Ridaught: Fall practice starts today

Ridaught fall sports column
From top left, the Buchholz girls cross country team and Santa Fe volleyball team look to defend their 2021 state championships and the Hawthorne football team prepares for a third straight trip to the state title game. (Buchholz photo by Robert Thomas/Hawthorne and Santa Fe photos by C.J. Gish)

It’s here.

The 2022-23 high school sports year is officially underway for the fall sports.

Fall practice for volleyball, football (non contact), cross country, golf, and swimming and diving began today. Some coaches and athletes started sooner rather than later.

“The girls are extremely excited to get the season started,” said Bell volleyball coach Drue Barry. “We actually did our midnight practice last night where they were on the court practicing at 12:01 a.m. We do that so they are working the very first minute they are allowed.”

Last fall, the area won a pair of Class 4A state titles as Santa Fe won the volleyball state title. It was the Raiders’ first in school history.

Santa Fe, which is coached by Eric Marshall, opens up defense of its state title on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 6:30 p.m. against Trinity Catholic (Ocala).

The Celtics, who finished 24-5 last season and were Class 3A state semifinalists, are seeking their third state title in five seasons.

Meanwhile, the Buchholz girls cross country team won the Class 4A state title. The Lady Bobcats were expected to return their top five scorers from last year’s state championship meet.

“Our top five are coming back and a bunch of ninth-grade girls, so I’m really excited about the season starting,” said Buchholz cross country coach Mike Maren. “But we’re going to have to work extremely hard. No one was expecting us to win it last year, but we’ll be on everyone’s radar this year. We need to worry about ourselves and be all that we can be as a team and just focus on our team and who we are.”

The Buchholz football team finished as the best team in the region following a run all the way to the Class 7A state semifinals before falling on the road to nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale).

Hawthorne is seeking its third straight trip to the state championship game. The Hornets (10-1) fell just short of winning their first football state title, falling 14-13 to Madison County in the title game last December.

The Hornets and Bobcats have the best chance to win a state title among area teams this season.

Last year, the Oak Hall School volleyball team made a run all the way to the Class 2A state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Seacrest Country Day (Naples).

The Eagles finished 21-9 under head coach Perry McDonald and helped contribute 13 points to the Floyd E. Lay Sunshine Cup All-Sports Awards standings. 

Oak Hall was named the best overall athletics program in Class 2A during the 2021-22 school year, with both the girls and boys cross country teams at Oak Hall finishing third at the Class 1A state meet.

This year’s Eagles’ volleyball team recently came off an outstanding performance at the University of Tampa team camp in July.

“Despite losing three All-Area seniors and having two key contributors unexpectedly withdraw from Oak Hall, I was stunned at the level of hard work and camaraderie that this year’s young team showed,” McDonald said. “After four days of intense preparation at Oak Hall, these girls traveled to Tampa for three days and learned how to play together at a much higher and faster level than many of them had ever experienced.”

Gainesville High won a district title in football, while the volleyball team just missed the state playoffs but the Lady ‘Canes should be back in the postseason with the return of rising junior Meme Davis, who led GHS with 201 kills in 2021, and USC commit Brooklyn Tealer.

“We are very excited for the start of high school season,” said Gainesville volleyball coach Chancie Vice. “The girls have been eager to return and have the feeling of unfinished business needed to be handled. We are hopeful and ready to get to work.”

The Hurricanes (15-9) gave nationally ranked and eventual state runner-up Leon (Tallahassee) all it could handle in the Class 6A-District 3 championship game before falling in five sets.

Newberry, which advanced to the volleyball Class 1A state championship two years ago, had a big win at Union County in the Class 1A-Region 4 semifinals. However, the Panthers (18-11) were denied a return trip to the state semifinals with a loss at eventual state runner-up Taylor (Pierson) in the regional final.

“Excited to get the ball bouncing on the court,” said Newberry coach Hank Rone. “This is the biggest tryout we have ever had at Newberry with 40 young athletes trying out this year for JV and varsity. The kids have worked hard all summer in the gym and all made their mile run to end the summer.”

Last year as a junior Hannah Ahn of Eastside won the 3A 100-yard butterfly, while Lillie Nesty of P.K. Yonge helped lead the Blue Wave to their 11th straight district title and a sixth-place finish at the 1A state meet. 

Nesty, who will be a junior this fall, is considered one of the top 100 swimmers in the country this year.

Get ready for what should be a big fall for sports in the area.

 

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