Last year when I wrote about the top 10 high school sports moments of 2021-22, I decided to write them chronologically rather than rank them from 10 down to one.
And just like last year, it was the Fall season that set the tone for another great sports year in 2022-23, highlighted by four team state titles in November and December.
I could easily list more than 10 based on such individual accomplishments as Gainesville High junior Michael Mullen winning two individual swimming state titles on Nov. 3 in Stuart, P.K. Yonge junior Lillie Nesty winning a state title in the 200-yard freestyle or Eastside’s Hannah Ahn winning the 100-yard butterfly.
But my top 10 list begins with the Oak Hall and Buchholz girls cross country teams winning state titles.
In fact, according to our cross country correspondent Ricky Quintana, it was the first time in area history that two girls teams had won the state championship in the same year.
It was the fifth state title in school history and the first since 2020 for the Lady Eagles, while the Lady Bobcats won their second straight state title and their third title in program history.
Buchholz cross country coach Mike Maren was named the Florida Dairy Farmers Coach of the Year.
A week later the Santa Fe (Alachua) volleyball team won its second straight state title, defeating the Academy of the Holy Names (Tampa) in four sets.
It was the fourth time in five seasons that the Lady Raiders had advanced to the state championship match, finishing runner-up in 2018 (6A) and 2019 (4A) before winning the school’s first title in 2021.
For the second straight year, Santa Fe setter Jalyn Stout was named the Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Volleyball, which recognizes the best high school volleyball player in the state of Florida.
It was an amazing year for high school football in the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area as five area teams made the state semifinals this year — Hawthorne, Union County (Lake Butler), Bradford (Starke), Columbia (Lake City), and Buchholz.
Plus, Eastside won its first district title in 10 years and had a remarkable turnaround from the previous year under new coach Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins.
The third time was the charm for the Hawthorne Hornets, who won their first state title in program history with a 13-2 win against previously unbeaten Northview (Bratt) in the Class 1R state championship game in December.
Four team state titles is an easy selection for four of my top 10 moments.
My fifth top 10 moment came as a result of the Buchholz football team’s second straight state semifinal appearance.
For the first time ever, an Alachua County football player won the Mr. Football award, and if you ever saw Buchholz quarterback Creed Whittemore on the football field, you would understand why.
The “Alachua County Superman” moniker was fitting for Whittemore, who signed to play at Mississippi State. He led Buchholz to a 10-3 record and its second straight state semifinal appearance by completing 179-of-305 passes for 2,693 yards with 35 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,285 yards (8.29 yards per carry) and 17 TDs.
Whittemore received his trophy in May, which was inscribed with the likes of Tim Tebow, Daunte Culpepper and Derrick Henry, among many greats.
Two months into the new year, the area had another team state championship as the No. 4 seed Hawthorne girls basketball team rallied past No. 2 seed Wildwood, 42-38, to win the Class 1A state title.
It was the second state title in program history for the Lady Hornets.
Senior forward Jaz’lyn Jackson and sophomore guard De’mya Adams both finished second and third, respectively, for the Class 1A Player of the Year.
One week later, the Williston boys basketball team won their first state title in program history.
The top-seeded Red Devils defeated No. 3 seed Chipley, 58-49, to win the Class 1A state title.
Hornets’ coach Cornelius Ingram and Red Devils’ coach Jim Ervin were each recognized as the Class 1A Coach of the Year, while C.J. Ingram of Hawthorne was named the 1A POY.
In April, two area defending state champions went head-to-head for a state weightlifting title.
Suwannee (Live Oak) was the defending 2A state champion, while Keystone Heights was a two-time defending state champion in Class 1A. Both won a state title this year, with the Bulldogs winning the Olympic title and Keystone Heights weightlifting repeating again in the Class 1A traditional standings.
Suwannee also repeated as Class 1A champions in both the traditional and Olympic categories in February at the FHSAA girls weightlifting championships, earning them an honorable mention selection in the top 10 moments.
And while the Newberry and Columbia (Lake City) baseball teams made it back to the final four, along with the Dixie County (Cross City) softball team, the nod for the final top 10 moment belongs to the Branford softball team.
The Buccaneers advanced to their first state championship game in school history before falling 7-4 to Liberty County (Bristol) in the 1A state championship game last month.
Shoutouts also go to the area track and field champions led by Santa Fe’s Kyren Washington defending his 2A high jump title, Buchholz capturing the 4A boys 3200-meter relay, Eastside’s Ta’Joun Waldon topping the 2A triple jump, Columbia’s Seth Stockton winning the 3A triple jump and Bell’s Nichole Shepherd claiming first in the 1A high jump.
It was a difficult top 10 to put together as there were a lot of well deserving mentions.
Congratulations to all of our individual and team state champions, including the sports who enjoyed great success this past school year.
It certainly was another banner year for the area.