Sports Editor

New teams, new schools, repeat champions, awesome games — 2018 had it all

According to the wall calendar, 2018 started and ended with celebrations, like it always does — of New Year’s in January and Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa in December.

In Osceola County sports there were a great deal of highlights and celebrations in between. Here’s a rundown of some of the best ones — ones we hope to meet or exceed in 2019.

KEN JACKSON’S TOP 5 OSCEOLA COUNTY

SPORTS MEMORIES OF 2018

(no, he’s not counting the Eagles’ Super Bowl win)

  •  1. City of Life wins the Class 2A girls basketball state championship.
  •  2. The state wrestling postseason, both traditional (Silver Spurs Arena) and duals (Osceola High) passes through town. OHS’ Malyke Hines defended his state title.
  •  3. Osceola plays Oak Ridge in boys basketball regional final — again. Kowboys lead 54-51 with a minute left, but Pioneers get revenge for 2017 game with 57-54 victory, which was an instant classic, and won their own state title.
  •  4. Five county football teams average over 28 points per game for the season; 14 runners rushed for over 400 yards; four played postseason games.
  •  5. “We beat Brazil in soccer!” Orlando SeaWolves beat Brazilian national indoor team, 5-4 in overtime, in on-field debut.

County’s programs part of new wrestling duals championships.

The Florida High School Athletic Association added a new state championship series exclusively for wrestling duals events. It required a juggling of the schedule, like holding the Orange Belt Conference championships the second week of the regular season, but it worked out, to a point.

“We had to move some stuff around on our schedule,” OHS Coach Bird said. “You end up not competing in events you have for years to make time for the duals.”

Osceola hosted the state tournament in January and the Kowboys, along with St. Cloud and Harmony, were part of the state series.

The Kowboys and Bulldogs qualified for the subregionals by finishing 1-2 in the District 3A-5 duals, and the Longhorns hosted and won the District 2A-6 duals. Osceola made it into the Class 3A final eight and got to wrestle in front of its home crowd on a big stage but fell to Palm Harbor University.

All that did was steel the Kowboys resolve for the traditional state tournament two months later.

County players a part of UCF’s undefeated run.

The UCF Knights capped a 13-0 season on New Year’s Day with a 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, and tight end Tyler Williams, a St. Cloud High alum who redshirted and receiver and special teams contributor Tristan Reeves from Harmony were part of the run.

“It was very exciting, but very tiring, we had more meetings, more practices and more preparation than anybody else in our conference,” Williams said. “The result showed the hard work everybody in the program had put in.

“The team was really focused, and we came out, attacked and proved people wrong.”

Williams said he got to be part of a wild sideline celebration that ignited when the defense intercepted Auburn quarterback Jared Stidham with less than a minute left in the game to seal it.

“The sideline was nuts, water bottles went everywhere,” Williams said. “I’ll take that moment with me the rest of my life, no matter what my football career holds.”

For Reeves, a redshirt senior, it was that much sweeter because he was part of UCF’s 0-12 season in 2015.

“Been through three coaching staffs now,” he said. “It’s definitely been a cool journey … the whole season, we knew it could happen. We broke down every session, every practice, every post-game, with the same mantra: ‘Champs.’ When you see it manifest itself in front of your eyes every week it’s a little unbelievable, but now that it’s over, looking back it’s totally believable, because we accomplished everything we said we would as the year went on.”

And then he foreshadowed the Knights’ second consecutive undefeated regular season leading to Tuesday’s Fiesta Bowl berth.

“It’s time to go back to work and prove to the country that this was not a fluke.”

Celebration goes deep on the soccer pitch.

The Celebration Storm were the best team in the county and District 5A-9 in the 2016-17 regular season, but tripped up against Gateway in the district tournament opener. They avenged it well.

They had to dig out of a 2-1 second-half deficit against those same Panthers in the 5A-9 semifinals, but then went on a tear, winning regional playoff games over Vero Beach, George Jenkins and Delray Beach Atlantic — coming from behind in two of them — at home before finally falling to Miami Beach in the state semifinals.

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CHS BS Matook Machado

Center midfielder Matuck Machado was an offensive leader for the Celebration boys soccer team that advanced to the Class 5A state semifinal game.

“Yes, they went to the state semifinals in 2011, but to me this is the program’s best season,” CHS Coach Chad Boudreaux said. “We were undefeated (Orange Belt Conference, district schedule and tournament) in everything we accomplished up to this point.

“Right after we finished tryouts and set the team, I told (CHS girls coach) Ed Kuzma that, if we stick together, we could do something special. They did, and I can’t complain. This was truly one group of 11 instead of 11 ones. We have kids in the (U.S.) National team system and with collegiate plans on this team, and I heard during the playoffs how much they loved this team. As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Three squads make girls soccer playoffs.

Harmony and St. Cloud finished 1-2 in District 5A-9 in girls soccer, but it was Poinciana, the 3A-11 runner-up, who made the regional playoffs for the first time in school history.

Harmony and St. Cloud take their hardwood rivalry outdoors.

Harmony and St. Cloud’s boys basketball teams played what’s believed to be the first regular-season, counts-in-the-standings outdoor game on a hardwood court in national history on Feb. 3.

It was a cloudy and breezy day, making scoring a premium, and St. Cloud took the 41-38 win, their first over the Longhorns in three years.

