So, what was your favorite moment of the 2009-10 prep sports season?
Maybe it was Manatee High trumping the No. 1 football team in the country, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Or Palmetto becoming the county’s first boys soccer team to make the state final four in back-to-back seasons. Or Lakewood Ranch becoming the county’s first girls soccer team to make the state final four. How about Southeast’s Kelsey Vance winning a state lifting title in her fourth trip to state? Or Saint Stephen’s Hannah Howell and Lakewood Ranch’s Kristen Zarrella putting on a show at the state track meet? Or Bradenton Christian’s girls basketball team getting back to the final four? Or Braden River’s volleyball team becoming the first in program history to make a regional final?
Regardless of your choice, there were plenty of moments to choose from over the past nine months.
Ace Sanders heard it. Brion Carnes did, too.
Manatee High’s football team may have reached the Class 5A state semifinals for the third time in five years — but the Hurricanes weren’t getting past Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Everyone was saying if we got past Palm Bay Bayside, which we did (in the regional final), we should just hang up our stuff. OK, OK ...,” said Carnes, Manatee’s quarterback, days before playing the Raiders.
On Dec. 11, 2009, Carnes and the rest of the Canes proved everyone wrong, knocking off Aquinas 28-20 and reaching the state championship game for the first time since 1993.
Manatee’s storied program is no stranger to big victories. Nonetheless, this one was special.
The Raiders entered the game carrying a 37-game winning streak, the past two Class 5A state titles and the nation’s No. 1 ranking. They had defeated Manatee in the state semifinals in 2005 and ’06, and in the eyes of many, the ’09 game wasn’t going to be any different.
The many were wrong. The Hurricanes led 10-7 at halftime and landed a huge blow on the first play of the fourth quarter, when senior defensive back Davian Evans returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, increasing the lead to 21-7 and sending 8,000 fans into a frenzy.
Aquinas made things interesting late, closing to within 28-20 with about two minutes to go. But Sanders recovered the Raiders’ onsides kick, and Manatee melted the clock, setting off a wild celebration on the turf at Joe Kinnan Field.
“This is a great, great feeling,” Manatee coach Joe Kinnan said. “The last time there was a No. 1 team here, we were, back in 1991, and we got beat. The No. 1 team goes down again at Hawkins Stadium, but it’s a reversal this year.”
Sanders accounted for two touchdowns, Carnes threw for 178 yards, and Manatee’s defense limited the Raiders — who scored 44.6 points a game heading into the semifinal — to 252 yards.
The next day, news of the upset made its way into USA Today and on to ESPN.
Hurricanes football was back on the map, and Manatee was in a state final for a third consecutive decade. All of those appearances have come under Kinnan.
“A lot of people didn’t think we were going to beat St. Thomas, so we wanted to prove everybody wrong,” said an emotional Carnes. “It was nothing but God that guided us and led us.”
Manatee finished 13-2 and fell short of winning the program’s fifth state championship, losing to Tampa Plant 21-14 the following week at the Florida Citrus Bowl. But despite the sour finish, chances are the ’09 team won’t be forgotten any time soon.
“We did something no other school in the county has done for a long time — we got to state,” said Carnes, who earned All-Area Player of the Year honors. “Everybody was happy for us, everybody was proud of us. “We had a good season.”
Lakewood Ranch’s girls cross country team hit the ground running — and never really stopped.
Stacked with talented freshmen, the Mustangs were the area’s best team throughout the year and carried that momentum all the way to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, where they finished second in the 3A state meet.
It was the proper way to cap the best season in program history.
“They’ve been to the big meets ... and they rose to the occasion at those meets,” coach Mary Quinn said the day of the state meet. “But you hope for them to peak and do their ultimate best at this meet here.”
They did. Kristen Zarrella (fourth, 18:44.97), the Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year, cut nearly a minute off her regional time, while Olivia Ortiz (eighth, 18:55.03) shaved half a minute from her regional time.
“I feel like we definitely rose to the occasion and did the job as well as we could,” Zarrella said. “It was good.”
