By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch athletics experienced two firsts March 2 when Nicole Esposito and Noah Ravenna signed their letters of intent.
Appropriate, given the two were on teams that also made school history.
Esposito signed with Polk State College after spending the last four years as a midfielder and defender for the Bulls girls soccer team. She is the first soccer player, boys or girls, from Wiregrass Ranch to sign with a college.
“It’s a dream come true,” Esposito said. “I knew it was going to happen, but to see it become a reality is awesome.”
Ravenna has been a four year starter for the Wiregrass Ranch football team, playing on both the offensive and defensive lines. He signed with Jacksonville University, the first Bulls football player to sign with a Division I program.
“I always wanted to pick the hat,” said Ravenna, who plans on studying aeronautics. “I got to pick the hat and it is the one that says JU Dolphins.”
Esposito said going to Polk State gives her the chance to transition into college both academically and athletically at a junior college for two years before moving on to a bigger university. She plans on studying athletic training.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Bulls girls soccer coach Erin Dodd, who played in college at the University of Memphis. “She has a great experience ahead of her. I know the experience I had when I played in college and she has a lot of great things to look forward to.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person on and off the field,” Dodd continued. “She’s a great person. She’s very positive. She’s a great leader. I can’t say enough about her.”
Esposito, a team captain, helped the Bulls win their first district tournament game in program history this year en route to the Class 4A-District 8 championship. The Bulls finished with a 23-3-2 record, the first 20-win season for the program, and reached the 4A regional finals.
Esposito had one goal and seven assists this season. She has recorded five goals and 23 assists during her four years at Wiregrass Ranch.
Amanda Devona coached the girls soccer team during Esposito’s first three years. Dodd took over this season, but it was not the first time she coached Esposito.
Dodd was also the Dr. John Long Middle girls soccer coach when that program started. On that inaugural Longhorns team was a younger Esposito.
“Both of my coaches have made me a stronger and better player,” Esposito said. “They taught me how to lead on the field and off the field. I owe it all to them.”
Ravenna was a key to the Bulls going 6-5 this year, the program’s first winning season. Wiregrass Ranch also won the 4A-6 championship, the first district title for the program. A turnaround from the team that went 1-9 in each of Ravenna’s first two years.
“It was literally building from the ground up,” Ravenna said. “It was going back to your fundamentals. Just building the program and every year getting better and better. This year we capitalized on our opportunities to win the district championship.”
Bulls football coach Jeremy Shobe became Wiregrass Ranch’s leader in Ravenna’s junior season after two years as an assistant. He also coached Ravenna while in middle school at John Long.
“This is really what you coach for,” Shobe said. “To build them into better young men and football players throughout the years in the program. He has the work ethic to do what it takes at a Division I program.”
Ravenna has high praise for his longtime coach.
“He’s not just a coach,” Ravenna said. “Since eighth grade he’s always been one of those people I’ve turned to. Whenever I have a rough time, he just talks me through it. He’s the best coach I could ever ask for.”
Ravenna recorded 31 tackles and two sacks this year. He was named to the All-Laker/All-Lutz News football defensive second team and he was part of the Wiregrass Ranch offensive line that earned offensive honorable mention.
-All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.
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