Olivia Ortiz sees greatness all around her at Lakewood Ranch High.
Though she has created some of it, Ortiz is inspired by the achievements of her peers.
This fall, the boys golf team won a state championship, the swimming team captured three individual state titles, the volleyball team won its first district championship and got one step from state, and the girls cross country team figures to finish in the top five, perhaps as high as second, in the Class 3A state meet this weekend.
“The success at Lakewood Ranch sports, especially this season, is a great motivator for me,” said Ortiz, a junior favored to win the individual state title at the cross country meet Saturday in Dade City. “Lakewood Ranch is a school filled with well-rounded athletes and students. There are a lot of athletic scholars, and we work very hard at both.”
As with most of the Mustangs, Ortiz looks for any edge, which means sometimes doing things in an unorthodox way.
Swimmer Will Kazokas credits his long fingernails for helping him win the 100-yard freestyle at the state meet.
Ortiz won’t be leaving with her teammates Friday despite the 8:30 a.m. start time of her race. She will leave Saturday morning at around 4:30.
“I like to sleep in my own bed and be in my own surroundings,” Ortiz said. “I will have to get up at 4, but that’s OK. My parents are driving, and I can sleep in the car. I want to feel as comfortable as I can and this is the best way. I’ve done this the past two years. The biggest thing for me is that I want to be relaxed.”
Dave Frantz and boys cross country coach Brian Thomas are the only two people who have been coaching sports at Lakewood Ranch since the school opened in 1998.
Frantz, who coached the boys team to Manatee County’s first public-school golf state championship this season, is familiar with success. He coached the Southeast High boys golf team to a state runner-up finish in 1990 when there was only one classification and was there during the 1990s when the school won two state football championships.
“I don’t think the success we had this fall at Lakewood Ranch is a coincidence,” Frantz said. “It reflects the growth of the community. We have some of the best coaches, and eventually you are going to succeed because that is that what our community is all about. Lakewood Ranch is the number one academic school in the area and is showing dominance athletically. Once you get kids motivated, the sky is the limit.”
The biggest surprise this fall at Lakewood Ranch was the volleyball team. It won the program’s first district title, first playoff match and reached the region final under second-year coach Perri Hankins.
“She really knows the game. Her coaching was the key thing,” senior Quillan Toler said. “She is very knowledgeable about the game and shares that with us. She brought a lot of new ideas, and it really helped.”
Hankins brought a wealth of experience and success when she took over the program just before the 2010 season. She was an assistant on two national championship teams at the University of Pacific and turned the University of South Florida into a perennial NCAA Tournament team in the ’90s.
“I think the success of Lakewood Ranch athletics starts at the top with the principal and administration,” Hankins said. “They go after the best coaches, they really support the athletes, and we have facilities that are unique because we have the rec center so close and our gymnasium is great.”
The athletes cite hard work when they try to explain the success of their programs. Equally important are passion and having a competitive nature, they say.
Danielle Valley won state swim titles in the 200 and 500 freestyle events. The 500 is her best event, but the junior said she got more enjoyment winning the 200 because it was so close.
Kazokas, also a junior, wasn’t sure how far he wanted to take his swimming, but now sees a bright future. He is not surprised at what happened this fall.
“The cards just played out right for us this year,” Kazokas said. “I am not sure if it’s a coincidence or just talent rising up through the years, but we all worked hard for what we achieved. You learn more when you lose, and I learned a lot of things I can improve on and what to focus on during practice.”
Unless the football team can register what would be a major upset this Friday night against Armwood, the school’s fall sports season will come to a close in the state cross country meet.
Ortiz wants to make it a memorable event that will take on a life of its own. She won the pre-state meet earlier in the season on the same course and has to be the favorite.
But like her peers, Ortiz doesn’t take anything for granted.
“My number one goal is to place as high as I can and of course win the race. I know that I will go out there and give it everything that I can. I want to bring more gold back to Lakewood Ranch,” Ortiz said.
Lakewood Ranch athletic director and head football coach Shawn Trent is not surprised at what happened this fall and says it’s not unique.
“I don’t think there is anything we do in fall that we don’t do in winter and spring. Winning the state (golf) championship was big, but they were second in the state last year,” Trent said. “The swim team and cross country teams are in the top in the state every year. I think it’s the kids we get. We get kids that work hard. They are intelligent kids and do what we ask them to do.”