So was the whole season. Lakewood Ranch took first-place trophies from the county, district and regional meets, and at state, totaled 62 points, placing the Mustangs well ahead of third-place Fort Walton Beach (94 points).
“We knew we had it in us,” Ortiz said.
Teams typically have their best season when their rosters are stacked with seasoned seniors, and therefore, expect to spend the next year or two rebuilding.
Not in this case.
Zarrella, Ortiz, Ashley Platt and Natalie Novak will be sophomores next season. In other words, this could be just the beginning of Lakewood Ranch’s golden age.
Other notable moments
n A year after winning just one game, Lakewood Ranch’s football team finishes the regular season 6-4 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Out-of-Door Academy won its first regional football title and advanced to the Class 1B state semifinals, and Southeast and Braden River also made the regional football playoffs, with the Pirates hosting a playoff game for the first time in program history.
n Braden River’s girls volleyball team had its best season to date, winning its first district title and advancing to the Class 4A-Region 3 championship game.
n Saint Stephen’s boys golf team won a district title and followed up with a runner-up finish in the Class 1A-Region 6 meet, sending the Falcons to the Class 1A state tournament.
n Lakewood Ranch’s John Silvers and Ashley Reid, as well as Manatee’s Rachel Harrington, were named to the USA Swimming’s Scholastic All-American Team. The All-America team was made up of 1,500 swimmers across the country who achieved at least a 3.5 grade-point average as a high school sophomore, junior or senior, achieved a Junior National Bonus Time Standard, swam in a selected disability championship meet or the Open Water National Championships during the qualifying period. Silvers accepted a scholarship from Penn State.
First came Lakewood Ranch High’s girls. Then came Palmetto High’s boys.
Together, they crafted the best prep soccer season in Manatee County history.
The Mustangs rolled through the regular season undefeated en route to reaching the state final four for the first time ever.
The Tigers reaffirmed their status as the area’s best team, reaching a regional championship game for a fourth straight year and playing into the state final four for the second consecutive season.
Consequently, for a few chilly months, soccer was the area’s hottest sport.
The Mustangs had long been the area’s most consistent girls team, playing deep into the postseason and fielding some of the best players — such as Lindsey Thompson and Jessica Eicken — in the state.
This time, however, Lakewood Ranch took it a step further. After rolling to the Class 4A-District 10 title, the Mustangs defeated Tampa Steinbrenner 2-1 in a Region 3 semifinal on Feb. 2, sending them to a regional final for the second time.
This time, they finished the job, beating Naples Barron Collier 2-1 — 4-3 on penalty kicks — on Feb. 6, clinching the program’s first trip to the final four and running the Mustangs’ record to 19-0-2.
Senior co-captain Kaitlyn Kerrigan scored the game winner. The team’s other captain, senior defender Kristen Hagaman, helped shut down Barron Collier’s high-octane offense. Hagaman signed with Division I Mercer and was named the All-Area Girls Player of the Year.
“That’s what has been working for us this whole year — a lot of this stuff has been my seniors,” coach Guy Virgilio said. “They are very mature. ... They are the ones who have been doing the talking to the underclassmen. They’ve been doing a great job of trying to make them understand, ‘Hey, who knows the next time you are going to be here? So let’s take advantage of it.’”
On the boys side, Palmetto, which became the county’s first public school soccer team to reach the state semifinals in 2009, repeated the feat with a thrilling 2-1 win over Fort Myers in the Class 4A-Region 3 final. The game-winner came courtesy of Jose Martinez, whose header came with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Tigers reached the regional final when they disposed of state soccer powerhouse Tampa Jesuit 4-1 in a regional semifinal Feb. 9.
“We’ve got great kids in Palmetto,” coach Dustin Dahlquist said the night they qualified for their fourth straight regional final. “Four years in a row — that says a lot about our work ethic. ... It says a lot about our kids, about what soccer means to them, because they play all the time.”
At the core of the dynasty were five seniors — Martinez (the Boys Soccer Player of the Year), Brandon Tarpley, Jose Zamudio, Edgar Campos and Guillermo Galvan — who played varsity for all four years.
