By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
With the Christmas holidays rapidly approaching, many high school athletic teams will remain in action by participating in holiday tournaments but others will take an extended holiday break. Although we are in the early part of the winter sports seasons, several teams – including the Longhorns boys’ basketball and wrestling teams are already establishing themselves among the best in the county.
Here is a review of what is going on around the county:
Harmony, Osceola, and St. Cloud are all coming off tremendous weekends. The Longhorns had a great tournament at the prestigious 31-team Fit2Win Tournament in Clearwater; where they won the team championship with 239.5 points – besting state powers Steinbrenner (207.5), host Countryside (192.5) and Winter Springs (173).
Five different wrestlers from Harmony went undefeated in the two-day tournament to capture individual championships including Tristan Horn at 102 (9-2 on season), Tanner Hinman at 120 (11-0 on season), Rey Ortiz at 132 (16-0 this year), Shawn McAllister at 138 (11-2 this year) and Nelson Toro at 285, who remained undefeated at 13-0 this year.
Osceola hosted the Danny Byron this past weekend. No team score was kept but three wrestlers went undefeated in the two-day event – recording 8-0 records in the process. Those wrestlers included Anderson Heap, Cooper Haase and Gunner Holland. All are defending state champions. Elijah Vansickle finished in second in the 285-pound weight class for the Kowboys; while Evan Martinez (120) was fifth in the top division that included state powers South Dade, Lake Gibson and Southwest Miami.
St. Cloud went 5-0 in the Bulldog Brawl duals tournament to win their first team trophy in two years.
Although they graduated six or their top eight scorers and a seventh transferred, many still believed that Osceola High – whose JV team went undefeated last year – would remain the top boys basketball program in county. One anonymous county coach in the pre-season disagreed, saying he felt Harmony –with a veteran team – should be the favorites to win the Orange Belt Conference tournament (Jan. 24-27) this year.
Early results have proven that coach prophetic, as Harmony is off to a 4-1 start that includes a 55-47 home win over Osceola. Noah Tribe and Frans Richardson had 10 points each for Harmony in the win, but head coach Duke Leonardo says it is team depth that has been the key to the quick start.
“I have 10 guys that are playing almost equal minutes. When we have to give our starters a rest, we have little drop off with the second unit and that has allowed us to wear other teams down. We have a bunch of guys who just play hard all the time.”
Osceola, led in scoring by senior Ryan Rivera, has struggled to a 2-6 start but part of that can be attributed to a tough early season schedule, as well as the team’s youth. The six teams that have defeated Osceola are a combined 25-8 this season. “Absolutely knew with so many new players we would struggle early,” Head coach Steve Mason said. “How we are playing at the end of the season is what is going to be important.”
After an 0-3 start, Gateway has won three straight and will challenge Harmony tonight. St. Cloud, which has not had a winning record in at least two decades, was off to a 4-2 start as Denard Hollingsworth was averaging 13 points per game. Tohopekaliga took a 3-3 mark into this week with all three of their losses decided by three points or less – including two in overtime. Celebration was 2-4; Poinciana was 3-1 and Liberty was 1-3 heading into this week’s games.
Monday’s Harmony at Gateway is our boys’ basketball game of the week and log on to www.positivelyosceola.com for a full game report on Tuesday.
Heading into the season, Gateway and St. Cloud were considered the teams to beat in Osceola County and early results have indicated that nothing has changed to alter those predictions. Justin Marino’s Gateway team is off to a great 8-1 start heading into a Monday night game against Liberty (0-8). The Panthers only loss this season has been a 51-48 overtime setback to Timber Creek. The Panthers are led by OBC Player of the Year Vanessa Diaz and Malayna Stephenson, who is averaging 22 points per game. Add in the play of freshmen Alyssa Marino and Evana Rivera and Gateway is off to a great start.
St. Cloud has been equally impressive, going 6-1 in their first seven games. Only a lopsided loss to Lake Highland Prep – a defending state champion – has marred their record. Juniors Haley Collins (16.0 ppg) and Emily Lockley (15.8 ppg) have been the leading scorers for the Lady Bulldogs.
After winning just three games last season (3-13), Rashawnda Sippio’s rebuild of the Osceola program continues as she has already matched last year’s win total at 3-5. Both Harmony and Poinciana posted 5-3 starts, with Eva Johnson leading the Eagles in scoring with 11.7 ppg.
Celebration is 10-1 after breaking Harmony’s stranglehold on the Orange Belt Conference Championship following a 2-1 win over the Longhorns last week in the OBC tournament championships. Senior Erin Ozyurek (13 goals) will lead the Storm in their final game against Davenport (4-5-1) before the Christmas break. Harmony, which either won the outright (10) or shared the OBC title for 12 consecutive years, fell to 5-3 and will play Melbourne on Tuesday before breaking for Christmas. Read about Celebration’s big 2-1 win in the OBC Championship here: https://www.positivelyosceola.com/celebration-claims-girls-orange-belt-conference-soccer-title/
Both Celebration (6-0-1) and Gateway (7-1) were off to solid starts this season. The Storm has outscored opposition 18-2 this season with the only blemish on its record was a 1-1 tie with Lake Minneola last week. Sophomore Jose Dlima was the top scorer with 11 points on four goals and three assists this season.
Jose Calderon, with seven goals in six games, was leading the Panthers who will close out their pre-Christmas schedule this week against Osceola (2-3-1). Harmony (5-4-0) has the other winning record in the county.
Photo Source: Andie Ryann