TAMPA — Another year is in the books and, as in any area, Pasco County saw its highs and lows, its triumphs and heartbreaks and its superstars leave and new players breakout in prep sports. As we prepare for 2014, here are some of the highlights Pasco County had to offer in 2013:
Sunlake boys, Mitchell girls soccer make history: Both the Seahawks and the Mustangs made, and hosted, their first state semifinal match, however, both lost their respective games.
Connor Gilboy breaks scoring record: Another one of Sunlake’s prolific scorers, Gilboy scored 60 goals to set the new Pasco County boys soccer scoring record.
Academy at the Lakes girls hoops state runner-up: Coach Karim Nohra took the Wildcats to the Class 2A state title game in Lakeland, however, they had no answer for Tallahassee FAMU, eventually falling 57-34. It was the first time a Pasco County basketball team had reached a state final since Zephyrhills in 1986.
Thomas eclipses 2,000 points: Wesley Chapel boys basketball forward Erik Thomas became the second player in school history to score 2,000 career points. The other: his sister, Sthefany.
Top players college bound: Two county football player signed with Division I colleges, as Pasco’s Joey Ivie and Janarion Grant signed with Florida and Rutgers, respectively. Not only did it mark more Division I players from the Pirates long line of college players, but both Ivie and Grant saw significant playing time as true freshmen.
Wrestling and weightlifting state title: River Ridge’s Alexis LiCalsi won the 139-pound class at the girls weightlifting state meet and set a state record for the clean and jerk with a 205-pound effort. On the mat, Wesley Chapel’s Tony Ruggiero took home a Class 1A medal.
John Benedetto passes away at 66: Land O’ Lakes football had one coach for 32 years, nearly half of his life, but the area saw the passing of a legend, as former Gators coach John Benedetto died in his sleep just five years after leaving the program he took over in 1977. The school’s stadium is also named for the coach that amassed 196 wins, 13 district titles, 18 winning seasons, 17 postseason appearances and two trips to the regional finals.
Wiregrass Ranch, Mitchell baseball make history: The Bulls and the Mustangs reached their respective region finals for the first time in program history. Both their runs ended there, however, the Bulls were led by Zach Drury (UNF commit) and the Mustangs by Cobi Johnson (FSU commit).
Academy at the Lakes softball makes history: Another Wildcats team found itself in a deep postseason run, as the softball team made its first state semifinal. However, Academy, led by USF committ Lauren Evans, would lose 13-3 to the eventual 2A state champion.
Six pack of backs top 1,000 yards: Pasco County had six running backs rush for more than 1,000 yards this season. Leading the way on the ground were Ridgewood’s Glass Wilson (1,518), Sunlake’s Nathan Johnson (1,504), Hudson’s Noah Siegrist (1,400), River Ridge’s Ben Perdomo (1,170), Pasco’s Malik Johns (1,078) and Anclote’s Willie Barrett (1,062).
Pensyl in a passing game: Land O’ Lakes saw a breakout season from its junior southpaw quarterback, James Pensyl, who showed he’s one of the area’s top passers. He threw for 2,345 yards and 22 touchdowns — while running for five more — while having just three interceptions and a 104 QB rating.
The Mustangs and Falcons volleyball teams make their respective region finals: Mitchell was there for the first time, while Fivay was in its second straight. The Mustangs were led by Daniele Green and the Falcons by the Nemetz twins, Ashleigh and Briannah.
Anclote earns first district title: The Sharks, just in their fifth year of existence, earn their first football district title and host playoff game. Coach Matt Wicks built a program from the ground up that already has developed college football players.
Football comes to a quick end: Four Pasco County football teams — Pasco, Sunlake, Anclote, Hudson — grab playoff berths, but all meet unfortunate quick ends and any hopes of a deep postseason run by a Pasco County football team are one and done.
Mitchell boys golf makes history: The Mustangs, despite many years of success, had never reached the state tournament as a team. However, that changed this season and the team finished sixth in Class 2A. Mitchell girls finished 10th, while Saddlebrook boys finished fourth in Class 1A.
Three swimming state titles: A trio of Pasco County swimmers came home with gold: Ridgewood’s Emir Muratovic (50 freestyle), Mitchell’s Taylor Anderson (50 freestyle) and Wesley Chapel’s Abbey Duncan (200 freestyle).
Schmitz retires after 36 years: Not many football coaches start two programs, however, Scott Schmitz did just that. After starting River Ridge and Mitchell programs, Schmitz decided it was time to focus on himself and his golf game and retire from coaching football after a 36-year career. He leaves with a 100-114 career record in Pasco County.
Pearson, King earn milestones: In the span of the same week, the county’s most successful boys and girls soccer coaches reached milestones as Land O’ Lakes’ Mark Person and Vicky King earned their 300th and 400th career wins, respectively.
Correspondents Andy Villamarzo, Kyle LoJacono and Larry Bugg contributed to this report. Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.