“We’re like a family,” Zamudio said. “We work together, we support each other.”
Both teams fell painfully short during the final four at the University of Tampa, with each team losing in penalty kicks — Lakewood Ranch fell to Jacksonville St. Johns Bartram Trail, and Palmetto lost to Jacksonville Stanton.
“It was a (heck) of a ride,” Tarpley said after Palmetto’s semifinal.
That it was — for the Tigers, Mustangs and all of the soccer fans in Manatee County.
Saving best for last
Southeast High’s Kelsey Vance was no stranger to the state weightlifting meet.
Entering her senior season, Vance had qualified for the meet in three straight years, taking third as a sophomore and junior.
This time, however, making it wasn’t enough. Vance wanted gold. And she got it, registering a combined lift of 395 pounds — 40 pounds more than runner-up Shelly Teal from Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley — to win the state title at 169 pounds in February.
“I really worked hard for it,” Vance said.
Diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, Vance has been taking insulin shots every day since she was 5. But that didn’t stop her from crafting one of the area’s finest prep athletic careers, regardless of the sport.
She qualified for state four times, won a state title and set the state clean-and-jerk record for her weight class earlier this year during a meet at Avon Park. Vance also lifted for Team Florida Gulf Coast, finishing in the top seven twice at the USA Weightlifting American Open, and competed in the National Juniors Meet in Minnesota weeks after winning the state title.
“If you’re not going to try 100 percent,” she said, “why do it?”
Vance isn’t done. A member of the prestigious International Baccalaureate program, she plans to study sports psychology at UCF while furthering her attempt to win a junior nationals lifting title.
“You’ve got to give it all you’ve got,” Vance said, “because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Other notable moments
n Bradenton Christian’s girls basketball team defeated Orlando Agape 57-55 in a regional final Feb. 20 to reach the Class 1A state final four for the first time since 2005. The Panthers lost to Hollywood Christian in the semifinals but finished the year 27-4 and won district and regional titles, as well as their own tournament, the Smoothie King Classic, for the first time. Junior forward Maria DeKuiper and senior forward Liz Capps made the Girls Basketball All-Area Team.
n Southeast’s girls basketball team strung together 27 straight wins en route to reaching the Class 3A-Region 3 title game. Bianca Hanna, The Girls Basketball Player of the Year, finished her career with 1,874 points, second in program history behind Depree Bowden.
n Palmetto’s 5-year-old wrestling team took a major step forward by winning the county wrestling title and snapping Manatee’s 13-year winning streak. Manatee’s streak of state place winners lives on, however, as Alex Doran (135 pounds) and Stephen Cotton (140) placed fourth in the Class 3A meet. Cotton, who tied a program single-season mark with 50 wins, earned All-Area Wrestler of the Year honors.
n Manatee’s boys basketball team made the regional playoffs for the first time since 2002 by defeating Venice in a Class 5A-District 10 semifinal. It was the last win for Manatee under coach Shawn Campbell, who in April was replaced by former Lakewood Ranch coach Randy Smith.
One boy, one girl. One junior, one freshman. Both were champions.
Bradenton Christian’s Dominic Cotrone and Out-of-Door Academy’s Caroline Dailey starred on the tennis court, with each taking a title away from the Class 1A state tournament.
Cotrone, a junior, won the individual singles title.
Dailey, just a freshman, continued her stellar career by winning the overall singles title for a second straight year.
Both of their postseason trips began at the Falcon Tennis Center on the campus of Saint Stephen’s, site of the District 10 Tournament.
Cotrone won the singles title at No. 1 and teamed with Nathan Price to do the same at No. 1 doubles.
Dailey also won a singles ribbon, teamed with Michelle Ramos to win doubles and helped the Thunder get past the Falcons to win the team title.
Things didn’t change a whole lot at state. The tournament’s top seed, Cotrone defeated Miami Country Day’s Matthew Gladstone 6-1, 6-4 to win the state title at Sylvan Lake Park.
