighted the 2022-23 East County high school sports season.
These are the top 10 moments of the high school sports year.
1. Braden River wrestler completes undefeated season
The record was 71-0.
That speaks for itself.
It's what Braden River High senior wrestler Jessey Colas accomplished on the road to a Florida High School Athletic Association state title in the Class 2A 182-pound division. He capped his title March 4 at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. Colas defeated Satellite High's Michael McCarthy 5-3 in the finals, getting an early lead and hanging onto the win late.
Colas' mantra for the season was "just go," a phrase that reminded him to be aggressive. In his final high school season, Colas wanted to have no regrets, to leave everything he had on the mat. The strategy resulted in wire-to-wire dominance.
Colas was the first Pirates wrestler to complete an undefeated season and the second to win a state title, following Brendan Bengtsson's win at 285 pounds in 2018.
"It just made me happy," Colas said of the title win. "I have a note on my wall with all of my life goals. Being a state champion was one of them, and now I've done it. And to be only the second wrestling champion in my school's history? It's crazy."
2. New coach turns around ODA football program
Coming off back-to-back winless seasons, The Out-of-Door Academy Head Coach Rob Hollway had little pressure to quickly get the program back to winning ways in his first season.
He did it anyway.
Thanks to a powerful running game and an aggressive defense, ODA went undefeated in the regular season and reached the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state semifinals thanks to a 36-14 win over St. Edward's High (4-4) on Oct. 28.
In the semifinals Nov. 4, ODA lost 21-0 to rival St. Stephen's Episcopal, a school ODA had beaten 26-22 in the regular season on Sept. 9.
ODA finished the year 9-1. The Thunder didn't reach the championship game, but Hollway's brand of smash-mouth football did enough to send shockwaves through a previously lifeless program.
"The spirit was always high, whether we were down or up," junior linebacker Charlie Tack said. "It made it fun."
3. Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team has undefeated regular season
It had been building since Head Coach Delaney Riggins was hired by the school in 2018. The Lakewood Ranch girls soccer program capitalized on its promise in 2022-2023.
The Mustangs finished the regular season undefeated, with one tie against North Fort Myers High on Dec. 8 (0-0). They then pounded their way through the postseason, reaching the regional finals before losing 5-4 to Palm Harbor University High (19-1) in penalty kicks. In doing so, the Mustangs established themselves as a program to be feared in the years to come, as three of the team's top goal-scorers (junior Sophie Lemus, sophomore Olivia Hadad and junior Madison Adams) will return in 2023-2024.
4. Lakewood Ranch High/EVO Athletics gymnast competes at U.S. Championships
He didn't leave Tampa's Amalie Arena with a medal on Aug. 19, but Lakewood Ranch High senior Jaden Blank, who trains in gymnastics with EVO Athletics, fulfilled a dream anyway by competing at the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
Blank, who will compete for the U.S. Military Academy, finished 21st overall in the event's Junior Men 17 division. His highest score came in the vault, where he earned a 13.30 from the judges, good for 18th place.
Blank qualified for the event by securing the Level 10 All-Around Championship (78.750) at the 2022 Florida Men's State Championships, held March 4-6 in Alachua.
5. ODA's Baffico Balharry takes bronze at state swimming championships
After representing his home country of Chile at the 2022 FINA World Championships, The Out-of-Door Academy senior boys swimmer Felipe Baffico Balharry followed it with a trip to the FHSAA state championship meet in Stuart on Nov. 18.
Baffico Balharry took third place in the 200 yard freestyle (1:37.90) at the state meet, finishing 3.72 seconds behind winner Kaii Winkler of the South Florida Heat homeschool team. He also finished fourth in the 100 yard fly (47.72 seconds).
Baffico Balharry signed with Harvard University on April 27.
6. Lakewood Ranch boys golf has best finish since 2013
The Lakewood Ranch High boys golf team entered the 2023 season with little experience playing together, and it took a while for its talent to mesh.
On Oct. 15, the Mustangs finished 15th out of 18 teams at the 2022 Honda Classic High School Invitational, one of the biggest regular season events of the year, held at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens. Five days earlier, the Mustangs finished fourth out of nine area teams at the 2022 Donald Ross Memorial Tournament at Bradenton's Sara Bay Country Club.
But the team hit a groove late in the year, led by sophomore Parker Severs, and at the FHSAA state tournament, held Nov. 8 at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, the Mustangs finished fifth overall (303), the program's best finish since it won the tournament in 2013. Severs finished tied for seventh individually (73).
7. Lakewood Ranch baseball team reaches regional semifinals
The Lakewood Ranch High baseball program went 10-16 in 2022, and early, things looked only slightly improved in 2023. After 11 games, the team sat at 6-5.
Then things became interesting.
The Mustangs started winning thanks to a strong pitching staff and a penchant for getting timely hits. The Mustangs put together a 19-8 record, winning 13 of their last 16 games, and captured a 1-0 district championship win over Venice High (15-13) on May 4.
Lakewood Ranch would earn a 6-1 home win over Winter Haven High (19-8) in the regional semifinals before running into top-seeded Plant High (19-7) on the road in the regional semifinals; the Mustangs lost that challenge 7-0.
Still, the way the Mustangs finished the season showed Head Coach Colton Chupp and the rest of the baseball community that things are on the upswing with the program.
8. Braden River volleyball reaches regional semifinals
The Braden River volleyball team proved it was not a fluke.
For the second-straight season, the Pirates (16-8) won its district championship, a 3-0 win over Port Charlotte High (9-14). Before the two championships, the program had not won one since 2010.
The second win proved the Pirates have big plans for the future. After beating Port Charlotte, Braden River took a 3-0 sweep of Naples High (11-12) in the regional quarterfinals before falling two points short of an upset in a 3-2 loss to Osceola High (21-8), the No. 7 team in the state, in the regional quarterfinals.
9. Mustang lacrosse's Lucas Anthony finishes 14th in state in points
The Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse team had a middling season, finishing 7-9, but the team's struggles did not stop junior Lucas Anthony from racking up points and climbing the state's leaderboard. Anthony finished with 91 points (58 goals, 33 assists), which was the 14th-most points in the state, and his per-game average of 5.7 points was ninth of out of the same 14 players. Twice this year — on Feb. 16 against Wiregrass Ranch High and on March 24 against Naples High — Anthony amassed 12 points, leading his team to wins both times.
Anthony's 91 points were a 14-point increase from his sophomore season. A similar points jump in his senior season would rank Anthony among the top high school lacrosse players in Florida — if he's not there already.
10. Braden River flag football reaches regional finals
Flag football is still a burgeoning sport at the high school level, but Braden River High has already established itself as the dominant power in the Manatee-Sarasota area.
The Pirates went 11-1 in 2022 and followed that with a 14-3 season in 2023, a season that included postseason wins over Tampa Catholic (9-6) and Lecanto High (11-4). Their season came to an end in the regional finals when they ran into eventual state champion Robinson High (21-2) and lost 32-0.
The Pirates might not be at the Knights' level yet, but the 2023 season was a strong start.
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.