Ridaught: Fall championships highlight season

Buchholz and Oak Hall cross country girls, GHS Michael Mullen and Santa Fe volleyball
(Clockwise from top left) The Buchholz girls cross country team (courtesy of Jennifer Whisler), GHS swimmer Michael Mullen, the Santa Fe volleyball team and Oak Hall girls cross country team (courtesy of Edwin McTureous).
GHS and Santa Fe photos by Megan V. Winslow

The fall high school sports seasons are ending on a high note. 

Within a span of 24 hours, the area brought home two team state championship trophies and a pair of individual state titles this past weekend.

And there may be another one on the way this weekend.

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This past Friday at the FHSAA Class 3A State Swimming and Diving Championships at the Sailfish Aquatic Center in Stuart, Gainesville High’s Michael Mullen won two individual state titles.

“Michael is a special kid,” said GHS coach Leonard Kraus II. “He is fun and outgoing, a good teammate and someone that the team can depend on and rally around.”

The junior won the 200-yard individual medley in a time of 1 minute, 46.25 seconds and later won the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 55.61. Both were Automatic All-American times.

“We talked at our first meeting and did a quick overview of what he wanted to accomplish and what we could do in the relays,” Kraus said of the UF commit. “He had big goals and he came through. I am excited for him and I look forward to seeing him continue to grow.”

The two individual state titles helped lead the Hurricanes to a top-10 finish.

“I believe that we excelled in what we swam but missed out on a couple opportunities to set us up better at the state meet because of a bad swim in the 100 fly (at district) for Casey (Whitaker) and us getting DQ’d in the 200 medley at regional,” Kraus said of Gainesville’s No. 8 finish. “But that being said we had lifetime best swims by Michael (50, 200 IM and Breaststroke) and Will Sammy (100 and 100 Backstroke). Casey and Will had their fastest 50 free splits ever in the 200 Free Relay. We as a team broke the 50, 200 IM, 100 Breaststroke & 200 Free Relay records, great year.”

Then on Saturday, the area brought home two girls team cross country state titles from the FHSAA Cross Country State Championships at Apalachee Regional Parkway in Tallahassee.

The Buchholz girls repeated as state champions in Class 4A, while the Oak Hall School girls won the Class 1A state title.

“I would say that this year was more difficult than last year,” said Buchholz coach Mike Maren. “Early in the season we had an injury with our number five runner, Ashley Hamilton, but she worked hard to get better. We also had a couple of girls come down with COVID and because we won last year, we had a target on our backs and got everyone’s best.”

Senior Kate Drummond was sick and finished a minute lower than she normally would, finishing 19th with a time of 19:38.5. Junior Lucy Voss, who finished in 11th in 19:13.3, led the way for the Bobcats.

“The thing I want to say about these girls is that they are the toughest group of athletes I have had the pleasure of working with,” Maren said. “At the pre-state meet we didn’t have a great race and these girls refocused and worked so hard to compete the last three races of the year and they ended up winning districts, regionals, and then the state meet. I am so proud of them as a team and individually.”

Oak Hall knocked off defending state champion Cambridge Christian (Tampa) to win its second state title in the past three years.

“We knew after the midpoint of the season we had a team that could compete with the top four teams in the state,” said Oak Hall coach Edwin McTureous. “Once we got healthy towards the end of the season, the momentum started rolling for us and I knew we had a great opportunity to surprise the other top programs.”

Sydney Miller (sixth – 18:48.2) and sophomore Alivia Dragstedt (10th – 18:56.8) finished in the top 10 to help lead the Lady Eagles to their fifth state title in school history.

“In one of the deepest 1A girl championship meets that I can remember, it took the entire team to believe and run for each other to pull off the upset,” McTureous said. “All championships are special, but I can say this one was extra sweet.”

We’ll recognize both state champions on our weekly high school sports radio show (106.9 FM) at Sonic Drive-In. Oak Hall will be our guests this Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. and Buchholz will join us on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

This Saturday, the Santa Fe volleyball team will play for its second straight state title. 

The Raiders (29-2), who defeated Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) in Saturday’s Class 4A state semifinals, will play Academy of the Holy Names (Tampa) (22-4) for the 4A state title at Polk State College.

“(We need to) stay focused,” said 2021 Miss Volleyball Jalyn Stout, who had 21 kills, 12 assists and eight digs against the Crusaders (19-10). “It’s something we want and there’s a team in our way, so we just want to win.”

Meanwhile, the high school football playoffs begin on Friday with a total of 13 area teams hoping to win a state title.

Hawthorne, which played in the Class 1A state championship the last two seasons, is one of the favorites to bring home an area state football title.

The Hornets (8-0) received a bye and will play next Friday, Nov. 18, in the Class 1R-Region 4 semifinals.

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