With six county championships, Neptune wins eighth straight middle school Cup

Above, Neptune Middle School’s 150 or so athletes pose with the County Cup, which the Seahawks won in 2017-18 for the eighth time in a row in runaway fashion. Below, Jacob Pare shows off gold medals from the cross country, soccer and track teams and his first-place award for being a part of the Seahawks’ winning 4×800 relay team.

By Ken Jackson

Sports Editor

Once again, Neptune Middle School captured the Osceola County middle school all-sports team championship in 2017-18.

Osceola School District Athletic Director Ryan Adams may soon want — or have — to rename the award the Seahawks Cup.

Neptune, under the leadership of coach and Athletic Director Judi Arnold and her dedicated coaching staff, has won the Osceola County Middle School Athletic Conference title every year since Adams introduced it in the 2010-11 school year in the image of the Orange Belt Conference All-Sports championship fought for by the county’s public high schools.

But where Osceola, St. Cloud and Harmony have passed that trophy around over the last decade, the middle school championship has never left Neptune Road. And, not surprisingly, Neptune athletes usually attend those three high schools or Gateway.

Adams said he designed the middle school competition to provide competitive athletic opportunities for as many students as possible and not so much to identify a dominant program.

“The whole staff of Neptune coaches put in the time to prepare their athletes for the expectations of them if they choose to continue athletics in high school,” he said. “Their dedication to their athletes is phenomenal, and I’ve seen Judi go above and beyond to make it a positive experience for her kids.”

In the points race, where teams earn five points for a county championship, three points for being runner-up and one point for reaching the semifinals, Neptune scored 49, outpacing Narcoossee (27), which was the county team academic champion, Celebration (26), St. Cloud (21) and Horizon (19).

Seventh graders Isaac Nieves, Jolaney Quinones, who also broke Neptune’s 200-meter school record in 24.41 seconds, and Luis Melendez finish a sprint at the county middle school meet.

The Seahawks claimed county championships in boys cross country, soccer and track, girls and boys basketball and competitive cheer. They were runners-up in girls soccer, golf, boys flag football and wrestling and softball, and semifinalists in girls cross country, flag football, wrestling (not scored for points since fewer than half the schools compete) and track and boys volleyball. Only girls volleyball did not qualify for the Final Four.

“Our kids and coaches are competitors, and we push our coaches to challenge the kids,” said Arnold, who has been Neptune’s AD since 1995. “At the beginning of every year we wonder if we’ll be good enough to win it again, and then the kids go out and do things we don’t expect. Our boys track team broke six school records this year.”

Arnold coaches cross country and track, which have been dominant programs among the middle schools since the school opened in 1988. Her coaching staff includes John Prow (boys soccer), Sam Wion (girls soccer, boys track), Wilson Rodriguez (boys basketball), Justin Marino (girls basketball, flag football), Donny Shroyer (golf, softball), Joshua Chattin (wrestling), Sylmari Mendez (cheerleading), Angelo Cruz (boys volleyball) and Edgar Colon (girls volleyball).

According to Arnold’s math, over the eight years of defending the county cup, Neptune has 44 county championships, 28 runner-up finishes and 16 semifinalists.

Arnold said there’s some playful ribbing among the county’s coaches about Neptune’s “evil empire”-like run of championships.

“They accuse us of steroids and stuff, and they’re joking, they call us ‘Preptune’ Middle,” she said. “But our kids come into school knowing about what we’ve created, we talk about it during fifth-grade orientation.”

Among the other county champions, Narcoossee won a school-record four titles: girls flag football and cross country and girls and boys volleyball (the school’s first-ever boys’ team title); Celebration took golf and girls track; St. Cloud won girls soccer and softball, Bellalago won boys and girls wrestling and Discovery took home the boys flag football trophy.

For 2018-19, Adams said the county’s middle schools will be split into two divisions based on size, giving smaller and charter schools a better chance to compete and win championships.