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Outdoor hoops

St. Cloud and Harmony literally “took it outside,” and played the first official outdoor game on hardwood in U.S. history.

“I was telling Jeff (Kuenzli, Austin-Tindall Facility Manager) the conditions were great, the crowd was great,” Bulldogs Coach Jeff Bean said. “I’d do this again next week. Kids need to learn how to play and compete outside.”

(His suggestion was taken; two varsity games make up the Hardwood Court Classic coming up Feb. 2.)

The Philadelphia Eagles finally won a Super Bowl.

Your humble Sports Editor just wants to remind you — and all the New England Patriots fans — about the 41-33 victory on Feb. 4.

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City of Life wins state

City of Life Christian Academy won the Class 2A girls basketball state championship, extending a streak to three years an Osceola County team brought the big trophy home from Lakeland.

City of Life crowned Class 2A hoops champs.

The Warriors not only won a regional playoff game for the first time in several years, they won four of them by an average of 25 points — the last a 51-34 win over Ormond Beach Calvary Christian in the state championship game in Lakeland. So, for the third year in a row (but the first for a county girls team since 1994), an Osceola County high school squad claimed a basketball state title.

All of this was accomplished by a roster with zero seniors — meaning the Warriors left Lakeland as a favorite to return to next year’s 2A Final Four, if not the championship game.

“I hope we come back next year,” Coach Buggs said. “Our future is definitely bright.”

The Warrior’s backcourt sister combo of Reyna and Debra Buggs were dominant in the postseason, and Debra went on to be named the Dairy Farmers’ 2A Player of the Year. Dewrie Buggs, their dad and the coach, was named 2A Coach of the Year.

Wrestlers were great at state.

Heading into the season the Osceola High wrestling team was riding two impressive streaks. For 11 seasons running, the Kowboy grapplers had finished no lower than sixth in the team competition and had seen at least one of its wrestlers win an individual state title in each season.

Thanks to junior Malyke Hines and some unexpected support from teammates at several weight classes, both streaks have been validated and kept alive.

Hines, a junior, ran through the 126-pound weight class to capture a second consecutive individual title, while his team picked up points in four additional weight classes to capture fourth place in the Class 3A competition.

In Class 2A, the Harmony Longhorns sent four wrestlers to the state tournament, led by senior Carter Harris, the 2A runner-up at 285 pounds.

A Storm went into Miami.

This has nothing to do with hurricane season. The Celebration boys volleyball team, state and nationally ranked, cruised through local and regional tournaments and qualified for the state tournament in Dade County. They finished the season at 27-2 with a four-set loss in the state title match to undefeated Cardinal Gibbons, also state and nationally ranked.

Celebration, which entered the state tournament ranked No. 5 in the state and No. 66 in the nation, improved those marks to No. 2 and No. 43 after the event.

Others brought home the gold.

Among individual state champions were Osceola girls weightlifter Virginie Beljour, who won the Class 2A 100-pound title, and Celebration thrower Hunter Hummel, who was the 3A boys discus champion. They capped their senior years, and high school careers, with the ultimate highlights.

Tohopekaliga opens.

Typing that school’s name will bruise a knuckle, but the Tigers made it eight OBC members (so expect postseason conference tournaments in a number of sports soon) when the school on Boggy Creek Road opened in August. Their first OBC and district champ was freshman golfer Morgan Beaulieu.

SeaWolves become Osceola’s second pro franchise.

Following in the foosteps — and shadow; they play across the Osceola County Stadium parking lot — the Orlando SeaWolves of the Major Arena Soccer League joined minor-league baseball’s Florida Fire Frogs as another pro outfit to call the area home. The team concept mostly came from one moving from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and they began signing players over the summer, and beat a Brazilian national team of indoor soccer players in their Nov. 11 debut.

Four for the football postseason.

Toho made it eight teams on the football field in the county, and four of them played past the final week of the regular season.

Osceola won its eighth straight district title, and Harmony claimed the 7A-5 crown for its first one since 2007, as each went 9-1. Gateway did enough against a tough schedule to earn a Class 8A wild card berth to get in for the third time in four years. Unfortunately they all dropped first-round playoff games.

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LHS La'Randy Swint

La’Randy “Bill” Swint was the leading receiver (and among the best in the county) for a Liberty football offense that averaged 44.5 points per game.

Liberty, who went 8-2 but fell to Harmony early in the season in a game that ultimately decided the district title, earned a spot in a Winter Park bowl game. A 36-22 win gave the Chargers, in Coach Brandon Pennington’s first at the school and as a head coach, the program’s first nine-win season since it opened in 2007.

Five teams — them and St. Cloud — averaged over 28 points per game in a season spurred by offense. Three passers threw for 1,000 yards, and 14 players rushed for at least 400 yards.

Other fall highlights:

St. Cloud’s boys and Harmony’s girls cross country teams made return trips to the state meets … St. Cloud ended a decade-long drought by winning the OBC volleyball title … the Orlando City Soccer Club announced it would move its permanent training center to the back fields of Osceola County Stadium, with a plan to open in summer of 2019.

Those we lost:

Roger Jones, co-founder of the Great Florida Shootout and Kissimmee Klassic, Sept. 6, age 69.

Frank Ford, key member of 1983 Osceola undefeated boys basketball team and four-year starter at Auburn University, age 53.

So what’s on tap for 2019?

Can’t wait to find out, can you?