Best of the Best 2020

COVID splits 2020 Best of Year accolades

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 12/30/20

FLEMING ISLAND - With the COVID pandemic erasing all high school springs sports, the remainder of the 2020 sporting world got to see a couple of top performances despite the void.

Tops on the list …

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Best of the Best 2020

COVID splits 2020 Best of Year accolades

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND - With the COVID pandemic erasing all high school springs sports, the remainder of the 2020 sporting world got to see a couple of top performances despite the void.

Tops on the list for 2020 accomplishments is the repeat of the 200 medley relay by the Fleming Island High School girls relay team; Sarah and Emma Grimm, Abree Clark and Christine Johnson. All four girls got the first gold last spring and, with coach Jordan Bright commented that a repeat could happen as all four girls would return for a second year, the prophetic nature of Bright proved fruitful.

Second to a repeat state title that highlighted 2020 was a complete and massive turnaround of a storied Clay High School football program under a firestorm coach proved that the chemistry between coach and athlete is integral to success.

Kyle Kennard, long an assistant defensive coach in Clay County with Oakleaf and Fleming Island, and most recently Clay High, took a swirling 1-9 finish of 2019 to a 10-2 third round playoff finish in 2020 in a flash of change and inspiration that many coaches should emulate.

Kennard’s edict to his team, accoring to senior linebacker Tristan Keith in a late season interview, was that “we will win.” Pretty simple.

And win they did, in exciting fashion with a near 40 points scoring average with a senior quarterback and a powerhouse running back behind a fairly young offensive line. On the defensive side, swarm was the work in a controlle chaos kind of strategy that relied on 11 guys chasing down the opposing football and playing as close to mistake free as possible.

One of the more remarkable preseason to season transitions came at number three with the Fleming Island High cross country girls program taking huge steps over the summer of COVID to be as ready as possible for whatever the fall season, improbable at first, offered.

With summer running the staple of any quality cross country program, Fleming Island, under the direction of Suzanne Baker, Dave Allen, Lisa Adams and Chris Otero with input from master’s champion runner Shelly Allen and a willing host of ex-college runners and former teammates, took control of their own destiny with a summer plan that defied the house-arrest restrictions of the COVID pandemic.

Readiness was at a paramount for the girls who stormed to district and region titles and a sixth place Class 4A finish behind the courageous return of senior Emma Millson, who was out for most of her junior season with an injury, and a front four quartet of teammates; Millson, Grace Adams, Marisa Kortright and Mei Chiang, that put the Golden Eagles in the front pack of many races. Millson, Kortright and Adams will graduate leaving Chiang as the top frontrunner next season.

In the end, Baker’s strategic building of depth from the number five runner back proved effective as freshman Allie Knotts’ made steady improvement late in the season to bring home the two post season titles.

At state, Fleming Island was within four points of a fourth place finish with Timber Creek and Mandarin tied at 162 and Fleming Island at 166 emphasizing the purity of the team sport of cross country and the importance of that fifth scoring point. Fleming Island beat Mandarin for the region title by just nine points and Fleming Island won the district title by 14 points over former 3A powerhouse Creekside.

In college cross country, Ridgeview High graduate Joel Nesi, now at Flagler College, took eighth at the Peach Belt Conference championships to earn All-Conference honors. Cross country cancelled all national tournaments from COVID.

In one of the more stunning football season performances of 2020, Orange Park High coach Tom Macpherson gave a former team manager, a senior, a helmet and uniform because both saw some desire behind the eyes of senior Deandre Robinson.

Robinson simply asked Macpherson if he could still sign up to play as he stocked helmets and took stats and Macpherson obviously saw something and got him on the team.

Robinson, just a 155 pound running back, answered the call numerous times with slashing runs on offense, but blew his season highlight reel up with a 90 yard kickoff return in the Raiders’ playoff game against Pedro Menendez.

For Clay High senior swimmer Sara Stotler, 2020 became a season of re-establishing her prowess on the national scene while taking home gold at the state championships. Stotler, a gold medalist in her sophomore season, doubled up with silver as a junior, then roared back as a senior with summer long restrictions as to her training and national competitions to tap out her final year in the storied Blue Devil swim program. Stotler crushed records and won gold in her strong suit, the 100 butterfly.

Stotler, humbly one of the finest teammates as a Blue Devil despite her national aspirations, used the camaraderie of being a Blue Devil to put points on the board for her team in post season action before heading to the University of Tennessee next fall.

Another football guy that quietly exuded excellence was Oakleaf High senior wide receiver Terrance Anthony, who, with 56 catches and 11 scores, was a highlight reel anytime he touched the football. Anthony, heading to Coastal Carolina University with his brother, Marcus, a linebacker at Oakleaf, showed off great after-the-catch dangerousness with many of his slants from quarterback Walter Simmons getting added yardage just from Anthony’s unwillingness to just catch and fall down. Anthony also excelled with duty as a defensive back for the Knights.

Anthony’s best game was against one of the best teams in the nation with an 11 catch, 180 yard effort against Lowndes County (GA).

In his late showcase game, Anthony riddled the then-unbeaten Clay High secondary with nine catches, 214 yards and three scores.

In his second outstanding season, St. Johns Country Day School junior cross country runner Matthew Stratton maintained his excellence in year long training with a third place Class 1A finish after district and region titles. Stratton, second in 2019 in Class 1A, second in districts and second in regions along the way in 2019; stormed the post season to the two wins before placing third in the state race.

In an early 2020, late December 2020 flash, Oakleaf High senior weightlifter Tamira Briley has touched the state record atmosphere of lifting after a somewhat disappointing 10th place finish last year in Class 2A.

Briley took the 10th place finish at 119; dropped to 110 in fall 2020, and has hinted that state records could be made with a state title run in the spring 2021 state meet run.

Along with Briley’s state meet run, in spring 2020, Clay High’s Lindsey Brooks continued a tradition of dominance under coach Rodney Keller with a state title at 199 last year after dominating throughout the season. Brooks has been in the weightroom as a coach with Keller as they look to put another poster on the Clay weightroom wall.

In volleyball, Ridgeview High coach Destiny Brightman took down her sixth district title; four in 5A; now two in 6A; with powers Middleburg and Stanton Prep, in a defiance of opinions that said her initial district titles were in soft districts. Brightman’s Achilles Heel is her second round game; historically against a Final Four finisher or state champion; Bishop Kenny and Ponte Vedra.

In wrestling, Fleming Island High got a state title from Chad Nix in a run of the season of first quarter pins. Nix, who lost just one match; to a Georgia state champion, ran the table with ease from that moment on to take no prisoners in a scorched Earth finish to the state title. Nix is now at Campbell University.

Also in college wrestling, Fleming Island High former state champion Paul Detwiler, now a junior at Coast Guard Academy, earned a top ranking in NCAA Div.III wrestling after a second place, All-American finish last year at 184 pounds, in a season that saw wrestlers nationwide unable to compete in a national tournament due to COVID. Detwiler was second ranked nationally last year just before the national tournament.

In golf, three highlights; Middleburg High sophomore Chase Carroll winning district and region titles to get to state for a second season, Fleming Island’s Andrew Davis with big state meet rounds to put the Golden Eagles fifth in Class 3A in first visit to state tournament and Keystone Heights’ senior Camille Jackson, who pushed her Indians’ teammates in a rain-drenched region run, to a second trip to the Class 1A tournament.

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