When the calendar turns to a new year and everyone gets busy again following the holiday down period, it is easy to miss some sports storylines and moments worth following. I'm here to keep you up to date. Below are some achievements that have occurred in the first two weeks of 2024, plus some storylines to watch as the winter sports season rolls into late January and February.
Mary Tucker is going back for another medal.
The former Sarasota Military Academy air rifle shooter was officially named to Team USA for the 2024 Paris Olympics on Jan. 7 after a strong performing at the team's trials in Anniston, Alabama, finishing with the top overall air rifle score (633.9).
Tucker, a senior at West Virginia University, previously represented Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and earned a silver medal in the 10-meter air rifle mixed team event alongside Lucas Kozeniesky.
The Olympic spot is no real surprise for anyone who has followed her career. Tucker has become one of the best shots in any country, not just the United States, winning gold in a 50-meter rifle 3-positions team event at the 2023 ISSF World Championship with teammates Sagen Maddalena and Sarah Beard. She even has her own Wikipedia page now; short as it may be, that seems an impressive feat for a rifle athlete.
It's worth remembering how she got here. Tucker started in rifle only because her family forced her to pick a sport to try at SMA. She could barely hold the rifle straight at first, and even when she started improving, she didn't care about her results — not until people started telling her she would never make it to the college level. Then she got serious, even leaving the SMA team to study the sport on her own, practicing five hours a day in her family garage and poring over YouTube videos of proper technique the rest of the night.
The unorthodox journey has paid off, over and over again. Making the Paris Olympics is another example of that. I have a feeling she won't be satisfied with the silver medal she won last time, either.
Not many things in sports are more satisfying than watching a three-point attempt in splash home, hitting nothing but net.
If you agree, I'd suggest getting out to a Sarasota Christian boys basketball game and watching sophomore Ben Milliken put on a show.
As of Jan. 15, Milliken, a sophomore, ranks sixth in Florida, in all classifications, with 59 made three-point attempts, according to MaxPreps data. He's done it while holding a better three-point field goal percentage (46%) than the five players in front of him. His long-range shooting has allowed him to average 16.7 points per game, which is not the top mark on the team — that belongs to junior Josh Frazzini (17.9), who has made 33 three-pointers, so he's no long-range slouch either. But it's Milliken who has made it the focal point of his game.
I got to see Milliken drain threes in person Jan. 5, in a road game against The Out-of-Door Academy. The Blazers lost that game 51-45, but Milliken scored 14 points, many of them in the second half as Sarasota Christian attempted a comeback. Despite the outcome, it was an impressive showing.
The Blazers are 12-5 and will host Indian Rocks Christian (8-5) at 7 p.m. Jan. 23. It's a great opportunity to see this local sharpshooter up close.
Sarasota High girls basketball junior Sofi Miller scored her 1,000th varsity point Jan. 13 in a 70-38 road win over IMG Academy Blue. That's always a mark worth acknowledging. Not only does a player have to be offensively talented to score that much, but they have to be mature enough to earn significant playing time in their freshman and sophomore years.
Miller, who transferred to the Sailors from Windermere Prep this offseason alongside first-year Sailors Head Coach Radhika Miller — her mother — is getting it done on the boards as well as filling the net. Miller, a junior forward/center who is committed to Tennessee Tech University, is averaging 13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game The addition of both Millers has sparked the best Sarasota girls basketball season in years: The Sailors are 11-4 as of Jan. 15, one year after finishing 15-14, and two years removed from finishing 7-18.
It is not only Miller playing well, of course. Sophomore guard Paisley Binswanger leads the team at 15 points and 3.9 assists per game, while senior forward Kennedy McClain averages 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. When the district playoffs arrive on Feb. 5, the Sailors will need all three players and the rest of the roster to be at the top of their game. Miller's experience and scoring prowess could prove crucial when things matter most.
Success in the Mountain West
Cheyenne Stubbs, who played for the Sarasota High girls basketball program from 2018 to 2020, started her collegiate career at Canisius University and found mild success, appearing in 51 games and starting in 13 of them, before transferring to Utah State University this season. Usually when a player transfers to a new school in a bigger conference, it comes with a setback in playing time, but Stubbs apparently made an instant impact on the Bulls' coaching staff.
Stubbs, now a junior guard, has started all 16 of the team's games this season. She's averaging 15.9 points per game, tops on the team by a wide margin — junior Skye Miller is second with 7.8 points per game. She also leads the Bulls with 2.4 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game and is tied with Miller for the team lead in rebounds per game (4.1).
It has been a one-woman show this season, in other words. Unfortunately, that plan does not usually go well in high-level college basketball. The Bulls are just 3-13. Hopefully the team can get her some more help next season, but getting to play basketball in a big-time NCAA conference is a cool reward on its own.
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.