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Jan-March 2022 Sports in Review

By Randy Lefko
Posted 1/4/23

Briley dominant (Again), Clay

gets team title, SJCDS gets gold

PORT ST JOE - It was expected and it was delivered.

Oakleaf High senior weightlifter Tamira Briley, the defending 110 Class 3A …

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Jan-March 2022 Sports in Review


Briley dominant (Again), Clay
gets team title, SJCDS gets gold

PORT ST JOE - It was expected and it was delivered.
Oakleaf High senior weightlifter Tamira Briley, the defending 110 Class 3A record setting champion, has been settling in with her shot at a repeat title at 119 pounds, and with convincing fashion, the dynamo of Oakleaf delivered the goods not once, not twice, but three times with a state record in tact.
“I try to stay calm and not think about things I can’t control,” said Briley, who joins big brother Melvin, a two-time state champion triple jumper for the Oakleaf High track team. “I know what I have done in training and in meets to get here and it’s just a matter of not making mistakes and executing.”
Briley, who set a state record for bench press last year as a 110 lifter en route to her title, repeated that task as well as a successful finish for the title at 119, plus adding a state title in the first-time Olympic Snatch discipline, also in dominant fashion.
“She is literally the best female athlete to come out of Oakleaf High School and the face of Oakleaf weightlifting if not Oakleaf sports, plain and simple, everyone knows who Tamira Briley is,” said Oakleaf weightlift coach Ben White, who has brokered the girls weightlift team to a district title, a repeat state champion and a state medalist for a first-year lifter; Ivy Gunn at 169 in fourth place. “We set the goals all season and she went after them. On the way, she was an inspiration to the rest of the team and pushed them to join her in the medals’ chase.”
Clay High, who has dominated the team scene in north Florida for a few years, finally got the elusive gold medal as a team with 26-24 team championship over powerhouse Sunlake High in the traditional competition, then a double dose of Lady Iron with a 34-28 win again over Sunlake in the Olympic Snatch team points. Not to be overlooked, Ridgeview High, under coach Trenton Davis, finished fifth in the Snatch with a champion at 183 from Ava Haber over Clay’s Anna Harbison by just five pounds.
“Coach Keller is the class of the class in weightlifting and I’m glad he finally got his trophy; trophies,” said White. “Think about the past few year in weightlifting in Clay County; Keystone champs, Fleming Island champs, handfuls of individual champs; thank Rodney Keller for that.”
In the traditional meet, Keller got his gas power from freshman Emma Heck at 129, junior Janiyah Stevens at 154 and Unlimited Kyleigh LaFary who all crushed the bars with wins of 35 pounds by Heck, 20 pounds by Stevens and 25 pounds by LaFary.
“Emma is an incredible lifter and a great kid who comes from a wonderful family,” said Keller. “The dynamic between her and teammates has been really fun to watch. They really do push one another”.
The three state title holders in the traditional discipline came back to medal in the Olympic Snatch with Heck being joined by teammate Gianna Torres at 169 as champions with Stevens and LaFary getting silvers.
“So many things have to go right to pull off both titles in one day and that can only be attributed to the success of many of our girls, including Gabriella Etheridge, Gianna Torres, and Kenya Tinajero, who also placed in the meet,” said Keller. “And one of the most exciting things moving forward is that many of our qualifiers are returning next season, including Ansley Weseman and Ansley Lyda.”

Jim Tuttle loved his Fleming Island baseball

FLEMING ISLAND - Amongst a virtual Who’s Who of former Fleming Island High School baseball greats past and present, including coaches, Fleming Island baseball coach Jim Tuttle’s family got a final farewell from the baseball family of the Golden Eagles at Monday’s game against Bartram Trail.
“He just loved being in the dugout with these boys,” said Martha Tuttle, his wife of 37 years who was joined by sons Austin and Bryson on the field as the 2022 Golden Eagles presented the Tuttle family with personalized Jim Tuttle bases around the infield and a emblazoned plaque for Jim Tuttle’s nearly two decades of dedication to Fleming Island baseball.
Tuttle was diagnosed with cancer in his kidney in October and surpisingly passed away just a month later to the shock of his immediate friend.
“He thought he had kidney stone, but it was worse and fast,” said Martha Tuttle. “He was 60.”
Joining the Tuttle ceremonies were former coaches Don Suriano and Marty Lanoux who built the Fleming Island program into the state rankings from the 2005 era. “He’s been around for everything here,” said Lanoux. “The family part of the program came from Jim influence. He was good at teaching them to see beyond themselves.” Don Suriano was a mentor for Tuttle and, according to Martha Tuttle, Jim always loved watching and learning from Suriano.

