As the calendar turns to December — and I contemplate how fast this year has flown by me — a period of transition hits the local sports calendar. Some, but not all, high school winter sports have begun, and the only fall sport still going is the football postseason. It's about the time of year I like point readers in the direction of some of our alumni, many of whom are winter sports athletes in the midst of their seasons.
This year in particular, the area has several athletes accomplishing amazing things and getting ready for primetime events, including some Olympic qualifiers. Here are five athletes — plus one coach — who are making the most of their post-Sarasota athletic experience.
Mary Tucker, West Virginia University rifle
It seems like Mary Tucker, the Sarasota Military Academy graduate and Tokyo Olympics silver medalist, accomplishes something new every week, both for West Virginia and in international competitions. To wit: Tucker competed at the 2023 ISSF World Cup on Nov. 24 and qualified for the smallbore and air rifle finals, finishing seventh in smallbore and eighth in air rifle. She will also compete in part two of the U.S. Olympic Trials on December 8-13 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The collegiate rifle season is on pause for all of these international events before resuming in January, but as of Nov. 21, Tucker led the nation in aggregate average (1189.2) and smallbore average (593).
Jason Jackson, Overtime Elite basketball
It's not technically a college, but you can watch former Riverview High star Jason Jackson play basketball this season. Jackson is playing in the Overtime Elite league, which is designed to be a developmental stop-gap league for talented players before they either go on to the college level or, in some cases, turn professional. In Jackson's case, he had been committed to the University of Mississippi for next season, but he de-committed from the Rebels on Nov. 8 to reopen his recruitment. Right now, he's playing for the league's RWE team and averaging 8.9 points, 2.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game while making 43.6% of his field goals (62.5% from two-point range). RTE's games can usually be watched for free on YouTube, but some — like a 7 p.m. contest on Dec. 8 against the City Reapers — are exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.
Savannah Barr, University of Miami women's swimming
Former Riverview High swimmer Savannah Barr is now a junior at Miami. She's seen a lot of success as an upperclassmen. On Oct. 7, Barr finished third in the 200 yard freestyle (1:48.02) at the Southern Methodist University Classic in Dallas, an event that featured big schools like the University of Southern California, Auburn University and the University of Missouri. Barr also helped the Hurricanes' 800 yard freestyle relay team to a fourth-place finish (7:14.20) at the event. On Nov. 3, Barr won the 100 yard freestyle (51.82 seconds) and the 100 yard butterfly (56.22 seconds) in a dual meet with Florida Atlantic University.
Mercedes Traba, Vanderbilt University women's swimming
Former Sarasota High swimmer Mercedes Traba, a junior at Vanderbilt, has found similar success to Barr in the early stages of the 2023-2024 season. Traba, a distance swimmer, finished fifth in the 500 yard freestyle (4:52.60) and fifth in the 1,650 yard freestyle (17:03.27) at the Gamecock Invitational, held Nov. 15-17 in Columbia, South Carolina. At this point in her career, however, Traba has proven all she needs to prove: Traba owns school records in the 1,000 yard freestyle (10:04.12) and in the 500 yard freestyle (4:49.49).
Emma Weyant, University of Florida women's swimming
We can't talk about women's swimming without mentioning Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Emma Weyant, the former Riverview High star. Weyant is having a strong junior season at Florida, which is ranked No. 3 in the country. Weyant finished second in the 400 yard individual medley (4:03.65), fourth in the 500 yard freestyle (4:35.71) and fifth in the 1,650 yard freestyle (16:07.32) at the 2023 University of Georgia Invitational, held Nov. 16-18. Weyant will be back swimming on the national level this week, as she'll compete in six events at the 2023 Toyota U.S. Open Championships, held Nov. 29-Dec. 2 in Greensboro, North Carolina. She'll do so alongside her sister, current Riverview swimmer Gracie Weyant, who is competing in five events.
Chad Sutton, Mercer University volleyball
Sutton isn't a former player, but a former coach. He led Cardinal Mooney High volleyball to an unforgettable state championship win in 2019 before deciding he wanted to take his shot at the college level. After two season as a volunteer assistant at Purdue University and one season as an actual assistant coach at Coastal Carolina University, Sutton got his opportunity, taking over the program at Mercer University this season. The Bears went 16-12 in Sutton's first year — an improvement on a 10-19 record the prior year — though they were upset by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament. Based on the Sutton I know, he won't let that happen again, and the Bears will have an even better record in 2024.
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.