Cotrone lost the overall state singles match to Andrew Butz of Vero Beach St. Edwards. But that did little to diminish Cotrone’s state championship.
“It’s very exciting,” BCS coach Rick Morange said. “It’s a great thing. ... Dom played wonderful. It was pretty exciting stuff.”
Cotrone and Price also reached the finals of the individual doubles tournament.
Dailey continued to craft an amazing prep career herself. After defeating Tampa Catholic’s Kelly Sullivan 7-5, 6-0, Dailey beat American Heritage’s Nadia Rajita 6-3, 4-3 (ret.) to claim the overall singles title.
Oh, and she and Ramos won the individual doubles title, too.
It was an exciting tennis season for many county players.
Lakewood Ranch’s girls and boys tennis teams and Bayshore’s boys team won regional titles and advanced to the state tournament. Manatee’s Mary and Carolyn Chupa won the Class 4A overall doubles title, Bayshore’s Pablo Garcia won the Class 2A team state title at No. 2 singles, and the Mustangs’ Arnav Mohanty did the same in Class 3A at No. 3.
Ranch keeps running
After dominating the fall, members of Lakewood Ranch’s girls cross country team continued to excel in the spring.
Freshmen Kristen Zarrella and Olivia Ortiz took home three medals each from the Class 3A state track and field championships, capping a year that began when the two helped the Mustangs to a state runner-up finish in cross country.
Zarrella placed third in the 1,600-meter run, sixth in the 3,200 and ran anchor for the 3,200 relay team that placed second. Joining Zarrella on the team was Ortiz and fellow freshmen and cross country runners Kim Novak and Ashley Platt.
“There is a lot of pressure involved in winning states, and I was excited,” Zarrella said. “I managed to get third because I just found some inner motivation. I really wanted to get that third place. To get in the top three is real big.”
Aside from her relay performance, Ortiz was seventh in the 1,600 and 3,200.
“I was nervous. I never ran before this year, and coming into states, I never experienced anything like this,” Ortiz said. “I was just honored to be here and tried to do my best. I just wanted to get a medal, and I managed to get three, so it was a good day.”
Yet they weren’t the only ones to pick up Class 3A state medals. Manatee’s 400 relay team (Ace Sanders, Chris Freeman, Mike Blakely and Michael Monix) placed fifth, and Quenton Bundrage was eighth in the high jump.
Bayshore’s Garrett Secor was fifth in the shot put, and Palmetto’s Kymbrel Smith took seventh in the 200 dash.
In Class 1A, Saint Stephen’s 1,600 relay team (Alyssa Allen, Amy Ivin, Gabrielle Woodruff and Hannah Howell) took third, the best finish in program history thanks to its school-best time of 4:07.37.
Howell set another school mark that day when she placed fifth in the 400 with a time of 59.22.
Out-of-Door Academy’s Jeff Young also medaled at the 1A meet, taking seventh in the 800.
Other notable moments
n Lakewood Ranch and Bayshore went 14 innings in the first round of the Class 4A-District 10 baseball tournament, with the Mustangs winning 1-0. Lakewood Ranch advanced to the Class 4A-Region 3 semifinals. Other teams qualifying for the regional playoffs were Bradenton Christian, Cardinal Mooney, Manatee and the Manatee HEAT.
n Lakewood Ranch’s softball team advanced to the Class 4A-Region 3 championship game and finished with a record of 23-4.
n Braden River’s softball team won a regional game for the first time in program history and did so in dramatic fashion when freshman Ashley Allard, down to her last strike, ripped a two-out, two-run double in the top of the seventh. The Pirates defeated Tampa Steinbrenner 2-1.
n Braden River’s Tevin Bryant was the area’s lone medal winner at the state lifting tournament, taking sixth at 219 pounds.
n Saint Stephen’s Jenny Boothby was one of 24 student-athletes named to the Florida High School Athletic Association’s 2010 Academic All-State Team. A senior, Boothby had a weighted grade-point average above 4.0 and earned varsity letters this season in basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis. She received $1,000 and a medallion and is off to Georgia Tech to study biomedical engineering.