Teams captured state titles and local athletes turned in outstanding performances, during a year that brought shining moments and countless lasting memories.
Here is a look at some of the top moments in sports, from across The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:
Zephyrhills High names ‘Alan Reed Court’
Little more than a year after naming its football field after legendary coach Tom Fisher, Zephyrhills High School named the school’s gymnasium floor after longtime varsity boys’ basketball coach Alan Reed.
A formal dedication ceremony for Reed was held Jan. 18 — an evening that coincided with a Bulldogs defeat of crosstown rival Pasco High, 61-34.
The 71-year-old served as Zephyrhills boys’ basketball coach for a total of 16 years, in four separate stints — 1975 to 1979; 1981 to 1986; 2006 to 2010; and, 2014 to 2016.
During that time he became — and still is — the school’s all-time winningest basketball coach.
In total, he’s been involved with Zephyrhills athletics for more than 35 years, also coaching volleyball, track, football and softball.
He remains a volunteer coach at the school, to this day.
Sunlake girls weightlifting wins state title
The Sunlake High varsity girls weightlifting program, under longtime coach Denise Garcia, perennially has been among the more dominant programs in the area, wielding multiple conference and district titles over the years. And, the Seahawks took the next step forward in February, winning the 2019 FHSAA Class 2A girls weightlifting state championship, in Panama City Beach. The title marked the end of the sport’s longest-active streak of consecutive team championships held by Navarre High, who won four straight from 2015 through 2018.
The feat marked Sunlake’s second state championship among all boys or girls sports — the school’s competitive cheerleading team won a state title back in 2014.
Academy at the Lakes softball repeats at states
A year after claiming the school’s first-ever FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic) state championship, the Academy at the Lakes Wildcats did it again in May. Behind the arm and bat of two-time Gatorade Florida State Softball Player of the Year Lexi Kilfoyl, the Wildcats mowed through the Class 2A state playoffs, outscoring opponents by a combined 35-0 — including an 11-0 shutout against Mount Dora Christian Academy in the state title game.
Women’s sports museum opens in Wesley Chapel
Wesley Chapel’s AdventHealth Center Ice is widely known as the largest hockey facility in the Southeastern United States and training ground of the gold-medal winning 2018 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team.
In March, it became known for another meaningful reason — the home of the first virtual museum dedicated to women’s hockey trailblazers.
Called the Women’s Sports Herstory Museum, it is the brainchild of female hockey coaching legend Digit Murphy and her friend, Jeff Novotny, a Wesley Chapel resident.
Situated in a second-floor viewing room at Center Ice, the museum features interactive wall panel displays where visitors scan QR codes to view content online in the form of videos and in-depth stories.
Poster-sized displays highlight several of hockey’s female pioneers, including Katey Stone, Katie Guay and Amanda Pelkey. The room is also filled with various sports memorabilia and equipment, including a signed jersey and signed pictures of all 23 members of the U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team.
Zephyrhills tennis center breaks ground
Years of talks and planning to bring a state-of-the-art tennis center to Zephyrhills finally became a reality in July, when a groundbreaking ceremony officially marked the beginning of construction on the long-awaited Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness, at 6585 Simons Road, Zephyrhills.
Situated on more than 8 acres of land, the multimillion complex when complete will feature 11 outdoor tennis courts, eight pickleball courts, four padel courts, along with an adjoining 7,400-square-foot indoor wellness center housing a fitness and rehabilitation studio, salt/sauna room, cryotherapy, pro shop, café, kids’ area and more.
Slated to open in summer 2020, the facility is named in honor of Sarah Vande Berg, a former Zephyrhills High School district tennis champion, who died in an automobile accident at the age of 21 in October 2015.
Land O’ Lakes Little League wins state crown
It is believed to have been more than 15 years since a Land O’ Lakes Little League baseball team won a state title — until this summer.
In July, the Land O’ Lakes all-star squad composed of 14- to 16-year-olds bested seven other teams all across the state at the 2019 Little League Baseball Senior League Florida State Championships, in Bradenton.
The roster was made up of players from Land O’ Lakes, Sunlake, and Cypress Creek high schools, who put aside local prep rivalries to come together as a group.
Before advancing to and winning states, the team moved through districts and sectional tournaments in Tampa, Land O’ Lakes and Plant City, respectively.
Playing in round robin, double elimination formats, Land O’ Lakes lost initial games in sectionals and states, forcing them to play from behind and win multiple games in same days to claim the respective tournaments.. They went 7-2 in all three tournaments combined, outscoring opponents by a 57-27 margin.
Local fisherman featured on national television
Wesley Chapel’s Keven Barber got the fishing trip of a lifetime, when he was featured on the Union Sportsman’s Alliance “Brotherhood Outdoors” television series on the Sportsman Channel. Barber’s August saltwater fishing trip along the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana was shown to the masses on television in October.
Barber was selected for the show based on his combination of passion for the outdoors, union membership and involvement, volunteer efforts and more. When he’s not working or fishing, the father of four boys stays busy as a scout leader and director of tackle football for the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association.
Pasco High gets revenge in 9-Mile War
The year 2014 was the last time Pasco High had beaten Zephyrhills High in the annual 9-Mile War rivalry football game, in a 35-34 nail-biter.
Since then, the contests had been extremely one-sided in favor or Zephyrhills, who won the ensuing four games (2015-2018) by a combined 187-39 scoring margin.
But, in November, under first-year head coach Jason Stokes, Pasco finally unseated the Bulldogs – winning the November matchup by a decisive 27-9 mark. Even better for the Pirates, they did it on the Bulldogs home turf. The Pirates now lead the series 41-21, in a tradition that dates back to 1941.
Steinbrenner boys’ cross-country claim first state title
After finishing state runner-up the past two years, the Steinbrenner High boys’ cross-country program at last collected its first-ever state championship in the FHSAA Class 4A meet in Tallahassee in November.
The Warriors were paced by senior Josh King, who finished in sixth place overall, crossing the finish line in 15:52.32. The rest of the team’s top five runners were senior Blake Walker (19th, 16:05.88), senior Gabriel Lara (32nd, 16:19.79), junior Zachary Harrigan (45th, 16:26.18) and senior Rama Jonnalgadda (56th, 16:30.95). Steinbrenner’s 129 points in the meet were enough to edge out second-place team finisher Nease High (140)
Gaither, Steinbrenner football programs reach state semifinals
It was a banner year for the two Lutz area prep football programs, as both Steinbrenner and Gaither high schools reached the state semifinals in Classes 6A and 8A, respectively. Both programs were buoyed by top-flight senior quarterbacks— Haden Carlson for Steinbrenner, Tony Bartalo for Gaither — plus several other Division I prospects dotting their respective rosters. Moreover, both local programs went 12-2, marking the only 10-plus win seasons from teams in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
Published January 01, 2020