As the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out most, if not all, of last year’s high school spring sports season, these local athletes and teams made up for lost time in 2021.
Here’s a closer look at some of the more notable moments from the recent prep spring sports season within The Laker/Lutz News coverage area — games, events and achievements that couldn’t be celebrated in spring 2020.
Pasco tennis standout secures second state title
If not for the coronavirus outbreak last spring, Pasco High varsity boys’ tennis standout Logan Haga very well could’ve been a three-time state champion.
Two will have to do though, when he won the 2021 Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) 3A individual singles state title, downing St. Petersburg High sophomore Peter Keber in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs in late April.
He also defeated Pines Charter’s Sumedh Edavalluri in the finals (6-1, 6-2), Viera’s Leo Da Silva in the semifinals (6-3, 6-2) and Matanzas’ Ilya Korolev in the quarterfinals (6-0, 3-6, 11-9).
Haga also won the 3A individual singles crown as a sophomore in 2019, when he beat Venice’s Benjamin Zipay in the championship draw.
The local tennis star next will be competing at Division I Jacksonville University, in Alabama.
He’s set to join a diverse Jacksonville roster, with new teammates hailing from California, Japan, Italy, England, Ecuador and Slovenia, among other locales.
Haga is a four-star recruit by Tennis Recruiting Network, ranked as the state’s No. 25 prospect and No. 139 nationally.
He’s certainly left his mark at a program not really known as a tennis powerhouse like Wiregrass Ranch or private sports academy like Saddlebrook Prep. He trains regularly at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center.
Land O’ Lakes’ softball finishes state-runner up
After playing in only 11 games during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, the Land O’ Lakes High varsity girls softball program made up for lost time this year.
They finished the 2021 season with a 24-8 mark and earned state runner-up honors after losing 7-6 to Fort Myers High in the Class 5A state championship in Clermont on May 21.
Their run through the state playoffs was impressive, downing Seminole (8-0 win), River Ridge (3-1 win), Palmetto (6-3 win) and Pace (5-4 win) high schools, up until the loss in the title game. The championship game defeat came in excruciating variety, having lead by 3-0 in the top of the first inning, held a 4-3 lead in the fourth and a 6-3 lead in the sixth, until a combination of walks and errors did them in.
Other area teams should beware in the years to come — most of the Gators top contributors are returning next year and beyond, including freshman ace Mia Fields (1.97 ERA, 67 strikeouts and 12 complete games in 96 innings).
The program, led by head coach Mitch Wilkins, has been a powerhouse for some time, also winning a state title in 2017.
Area athletes collect state track and field hardware
Like all other spring sports during 2020, track and field athletes didn’t get an opportunity to showcase their abilities against Florida’s best as competitions abruptly shut down in mid-March last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But local performers and schools made up for lost time during the 2021 Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) state track and field championships, at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville.
More than two dozen boy and girl athletes from The Laker/Lutz News coverage area ran, jumped and tossed their way to podium honors, or top-eight finishes, across all classifications at the state meet on May 7 and May 8. (Several others earned top-16 overall finishes in the finals, as well.)
The performances included a handful of individual and relay gold medalists.
Land O’ Lakes senior Isaac Tavo showed his pure strength, taking first-place crowns in both the 3A boys shot put (57-7) and discus (154-0). Tavo bested Tallahassee Rickards sophomore La’Darion Dudley in the shot put (55-1.5) and Milton senior Dominic Lucas in the shot put (151-5), respectively.
Gaither senior Elizabeth Lydon claimed first in the 3A girls pole vault, clearing 11-9.75, narrowly edging Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy sophomore Sydney Nicholson, who cleared the same height but lost on fewer misses.
Sunlake senior Daniella Vance earned top crown in the 3A girls javelin, tossing 119-6, to beat the event’s second-place finisher, Harmony junior Thora Gaston (117-11).
Local schools that earned points in the state meet for their respective classification included Bishop McLaughlin, Carrollwood Day, Cypress Creek, Gaither, Land O’ Lakes, Steinbrenner, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Wharton, Wiregrass Ranch and Zephyrhills.
