Manatee had become somewhat resigned to a second-place finish in the district before the Florida High School Athletic Association finalized the alignment for the 2016-17 season. The Hurricanes always had the talent to compete, but Punta Gorda Charlotte made a fierce challenger.
Rich Lansky was optimistic when the Canes’ new group of competitors was announced. There were unfamiliar faces and for Manatee, which was the runner-up in Class 2A-District 16 last winter, that was fine. The path to a championship, Lansky hoped, would be a bit more realistic in Class 2A-District 15.
“I kind of thought when we had the district set that it might be an easier time for us to get district,” the Hurricanes head coach said, “but once I saw the numbers coming in on Sunlake ...”
Land O’Lakes Sunlake and the rest of Class 2A-15 provided the Canes a different sort of challenge, and it once again held Manatee back from winning a district title in the south gymnasium at Manatee High School. Despite a district-best three champions, the Hurricanes settled for second in Bradenton with 42 points. The Seahawks, who won the district, finished with 56 points.
The Canes’ second-place effort hinged, as usual, on their excellence in the lighter weight classes. Jessica Caruso won at 110 pounds, Tessa Marquette won at 129 and Brooke Schamber won at 154. Sunlake won its three championships at 101, 139 and 183, and had at least one qualifier in seven of the 10 weight classes.
The top six finishers in each weight class qualify for the Class 2A-Region 8 championship Jan. 18 in Punta Gorda.
“I was looking at the numbers on totals that came in,” Lanksy said, “and it looked like we were going to be a solid second.”
Depth prevented Manatee from seriously threatening the Seahawks and also gave the Hurricanes a comfortable edge over their nearest competition. New Port Richey Mitchell finished third and only scored 25 points. Braden River finished fourth with 23 points and Palmetto rounded out the top five with 20. Lakewood Ranch, the other Manatee County team in the nine-team field, finished seventh with 13 points.
The Tigers were the only team other than the Canes or Sunlake with multiple champions. Maryah Collins topped the 119-pound field and Sha’la McMillan won the unlimited classification. Sierra Rawley won the Pirates’ only district title at 199 and Aleah Robinson won the Mustangs’ one title at 169.
The Hurricanes wound up hauling in eight medals — all in the six lightest weight classes. The Canes placed multiple lifters in the top six of both the 110- and 119-pound weight classes. No one heavier than Schamber, though, scored for Manatee.
“As we graduate them,” Lansky said of his heavier lifters, “it just takes some time to develop.”
Braden River pushed its way into second among county teams at the district championship with its depth. The Pirates will have region finalists in four weight classes, including a pair at 199. The Tigers didn’t have any qualifiers aside from their two champions, and the Mustangs only had one other at 183.
“This district was tougher than last year’s district,” Lansky said. “Even though Charlotte was tough, this district was tougher because of the depth.”