GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Athletes travel through an ebb and flow of emotions and physical challenges in their normal window of athleticism; injuries, family situations, coach changes, etc., that can …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Athletes travel through an ebb and flow of emotions and physical challenges in their normal window of athleticism; injuries, family situations, coach changes, etc., that can affect the direct performances on the field.
Annalee Harbison, a senior multisport athlete at Clay High; flag football, weightlifting and track, showed the mental tenacity to not let a serious knee injury in her junior season deter her from a magnificent senior season of sports.
“A total reconstruct of my ACL at the end of flag football and just a week before track districts,” said Harbison, who was 13th in discus as a sophomore in Class
2A. “I just had it in my head to work hard through the therapy, but I never expected to do what I did in weightlifting and track in my senior season.”
Not only did Harbison overcome her injury with dedicated work in therapy, Harbison created her own legacy by coming back from the injury to, one, lead her Clay High girls weightlifting team to a third state championship, and, two, take the entire state by surprise in the discus with a fourth place finish at the state championships just last week.
“At the weightlifting, coach Keller just told me to trust myself,” said Harbison. “I did not know the team title was on the line. In track, I had some great technique work to better my discus and it all clicked at the right time.”
At the weightlifting state championship, Class 2A, Harbison, among a bevy of state medal powerhouses on her Clay Ladies of Iron, stepped up in her final lift of the competition, the bench press, and executed a best lift that secured the state team title for the Blue Devils via a 25-24 thriller battle with New Smyrna Beach. Harbison eventually finished second individually in her 183 weight division in both Traditional and Olympic scoring in 2023.
In track, Harbison honed her discus throwing skills to a near-perfect crescendo of tosses at the right time to garner a district title and a region title, both surprises. Ranked third in Class 3A going in, Harbison finished fourth.
“The knee was not affected by the discus throw, but more in the shot put,” said Harbison. “I’m totally pumped to go further in college.”
For her non-ending tenacity and dedication to her sports, Harbison is named as the Clay Today Top Female Performer in 2022-23.
Among the top 10 selections by the Clay Today sports staff are:
St. Johns Country Day School senior point guard Taliah Scott, a McDonald’s All American selection who was chosen to play in that prestigious East vs. West All Star game. Scott, a Dairy Farmer Player of Year and a Gatorade Player of Year, also scored a ton of points for the Lady Spartans who finished as a Final Four in Class 2A.
Middleburg High sophomore 199 pound wrestler Cheyenne Cruce ran the table of an unbeaten season; 39-0, en route to a first-ever girls wrestling state title for the Lady Broncos program. Cruce took on all challengers including wrestlers who beat her in 2022 and was relentless even in matches where she was the smaller of the two combatants.
Ridgeview High softball coach Angela Agurkis took over the reigns of a Final Four athletic program with little softball coaching experience, but a wealth of softball playing success and turned her Panther team into a region finals finisher in her initial season. Agurkis was able to orchestrate wins over some of the power programs from the area with just three senior players.
Fleming Island junior diver Ava Brinkman had a horrific diving accident after her top-score-state district title last year and was done with her season without a chance to show off her athletic prowess in her craft. With workmanlike dedication, much like Harbison at performer of the year, Brinkman overcame the emotional challenge of continuing her diving with the same risk of tragedy to storm the diving scene and win her elusive first state title.
Clay High super weightlifter Emma Heck had the unusual challenge of answering an encore challenge after setting a ton of state records as a freshman and the arguably best pound for pound weightlifter in Florida, if not the USA, did not disappoint with overwhelming victories from district level to a repeat of her state titles. Heck’s flawless attention to detail in her specialty, the very acute clean and jerk and Olympic Snatch lifts, was years above her youth and can only put her in a universe that not many athletes can touch.
Fleming Island High flag football quarterback Mykayla Maddox was the Aaron Rodgers of Florida in her sport with an athletic combination of immense physical talent to avoid pocket disaster, incredible vision downfield while on the chase and football acumen that created numerous critical decisions that kept the Golden Eagles unbeaten, unscored upon (she was also safety on defense) and, eventually, a state runnerup and a fourth place ranking in the USA.
Oakleaf High point guard Kaylah Turner was first know as the wicked fast defensive thief for the Lady Knights fast-paced attack that created massive steals to layups, but Turner upped her game to become a prolific scorer beyond the steals and layups and put her Knights in the Final Four for a second time in three seasons.
Middleburg High junior middle hitter Connor Rahn, with an incredible 371 scoring kills for the season, continually made her best games the toughest games for the Lady Broncos during iconic coach Carrie Prewitt’s final foray including a 28 kill output against region finalist Ridgeview, whom Rahn led to a final district title for Prewitt. Rahn’s effectiveness to thwart the state’s best defenses included 26 kills against Ocala Vanguard, 23 against Daytona Beach Seabreeze and 26 against Bartram Trail.
The only unknown outcome of the season came by way of an injury to Oakleaf High senior track runner Sierra Barerra who clicked off state-ranked times week in and week out in the 800 and 1600 and was on a path to put her legs to a state test before an injury prior to regions. Barerra also crashed the party in cross country with a methodical ascension to being ahead of the entire state champion Buchholz team at the Class 4A championship meet. Barerra’s untapped state meet probability will be showcased when she heads to FAMU and scorches their track.
Also considered were Haley Robinson (RHS volleyball), Maryn McDade (FIHS repeat 50 free swim champion), Mikayla Shavers (FIHS freshman triple jump state runnerup), Fantasia James (OHS shooting forward), Autumn Leviston (FIHS weightlift state champion and record setter in bench press), Lauren Mateo (SJCDS soccer forward, Class 2A player of year), Paetyn Miller (RHS point guard, region finalists to state champions), London Jenkins (FIHS flag football WR)