Southeast’s girls basketball team keeps winning.
So does Lakewood Ranch’s girls soccer team.
And Palmetto’s boys soccer team.
In high school sports, winning is hard.
But to win consistently is even harder.
This isn’t pro sports, where the teams with the most dough can pluck the best players. Nor is this the college game, where coaches can pick and choose who they want, guaranteeing they will get the right personnel designed for their system of play.
No such luck in the prep ranks, were coaches simply have to make do with whomever comes roaring down the pike, which is what makes this area’s most successful programs so impressive.
They win. And they win all the time, making annual pilgrimages to the district finals and regional tournaments.
How do they do it? What’s the secret?
Some teams are buoyed by their feeder programs, where kids begin working early and often. By the time they’ve reached the varsity ranks as freshmen, they have more big game experience than some upperclassmen.
Take Alex Doran, for example, who became Manatee’s first freshman to win a state wrestling title in the winter of 2008. Doran had already been a successful club wrestler, competing in arenas such as the Pontiac Silverdome, so The Lakeland Center didn’t spook him.
That said, Doran bought into what Manatee’s coaches — Andy Gugliemini and Dave Mason — were telling him. And the coaches exercised patience with Doran, who began that year by losing all four matches during the Hurricanes’ pre-season meet.
It’s a combination of both. Athletes need good coaching when they’re young, and they need good coaching as they move up the ranks.
And in turn, the coaches need leaders on the mat or on the field, or more importantly, players who take pride in the tradition and those that came before them.
Southeast’s girls know about the string of district championships. Lakewood Ranch’s girls know about five district titles in six seasons.
Palmetto’s boys know all about the recent run, which included the team’s first trip to the state finals last winter.
Football players at Manatee and Southeast know about the greatness that has come before them.
They know. They care. And they want to add to it.
Really, that’s the most important ingredient. Winning breeds winning. Tradition breeds tradition.
Feeder programs, top-tier skills, strategic coaching — all of that plays a role, all of that is pivotal.
But the players need to want to succeed, to add to that tradition.
That’s why the programs around here don’t just get good — they stay good.