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Dominated: Clay County saw plenty of state champions this season

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 6/13/24

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Three first-time team champions, two three-time individual state champions, three repeat state champions; one undefeated state champion who did it twice and three guys who defied …

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Dominated: Clay County saw plenty of state champions this season


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Three first-time team champions, two three-time individual state champions, three repeat state champions; one undefeated state champion who did it twice and three guys who defied odds gave Clay County high school sports one of the more unique finishes in recent history, plus one champion that joined her boy's team peaking at the right moment.

Three first-time team champions; Middleburg High volleyball, Fleming Island boys golf and St. Johns Country Day School baseball all stormed the castles of their respective chases with dramatic fashion in all three playoff runs.

Middleburg rookie head coach Meredith Forkum, not necessarily new to the program as an ex-Bronco player herself and a former assistant coach under long-time coach Carrie Prewitt, added that little bit of something to get her power-laden Broncos squad, led by an all-state front led by senior Connor Rahn and junior daughter Brooke Forkum blasting from right and left side positions to wisk their way to a first-time state title. Rahn heads to the University of Tampa next fall with her little sister, though not so little at about 6’-2”, Camden is destined to repeat the task.

Fleming Island had the luck of the Irish kind of with a disastrous region championship finish all but eliminating a spectacular, yet erratic regular season finish, but golf aficionados offering coach Bruce Cloud a breath of air with an at-large state championship bid.

The bid, for all that it was worth, seemed to be the fuel to fire up a squad that had the firepower to dominate any tournament when all cylinders were firing as lead hitter Tyler Mawhinney, just a sophomore, had two splendid rounds of championship golf including a hole-in-one for good luck on his first of two rounds, was ice throughout and crested with the first solo golf title for Fleming Island while leading his team to a first-ever golf team title for Clay County.

And, in baseball, in one of the more nerve-testing playoff runs in the history of not just Clay County, but maybe in the state, the near-death experiences of St. Johns Country Day School’s baseball squad that turned to walk-off heroics of volcanic magnitude made the journey one of the more unique sports finishes of all time in Clay County.

Spartan coach Tom Lucas may have more gray hairs on his temple, but they would be well worth the chatter on his fishing boat with a few of his boys years from now.

On the individual state champion side of the conversation, Fleming Island swimmer Maryn McDade and Clay High weightlifter Emma Heck became a pair of three-time state champions in their crafts that defied all the probability of sports.

McDade was near-perfect in one of the most excruciatingly close events in not just swimming, but any sport except maybe the 100-meter dash in track. In the 50 free that happens in just about 22-23 seconds where one mistake is costly, McDade maintained her perfection of the event for a third consecutive year while also adding the 100 free to her impressive resume. McDade heads to Florida State University next fall.

Heck, as dominant an athlete weightlifter as most programs could ask for, came in as a highly-touted freshman and has not failed to deliver the goods come state meet time. Heck is far and above one of the most dominant and consistent athletes to have honed her craft with one more season in front her just looking to be gravy on the cake.

In the double department, weightlifters Trey Jeffries of Keystone Heights and Kevin Reyes of Fleming Island returned to their platforms and repeated as state champions in their endeavors; Olympics and Traditional for Jeffries and Olympics for Reyes.

For wrestling, with a bucketload of state, meet qualifiers leaving from the county, it was Middleburg junior Cheyenne Cruce who returned with the lone gold after keeping her two years of perfection intact with another undefeated state title run although this one came with an overtime challenge from a well-known also unbeaten wrestler. Cruce kept her chasers at bay with a unique attitude of not letting her own craft diminish for lack of preparation and being ready for all contingencies on the mat.

For Reyes, the chase for the repeat came after precariously battling with much larger front runner, but the savvy Reyes squashed his massive counterpart on his final lift knowing all he needed was to tie his 276-pound challenger to win with his 260-pound body weight.

For Jeffries, who has been the alpha dog for Indians coach Lantz Lowery for his two years as a lead lifter, the repeat was inevitable, the question was by how much and would Lowery get a fourth straight team title out of it.

Jeffries shook his bench press platform to repeat as a Traditional champion and added the Olympics title to his slate in 2024.

As for the newcomers to the gold medal crew, Oakleaf High weightlifter Elijah Shevchook may have been chasing the valor of his big brother who was a major player in numerous Oakleaf sports, but the middle man in the Shevchook hierarchy took his game to the next level with a state title on his first try. With the Shevchook family all stout, strong males, Elijah must worry about his little brother Noah in the next few years who got his own weightlifting medals as a freshman but has three more years to excel.

In track, Fleming Island had been in the mix all season as having a torrid bunch of 800-meter runners; maybe five that could go under the illustrious two-minute mark, but the Golden Eagles scorched the Earth at the University of North Florida with a 7:43 gold medal effort that saw four senior runners; Graham Myers, John Keester IV, Michael DeRousse and Roman Mollican annihilate a field of challengers that did not see the sub-1:55 first two legs of Myers and Keester and a final scintillating leg of 1:51 for Mollicone.

Mollicone not only blasted his anchor leg with his final 200s of the 800s throughout the season having been blue-collar fascinating as he lowered the previous school record probably six times, but crushed the record one more time for gold in the individual 800 to put a second 800 gold medal in the Fleming Island trophy case (Cameron Davis, 2011).

In track, where one day makes or breaks a shot at a title, a guy and a gal that both primed for their day and both teetered at the top all season with little or no fanfare except maybe in the Clay Today sports pages, but Oakleaf triple jumper Takoda Brown and Fleming Island high jumper Gabrielle Flores both fulfilled the age-old championship credo of going big on the big stage with Brown winning the Class 4A triple jump and Flores winning the Class 3A high jump.

Flores, though second in the region and first with four perfect jumps in the district, maintained that discipline with five perfect first jumps against two competitors who also had a perfect day going and eventually won by hitting her final perfect jump when it counted.

Brown, who was a distant fourth at regions by almost four inches, came back from a fouled first jump in his first jump at the Class 4A championships with his winning jump on his second try to hold off his chasers to win by nearly two inches.