The calendar turned on us last week and 2020 is gone (thankfully in some people’s mind), so it is time to look back on a high school sports year that was (and wasn’t) for the last 12 months.
The 2020 calendar year got off fine, as basketball, soccer, weight lifting and wrestling entered the second halves of their respective seasons, with some outstanding teams and individuals excelling in their respective sports.
In wrestling, Harmony proved to be the deepest team in the county, replacing Osceola as the kings of the mat.
For as long as anyone could remember, the Orange Belt Conference wrestling championship trophy sat gathering dust on the shelves at Osceola High School. That ended last year when the Longhorns sent 11 wrestlers to the finals to rack up 253.5 team points to defeat Osceola (194.5) for the team title.
Both teams would make noise in the post-season. Osceola and Harmony each claimed their respective district titles; while Osceola also winning its regional. The Kowboys also advanced to the state finals of the dual meet championship. Two Kowboys wrestlers – Jaekus Hines and Cooper Haase – won Class 3A State Championships. It marked the 14th straight year the Kowboys had at least one wrestler win an individual state championship.
Girl’s weightlifting was highlighted by a state championship won by St. Cloud’s Kaylin White at 110-pounds. The Lady Bulldogs also won the OBC title, edging strong teams from Osceola and Harmony. Soccer saw three county
Soccer saw three county teams make deep runs into the state playoffs. Both the girls’ soccer teams from St. Cloud and Harmony had the unfortunate circumstance of being in the same bracket as state power Viera (19-2-2). The Hawks ended Harmony’s season in the regional semifinals (2-0), and then came back a week later to eliminate St. Cloud in the regional finals in a tight 2-1 game.
The St. Cloud boys’ team (15-6-1) reached new heights, winning a district title for the first time in school history, and then won a regional quarterfinal match before losing a tough 1-0 decision to George Jenkins in the regional semifinals.
Basketball saw Osceola get off to a rough start before rallying for 19 wins and a district runner-up finish.
It proved to be an end of an era for the Kowboys, as head coach Nate Alexander would resign later in the year to enter private business. Although only serving as head coach for seven years, Alexander’s accomplishments were impressive. He finished with an overall record of 155-46, a .771 winning percentage, three final four state championship appearances, two state titles and seven trips to the postseason.
In girls’ basketball, tiny City of Life won a Sunshine Conference state championship for small parochial schools, and then made a deep run in the FHSAA Class 2A tournament, making it to a regional final. Chad Ansbaugh’s St. Cloud girls’ team overcame the early season loss of Angie Rodriguez and ran all the way to the Regional Semifinals – finishing with a 19-9 record.
March brought the Covid virus, the shutdown of schools across the state, and the loss of most – if not all – of the senior season for track, baseball, flag football, tennis, boy’s weightlifting, and softball athletes. It was a particularly bitter blow for teams like Liberty softball, which had never qualified for the post-season, but started the year with a 5-0 record.
When school did start again, the fall sports program was once again delayed several weeks due to Covid concerns. When football eventually did start, coaches were forced to decide whether they wanted to play for a state championship. The choice was difficult, by electing to play in the tournament, teams could have been limited to just five or six regular season games because of the late start of the regular season and regular start of playoff dates. Opting out would allow teams to play up to 10 regular season games through December.
“We wanted to make the season as normal as possible for our seniors so we decided to opt out,” Harmony Head Coach Don Simon said. “Still it wasn’t that easy to piece together a schedule. We lost a couple of games to Covid and when everything was said and done we were able to get nine games in but we began practicing in July and did not finish until mid-December. At one time we went a whole month between games.”
St. Cloud was a team that opted out but changed their minds to opting in when Head Coach Bryan Smart was trying to arrange a schedule. That did little good when his team had to forfeit its first round game against Edgewater due to Covid and tracing concerns. His team finished 7-3 officially, but Smart said he believes the record should be 6-2.
“We won six games on the field and lost two, I feel no need to include a forfeit wins or losses in our record. None of the schools had anything to do with whether the games were played or not.”
One school that opted in as expected was Osceola. The Kowboys recorded a 5-2 regular season mark but won four post-season games – including a 9-3 thriller over Miami Palmetto – to advance to the a state championship game for the third time in last seven years under Head Coach Doug Nichols.
In other football news, Marc Deas announced his resignation at Tohopekaliga to become the head football coach at Feltrim Academy near Haines City, and Markus Paul, a former Osceola High School legend, NFL player and coach, passed away in Dallas.
Golf saw St. Cloud’s Bryan Hernandez and Morgan Beaulieu earn Osceola News Gazette’s (ONG) Player of the Year honors for the boys and girls golf. Several area swimmers qualified for the state championships, with Celebration’s Felipe Costa earning all-state recognition in the 100-meter back. Behind Player of the Year Kaitlyn Taylor, Osceola’s volleyball team finished 17-9 and reached the Elite 8, falling in a regional final to Lake Nona.
Osceola placed five on the ONG All-County Team; while St. Cloud placed three and recorded a fine 15-3 record under Head Coach Ettie Singleton.
Harmony had an outstanding showing in cross country, placing ninth in the state led by a third place finish by junior Alaine Rivera (18:24.6) and a seventh place finish by senior Brook Mullin (18:49.1). Celebration was 13th in the boy’s state meet.
“I feel sorry for the seniors in spring sports that lost their entire seasons last year and the athletes and coaches in our fall sports certainly faced unprecedented difficulties,” St. Cloud Football Coach Bryan Smart said. “We’re still in the middle of this crisis but hopefully things will eventually return to normal for everyone.”