Prep Rally | A winter season to remember is coming to an end

February 14, 2014 

Allow us, please, to tip our caps to the old and the new.

Let's stand and applaud for the standards that continue to dominate, for the ones who have reached unprecedented heights and for the ones who have breathed fresh life back into their programs.

The state wrestling tournament begins Friday morning, a sure sign the winter preps sports season is drawing to a close and the baseball teams and softball teams and track stars are about to start monopolizing our attention.

That's a shame, because this has been one of the more special seasons in recent memory, one that has satisfied any number of sports palates while throwing in a few twists for fun.

Credit is due to Southeast's girls basketball team, which looks to win a region title Saturday night in Cape Coral and return to the state semifinals for the first time in a decade. A 27-1 record, thanks in part to a stampede through its first four playoff opponents, has made Southeast's stunning exit from last year's district semifinals feel as if it never happened.

It's what you expect from a lineup that features four seasoned seniors, including three who have scored more than 1,000 points. But there is something special about a program that just wins, regardless of the roster or the district or the steady push from one local upstart after another.

Just ask Lakewood Ranch's girls soccer team, which made another run to the Class 4A state semifinals this season after winning its 11th district title in 14 years. Maintaining dominance at the pro level can be easy, especially when you have more money than the other guy.

But in high school, where all you can do is field a team from whatever talent comes your way? That's special.

And that adjective can be applied to the Mustangs' entire winter -- the boys soccer team makes its final four debut Friday in Melbourne, and the wrestling team is taking a program-best five qualifiers to the Class 2A state meet in Lakeland.

That's been the best part of this winter: We're used to seeing this sort of success come courtesy of Ranch's girls soccer players and Southeast's girls hoopsters. But to see other teams reach historic heights? That's just as special.

And kudos, as well, to Manatee's wrestling team and the Saint Stephen's boys soccer team, which spent this season adding more successful links to their tradition-rich chains. And it's not over for the Hurricanes, who take five guys into the Class 3A state meet.

The only downside to the winter sports season?

It's almost over.

Chances are, though, it will last long after the final buzzer has sounded.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reachedat 941-745-7057. Followhim on Twitter@JohnLembo1878.

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