Spartans lifters get first FHSAA shot

DAYTONA BEACH - St. Johns Country Day School
s girls weightlifting squad of Evelyn Hansen, Angel Barret, Mia Morrin and Addison Frisbee brought some hardware home from the program’s first foray into FHSAA-sanctioned playoff events at the region 2-1A championship held at Father Lopez High School in Daytona Beach.
Frisbee and Hansen finished first and second in the 129 Olympic Snatch competition with Frisbee winning by 10 pounds; 115-105. Morin finished fifth in the 110 class while, in the Traditional competition, Hansen took second with Frisbee fourth.
Frisbee is top ranked state wide in the Olympic Snatch at 129. Hansen is ranked third tied with five lifters all with 105 pound lifts.
In the Traditional lifts, Hansen is sixth-ranked with Frisbee 13th.

Roney cans buzzer beaters
(3) in Tech OT loss

MIAMI SHORES - Middleburg High graduate basketball star Hannah Roney, now a graduate point guard at Florida Tech University, recorded a season-high 30 points on 10-19 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists, and five steals and landed a buzzer beater three pointer to force overtime in a 92-89 loss to Barry on January 12. Tech falls to 2-12, Barry improves to 10-2.
After falling back to a 24-22 halftime gap, Florida Tech battled back with a Roney three at 7:20 left in the third to close the gap to 26-25.
Barry answered with a 10-0 run to push their lead to 36-25 with 4:31 to go before finishing the third period up 49-38.
In the final stanza, Florida Tech had their own scoring run; a 6-0 blast with 34 seconds left in the game before a Roney steal to layup put the score at 64-62 with 11 seconds on the clock.
Barry nailed two free throws, but Roney swished another three to put the score at 66-65 with four seconds. Barry would get one more free throw before Roney hit a jumper at the buzzer to end the game tied at 67-67.
In the first overtime, Barry hit two threes to bolt ahead, but with the game separated by three points; 77-74, Roney drove the paint, hit the layup and hit the free throw to tie the game again for a second overtime.
In overtime two, Barry against blasted to a 5-0 run, but both teams answered before Roney hit a banked three pointer to tie the game at 86-86 at the buzzer.
In overtime three, a final three point attempt fell short for the Barry win.
Roney played four years at Belmont Abbey College and led the team to numerous conference finals (2021 Conference Carolinas champions) and NCAA Div. II selections before transferring to Florida Tech.

County delivers handful of girl wresters to state

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A strong contingency of girl wrestlers from around the county will be representing the strong wrestling aura of Clay County with the first-ever FHSAA sanction state championships to be held on the same weekend as the boys state championships; March 3,4,5 in Kissimmee.
In 2021, Florida joined Illinois and Wisconsin as additions to 26 states in America that have female wrestling.
Led by a triple threat of three Clay High Lady Blue Devils; Aubreanna Apple, Madisyn Blackburn and Jaidyn Vinson, all regional finalists and state meet qualifiers, the rest of the county contingency is chock full of talent forged by history.
“That’s what we do at Clay High,” said Apple, a junior, after her riveting district championship pin two weeks ago at Matanzas High School. “We want to prove we belong.”
Joining the Clay trio, from Middleburg, Orange Park, Oakleaf, Ridgeview and even Keystone Heights, the Clay County girls wrestling program jettisoned this season after last year’s trial run, per FHSAA allowances, to move ahead as a club-like season including state championships; one to Blackburn, a senior who recently signed a college scholarship to Brewton Parker College in Georgia, and one to Orange Park senior Andrea Smith, both top-ranked all season according to Kabra Wrestling, the official state ranking system.
Smith, yet to be beaten at 235, and Blackburn, with three losses on 27 wins, are the two trendsetters of the bunch with both smooth and confident on the mats thus far.
Smith has teammate Jasmine Hecht at 155, ranked 10th after spending much of the season at number one, to forge the aura of the big arena of state championships in the Silver Spur Arena next week.
The Clay trio earned one region title to Apple with two silvers with Blackburn finishing second with stomach issues into the region final.
For Smith, the region title came a week after a distric title against a familiar foe, Raines’ Jada Arnold with Smith winning via pin both times. Hecht, second at districts, finished fourth at regions.
For Middleburg, the freshman dynamic duo is Cheyenne Cruce (19-8) who follows big brother Austin, a junior 182 grappler for the Broncos, with a third place finish with Bradshaw, (24-7) at 110, taking third as well.
Both Cruce siblings will be entering new territory with another sister/brother duo in Oakleaf High’s Adrianna Barrientos (14-6), a sophomore, getting a distric title and a region fourth place finish at 105 while twin brother Keon just won his district title at 126 for the Knights en route to their first ever team title last week.
“We talk a lot at the kitchen table about our matches and there is a little jawboning about who could beat who, but it’s all good,” said Keon Barrientos. “We both want to go as far as we can.”
Ridgeview’s lone athlete was sophomore Cheyanne Moralez whoe finished at the consolation quarterfinals.
Clay remaining competitors were MiKayla Wyrick at 110, who lost her opener to Bradshaw; Alexis Buck at 140 who finished 2-2; Jaysie Garcia at 145, who finished at 1-2.
For Keystone Heights, who fielded their first official girls team, two seniors; Stamatia Papainannou (4-14) and Saige Dennis (12-22) both medaled at districts and wrestled into the consolation rounds at regions.

