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Giving back to the game that was so good to me

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 3/2/23

ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High softball has had a series of coaching transitions that have each amplified the previous with Roger Harvey entering the Panther dugout and leading the team to a district …

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Giving back to the game that was so good to me


ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High softball has had a series of coaching transitions that have each amplified the previous with Roger Harvey entering the Panther dugout and leading the team to a district title, then Casey Thompson entering to take the team to multiple deep playoff runs including a few Final Fours.

Now, the next face in the vaunted Panther lineup is former Oakleaf High 2017 state champion catcher Angela Agurkis; also twice an All State catcher selection, who takes over in 2023 with Thompson taking an athletic director spot at rival Middleburg High School.

“How’s it feel? It feels like a full circle,” said Agurkis, a freshman starter in 2019 at Florida Atlantic University after graduating Oakleaf High School. “It is an amazing feeling that I get the opportunity to do this. It’s undescribable.”

Agurkis, who played alongside area athletes Ashleigh Jennings of Keystone Heights and Fayth Davis of Oakleaf Junior High and Bartram Trail High School while at FAU, continued the final three season of her playing at the University of West Florida with two other Oakleaf teammates; pitcher Kelsey Sweatt and shortstop Mika Garcia after her high school days. Agurkis was a hard-hitting; near .300 batting average, with power to be a team leader in homers, hits and runs batted in, including a grand slam homer her senior season against West Georgia.

“The biggest challenge so far has been me buying into the family tradition that has been established here at Ridgeview,” said Agurkis. “I’m brand new and young and the team and the parents have been very gracious to accept me.”

Agurkis opened up on fire with wins of 8-3 and 10-2 over area powers in Palatka and Yulee. Against Palatka, it was the bat of junior Kyeira “The Hammer” Torrence who hit for four runs batted it with a triple and senior outfield Mary Girgis who had an RBI off a double and triple. Against Yulee, it was junior catcher Haylee McCrae with four hits in five at bats leading the bats for Ridgeview.

“Senior centerfield Mary Girgis has been kind of my wingman out here because the team follows her,” said Agurkis. “A great leader, great senior and great teammate.”

Agurkis figures the team has by now googled her and read about her accomplishments as a player and hopes that that research will benefit her in the long run when her team needs advice in tight situations.

“I look at it as me giving back to the game that was good for me,” said Agurkis. “I take from my experiences from being an athlete and then being a coach is always the little things. I worked on the basics of each position and coach Thompson (then Oakleaf coach Christina Thompson) taught us the extremes; game situations and our reactions. Mainly, keeping the game simple and fun. I want them to take that away from my playing days.”

Ironically, Agurkis noted that her playing days with Christina Thompson and now replacing brother Casey Thompson and also having dad Rob Thompson in the dugout at Oakleaf has made her experience even more enriching.

“I think following in the Thompson footsteps; playing with them and watching them coach, has created a standard of high expectations in what I do both on and off the field,” said Agurkis. “They have all had my back for a long time and this is the big step for me.”

Agurkis cited her coach Christina Thompson reliance on playing as a family as a key to success.

“Play as one; play as a family,” said Agurkis. “As a teenager, we maybe did not get it at first, but as time goes on, it has become an important part of the game. She said that a lot in our huddles.”

With two dominating wins in her first two games, Agurkis was rudely handed a 7-0 home loss to unbeaten 5A rival Ponte Vedra on Fri., Feb. 24. Ridgeview had just three hits; two by Girgis, in 24 at bats against the Sharks.

“What I see on the field now is that my catcher Haylee McCrae (leader of the Clutch Much bunch) is almost a “Mini-Me” of me out there and that’s kind of neat,” said Agurkis. “She’s a leader; I tried my hardest to be a leader in my playing days.”

Agurkis wants to take the keys to the Ferrari and keep it fast and furious.

“I’ve inherited a great program and want to keep it there,” said Agurkis. “These kids have all experienced the best of high school sports already behind coach Casey Thompson and I hope to build on that.”

One of Agurkis’ biggest challenges as the season progresses is 5A defending state champion Middleburg (who snagged district title from Ridgeview last year) with traditional powerhouses; Gainesville (lost to Middleburg region semifinals), Columbia and Lincoln (lost to Middleburg region finals) also in the district.

District 2-5A

Ridgeview 2-1

Columbia 3-0

Orange Park 2-1

Lincoln 1-1

Middleburg 1-2

Gainesville 0-2