Ridaught: It’s been a fall season to remember for Alachua County athletics

Buchholz's Braydn Smith finished as Class 3A state runner-up in girls golf over the weekend. The University of North Florida signee became the first Lady Bobcat in program history to finish second overall in back-to-back years
Buchholz's Braydn Smith finished as Class 3A state runner-up in girls golf over the weekend. The University of North Florida signee became the first Lady Bobcat in program history to finish second overall in back-to-back years
Photo courtesy of Buchholz coach Marc Ellard

The month of November has been one to remember for Alachua County athletics programs.

On Friday, Nov. 3, the Eastside boys swim team finished as Class 2A state runners-up.

It was their highest finish in program history.

Liam Aleman won two individual state titles (200-yard IM and 100 breaststroke), and was a part of three first-place finishes, helping his team (Chris Jeong, Eric Gong, Abraham Burangulov, and Aleman) to the 200 Medley Relay state title. All three times were a new school record.

Gong finished fourth in the 100 Fly, and the Boys 400 Freestyle Relay team of Aleman, Gong, Burangulov, and David Lee finished third and also set a school record.

The following day, Lillie Nesty of P.K. Yonge won two state titles with two All American times and two state records in the 200-yard free (1:44.86) and 500-yard free (4:43.12).

It was the fifth fastest time ever in the 200 behind Isabel Ivey of Buchholz (1:44.68, 2017) and just a half a second off of the state record set by Morgan Tankersley of Class 4A Plant (Tampa) in 2019.

Nesty, who signed with the University of Texas last week, helped lead the Lady Blue Wave to a top 10 finish at No. 8. She was also recognized as the Pavilik Orthodontics Athlete of the Week for her performances.

Just two days later, two Alachua County volleyball teams advanced to the FHSAA state tournament at Polk State College in Winter Haven.

Newberry defeated Williston in the region final
 to advance to the Class 1A state semifinals, and Oak Hall School defeated Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) in their region final to advance to the Class 2A state semifinals.

It was the second state semifinal in three years for Oak Hall, which lost to Boca Raton Christian last Monday in the 2A state semifinals.

Newberry, which was making its first final four appearance since 2020, lost to Branford in the 1A state semifinals.

It was Hank Rone’s fourth trip overall as an assistant coach and as a head coach.

“We’ve had a great program here,” he said. “Sherrod Mosely (former head coach) started it. Sherrod gave me the opportunity to come to Newberry, Mr. (James) Sheppard (principal) gave me the opportunity to be the head coach, and with Sherrod and what he did, and what we’re doing, we kept his legacy going, and to play for seven regional championships in nine years says something about a program, and that’s what we have is a program.”

Last Thursday, the Oak Hall cross country teams won regionals and will compete for a state title this Friday at the FHSAA cross country state championships at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.

The Lady Eagles, defending 1A state champions, advanced to their 23rd straight state championship, while it marked the 11th straight year that the boys program had advanced to the state tournament.

Then on Friday, the Buchholz girls and boys cross country teams won regional titles as the boys upset No. 1 Nease (Ponte Vedra) to win the Class 4A-Regional 1 title.

Buchholz junior and Florida commit, Riley Smith finished first individually with a time of 14 minutes, 57.3 seconds.

Meanwhile, the girls also won the regional title behind Eleanor Whisler’s 11th place finish in 18:45.3.

“Eleanor is hard-working and tough, she was congested at the region meet and toughed it out and ran a great time,” said Buchholz coach Mike Maren, “I am proud of the other girls because they competed hard and all ran good.”

The Lady Bobcats won their second straight state title last year and this is their third straight year win regionals. They, along with the boys, will compete at this Friday’s state meet.

“The hardest part of the postseason is keeping everyone healthy, and with the amount of students we have at Buchholz it is hard to isolate athletes from other kids that are sick,” Maren said. “That is the challenge this week and it is stressful. It is hard to win the state meet and we respect our competition but I am sure that the girls are going to give everything they have to win, hopefully we can.”

Add another individual state championship from the county this past weekend as Gainesville High’s Ava Fuller took home the gold in the Class 3A 200 Yard Freestyle.

The junior, who had an AA-C time of 1:49.10, also finished fourth in the 500-yard freestyle, helping lead the Lady Hurricanes to a 13th-place finish overall.

This past weekend, Braydn Smith of Buchholz finished as state runner-up in Class 3A.

She finished day one in seventh place shooting a 1-over-par 72. On Saturday she posted another 1-over-par 72 to move her into 2nd place overall out of 97 girls.

Smith joins two other Lady Bobcat golfers, Tatiana Pineda (2011), and Mindy Herrick (2016), who finished as state runner-up.

However, she is the only Lady Bobcat golfer to finish as a state runner-up in back-to-back years.

Last week she signed with the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

We still have almost a month left in the season for football, and Buchholz and Hawthorne both have a chance to make a run at a state title. 

Buchholz will have a chance to host a state semifinal game if they win this Friday and next Friday, while Hawthorne, which is the defending 1R state champion, will host Newberry in the regional semifinals this Friday as the No. 2 overall seed in 1R-Region 4. 

The Hornets, who had a bye last week, are 9-0 and seeking their fourth straight state championship game appearance.

Last week Buchholz advanced by smoking visiting Mosley (Lynn Haven), 59-0, in the 4S-Region 1 Quarterfinals.

The Bobcats, who capped their first unbeaten regular season since 2001 on Nov. 3, secured the No. 1 overall seed in Class 4S on Nov. 5.

They are seeking their first state title since 1990.

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