Despite being in a pandemic, area high school sports thrived in 2021.
There were so many great stories that it was hard to compile a top 10 list. In fact, I broke up some of the stories and lumped them into one big story.
And instead of listing the top stories from top to bottom, I decided to list them chronologically.
In February, two area girls basketball teams met in the Final Four in Lakeland. Hawthorne, which won the Class 1A state title in 2019, defeated Trenton, which won its sixth straight district title, to advance to the state title game before falling to Ponce De Leon and finishing as state runners-up.
The Santa Fe (Alachua) boys basketball team made a run all the way to the state championship game. The Raiders advanced to their first state semifinal since 2002 with a win at Lake Highland Prep (Orlando) with 7.2 seconds to play.
After a last-second win against West Nassau (Callahan) in the state semifinals, the Raiders lost in double-overtime in the 4A title game.
Following the hoops season, Santa Fe’s Elliott Harris and GHS coach Kelly Beckham announced they were retiring.
The Trenton softball team won its second state title in three years in May. The Lady Tigers were 57-1 during that span. A total of four Trenton softball players signed with Division-I schools before the season started.
Trenton pitcher Darian Ingram brought home the Miss Softball award, while head coach Todd Bryant was named the 1A Coach of the Year and finished second overall in Florida. Bryant also announced his retirement.
The day after Trenton won its state title, the Newberry baseball team won the Class 1A state title, its first in program history. The Panthers defeated Williston in the region final to advance to its first state semifinal since 1979.
That led to Justen Crews and Luke Ridley being named Co-Class 1A Player of the Year, while head coach Mike Spina was named the 1A Coach of the Year.
This past fall, the Santa Fe volleyball team won the Class 4A state title. It was the program’s first in school history.
Junior setter Jalyn Stout and head coach Eric Marshall were named the top 4A Player and Coach of the Year. Stout went on to win Miss Volleyball, while Marshall was named the top overall coach in Florida.
Also in November, the Buchholz girls won the Class 4A cross country state title. It marked the program’s first girls state title in 16 years.
And a trio of football teams had lengthy postseason runs.
The Buchholz Bobcats advanced to their first state semifinal in 30 years, falling at eventual 7A state champion and nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale).
Chiefland lost to eventual 1A state champion Madison County in the state semifinals. The Indians handed Union County (Lake Butler) its only loss of the season in the Region 3 Final.
One week later, the Hawthorne football advanced to its second straight state championship game. The Hornets came up one point short, falling to Madison County, 13-12, in the 1A state championship game.
All things considered, it was a banner year in 2021.
Due to the holiday, there will be no sports newsletter on New Year’s Eve. We will resume the newsletter on Monday, Jan. 3.
Have a happy & safe new year!