Special weekin store for county sports

February 16, 2009 

Welcome to one of the best weeks in Manatee County sports.

Brandish a camcorder. Take pictures with your cell phone.

Find some game-worn socks and stick them in a scrapbook, or dip that headgear in some bronze.

Do whatever you have to do. Weeks like this come around as frequently as Halley’s Comet.

When was the last time so much championship promise was packed into so little time? And purists, relax — I’m not discounting that glorious night in 1985 when Manatee and Southeast played for state football titles four miles apart.

This is special because it involves two sports that, in the eyes of many, serve as little more than timekillers for spring practices and summer two-a-days.

It’s special because for once, the county belongs to soccer players and wrestlers.

It may not last forever. It may not jack up attendance come November. But this week is all about them.

Saint Stephen’s plays for the Class 2A boys soccer title Wednesday at Pepin-Rood Stadium, where they face Delray Beach American Heritage at 5p.m. in the semifinals.

Palmetto’s pursuit begins the next day vs. Merritt Island.

A day later in Lakeland, five county high schools — Bayshore, Braden River, Lakewood Ranch, Manatee and Palmetto — will have wrestlers competing in the two-day state tournament.

Such feats are enough to stand on their own. But each team’s story, each team’s quest, acts as nothing but a sweetener.

Consider the Falcons, stymied every year since 2005 by Tampa Prep. They snapped the jinx Friday in a highlight-reel wonder thanks to a game-winning goal set up by a freshman (Adam Vining), scored by a senior (Ryley Delgado).

Consider the Tigers, who hadn’t been to a regional final before getting there in 2007. They have been to two more since, clearing the hurdle Friday in Fort Myers. It took double-overtime, but that’s fine. If it’s too easy, it’s not worth it.

Consider the wrestlers.

Braden River’s Trevor Barnes, who nearly missed the whole year because of the hematoma that developed on his brain. Or Grant Lunsford, a Palmetto sophomore and the school’s first wrestler to make state. Or Lakewood Ranch’s Kyle-Riley Hawkins, who suffered a hip injury during the district tournament.

Now he’s the school’s first wrestler to make Lakeland since 2006.

Or Bayshore’s Nathan Meschelle, now equipped with a district title, a regional title and the potential to be the school’s first wrestling champion since 1990.

Or Manatee’s 10 qualifiers. It’s one thing to be excellent, and something else to sustain excellence. The Canes have mastered the latter, doing so while crafting a tight-knit team that doubles as a family.

It’d be nice to see all of this go down in the same season. It’s about to happen within the next few days.

We may never see another week like this again, so stack up on the memories.

After all, they keep much better than socks.

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