Hudson wins third Frosh of week gymnastics award

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Alabama’s Lilly Hudson was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman Gymnast of the Week for the third time this season after another standout performance February in Baton Rouge, the league office announced in a press release.
The Fleming Island, Fla., native helped Alabama to a season-best road score of 197.600 at No. 5 LSU with a career best all-around score of 39.550. Hudson finished second in the all-around as well as on the floor exercise with a score of 9.900. Hudson also recorded a 9.925 on the balance beam to help boost the team score to a 49.625 in the event, the Tide’s second highest score of the season and tied for the fourth highest in program history.
Hudson spoke at a pre-Southeastern Conference championship press conference saying watching Alabama win their 10th SEC title a year ago and now seeing herself contributing is exciting.
“It’s one thing to watch it and watch them succeed,” said Hudson, who was part of Alabama’s 31st top two finish; second to Florida on March 19. “Now, this year to actually be a part of it is even bigger and better. I’m excited for this post season.”
At the SEC championships held last weekend, Hudson, with a 9.900 on the vault pushed Alabama to a 49.350 score for the event, also scored a 9.900 on the uneven parallel bars.
“That bar rotation was on fire,” said Alabama head coach Dana Duckworth. “I feel on floor and vault we got through it, and then on bars and beam we went out and dominated.”
The Crimson Tide, ranked sixth nationally coming into the meet, finished just behind No. 2 Florida (198.200), and ahead of No. 6 Auburn (197.225), No. 11 Missouri (196.875), No. 5 LSU (196.725), No. 17 Arkansas (196.450), No. 9 Kentucky (196.350) and No. 22 Georgia (195.800).
With its second-place finish, Alabama remains the only school in SEC history to never finish outside the top four at the conference championship meet.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee was to meet Tues., March 22 to determine the seeds for the upcoming tournament that starts March 26.

Indian grapplers take lumps on wrestling road to wins

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS - Keystone Heights High wrestling got saved sort of by a local pararescue and law enforcement with a bit of mixed martial arts training and the team’s numbers have jumped from 10 wrestlers to 24 in 2021.
“We are learning from our mistakes and getting better each day,” said senior Cody Saley, a 285 pound wrestler. “We all have a lot to learn. It’s a little intimidating to be here at Clay High School.”
Saley and his Keystone Heights teammates were in Green Cove Springs for the district 4-1A Duals tournament (Clay won in dominant fashion for a fifth year) and saw the level of wrestling prowess that the Blue Devils put on the mat.
“They let us go upstairs to see their wrestling room with all the pictures of the state champions,” said Saley. “One day, we may have a room like that. For now, we just get better each day.”
Saley had won four of five matches at the recent Hammer Invite at Oakleaf High school with many of his matches against higher class programs. “It’s great to watch the camaraderie of the team especially in meets that we have the smallest and most inexperienced team in the gym,” said coach Steven Knott. “We know we are the new kid on the block and we take our lumps.”
In 2020, Keystone Heights was able to compete at the FHSAA tournament and got eight wrestlers (of 10) to the region tournament.
Top records at the District duals tournament held on January 7, were senior Shepard Wingate (25-8 at 152), senior Jacob Andrews (13-5 at 195), senior Ethan Cosby (16-7 at 132) and junior Matthew Delano (11-4 at 220). Caley was at 9-4 at 285 with seventh grader Baron Bryson unbeaten in four meets at 120 prior to the tournament.
At the district 4-1A duals tournament at Clay, the Indians lost 67-12 to Baker County, the eventual runnerup to Clay. Delano and Jason Bowden both won by pin for the Indians’ 12 points.
“We didn’t have to wrestle against Clay today, but I’m sure we will wrestle some of their guys in the IBT tournaments,” said Knott, who took over after the first coach left. “I took over after coach Rick Marshall left and I took it over. The team would have gone away and I stepped up to keep the kids here. Everyday I’m learning as much as they are. The kids need sports.”
With 24 athletes; three girls included, Knott sees the drive and intensity of the program as becoming a big part of the Keystone Heights sports community.
“I’ve tried to get the community interest on board, they are very on board,” said Knott. “We have support like I have never seen for a new sports. That makes me work harder at what I do to keep the program growing; new uniforms, travel and all the administration stuff.”
For the girls; Madison Betty, Matia Papaionnow, Saige Dennis, the challenge of being on the team; wrestling boys mostly, is just a new experience.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Dennis, who joined to follow her dad and brother who were both wrestlers. “I’ve been around it for a while.”
For Betty, was the boyfriend.
For the trio, a chance to win their own state title now that the FHSAA has sanctioned a state tournament makes the rigors of practice worthwhile.
“It’s tough roughing it up with them, but it gets us mentally tough,” said Betty. “We haven’t wrestle any all girls matches yet.”