Steinbrenner runner named Academic All-State
Steinbrenner High School senior distance runner Zachary Harrigan in April was named to the 27th annual Florida Dairy Farmers Academic All-State Team — a recognition program presented by the FHSAA that honors 24 graduating student-athletes (12 boys, 12 girls) who excel in both athletics and academics.
As part of the designation, Harrigan receives a $1,700 scholarship and commemorative medallion.
Harrigan owned a 4.0 GPA and finished top of his class. He lettered in cross-country and track all four years of high school, and was a member of Steinbrenner’s 2019 FHSAA cross-country state championship team. He also was a 2018 state qualifier in track and field.
Off the course and out of the classroom, Harrigan earned more than 225 community service hours working with the Humane Society, Idlewild Baptist Church and Feeding Tampa Bay. He plans on studying pre-medicine at Auburn University in Alabama this fall.
To be eligible for Academic All-State, students must be a graduating senior with a minimum 3.5 unweighted GPA, and must have earned a minimum of two varsity letters in at least two different sports during their junior and senior year.
Just three other Tampa Bay area student-athletes were bestowed the honor — Plant High’s Brooks Bak and Hartley Hill, and Clearwater Central Catholic’s Kasey Singer.
Spring football returns
Last year’s prep spring football season in Florida was over before it ever got started, when the FHSAA then in late April officially announced the cancellation of all affiliated sports for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.
Normalcy returned in 2021 — with gridiron followers again having the chance to see the development of area players and teams, some with new coaches, transfers and different classifications.
Florida high schools were allowed a maximum of 20 practice sessions from April 26 through May, according to FHSAA guidelines.
The first allowable day for full-contact tackling was May 1. Spring games and jamborees were played throughout late May.
The additional practice period provides players an opportunity to have a routine to add strength and conditioning in the weight room, as well as speed, agility, tackling and game strategy drills, under coaches’ supervision.
Schools in Laker/Lutz News coverage area (and their 2020 records):
Hillsborough County: Carrollwood Day School Patriots (5-5), Freedom High School Patriots (0-9), Gaither High School Cowboys (11-1), Steinbrenner High School Warriors (4-3) and Wharton High School Wildcats (7-2)
Pasco County: Academy at the Lakes Wildcats (4-2), Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Hurricanes (4-4), Cypress Creek High School Coyotes (3-7), Land O’ Lakes High School Gators (1-7), Pasco High School Pirates (5-6), Sunlake High School Seahawks (2-6), Wesley Chapel High School Wildcats (5-4), Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls (4-5), Zephyrhills High School Bulldogs (8-3), Zephyrhills Christian Academy Warriors (8-3)
Pasco All-Star Game back on the diamond
The annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Pasco County All-Star Baseball/Softball Game brings together the best senior players, from every school, to compete in one last game for bragging rights between the county’s east and west sides.
It returned this year after being canceled in 2020, due to the coronavirus crisis.
Dozens of baseball and softball players were selected for the event, representing the following schools: Academy at the Lakes, Anclote, Bishop McLaughlin, Cypress Creek, Gulf, Fivay, Hudson, Mitchell, Land O’ Lakes, Pasco, River Ridge, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch and Zephyrhills.
The May 22 games were played simultaneously on adjacent baseball and softball fields at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School, in Spring Hill.
The West All-Stars reigned supreme over the East All-Stars in both contests, winning 10-0 in softball and 11-8 in baseball in extra innings.
While winning was important, to players and coaches alike, the showcase was more about capping four years of high school and relishing the prep ballfields one final time with families, friends and teammates, in a relaxed setting.
Rosters were finalized midway through the regular season, where all-star baseball and softball coaches deliberated the best collection of players through a draft format, taking into account offense, defense, and pitching metrics, among other factors.
The all-star event also included an awards dinner banquet the night before, as well as a couple tranquil meetings and practices in the week leading up. The activities led to lasting memories and positive vibes for all involved.
Published June 30, 2021