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First Coast Varsity Weekly: FHSAA football's Tallahassee return may help Jax-area teams

The trek to Tallahassee has begun.

High school football's finals are headed to Tallahassee this December — and for Northeast Florida's teams, that might not be a bad thing.

Florida A&M's Bragg Memorial Stadium, the Tallahassee Democrat reported, will hold this year's finals from Dec. 9-11. The finals will be the first at the site since 1978, when the FHSAA had not yet adopted neutral sites for championships.

Over the years, Jacksonville-area schools have brought home four championships from Florida High School Athletic Association football finals in the state's capital. Trinity Christian has enjoyed particular success there, winning three of its trophies in Tallahassee, including head coach Verlon Dorminey's first state title in 2002.

Any Northeast Florida qualifiers will have a substantial travel advantage over South Florida opposition. A trip from Miami's Traz Powell Stadium to the Florida A&M campus rings up a one-way total of about 475 miles and more than seven hours in a Google Maps query.

For Northeast Florida teams, just getting to a Tallahassee final would be welcome after last year's disappointment. Following the installation of the Metro-Suburban system, area schools missed out on state finals for the first time since 2000, when the FHSAA used only six classes.

Trinity Christian's Marcus Burke catches a touchdown pass against Chaminade-Madonna in the 2020 Class 3A FHSAA football championship in Tallahassee. This year's FHSAA football finals are returning to Tallahassee, at Bragg Memorial Stadium.
Trinity Christian's Marcus Burke catches a touchdown pass against Chaminade-Madonna in the 2020 Class 3A FHSAA football championship in Tallahassee. This year's FHSAA football finals are returning to Tallahassee, at Bragg Memorial Stadium.

From FHSAA records, here are Northeast Florida's past finals in Tallahassee:

2001: St. Augustine (3A) vs. Rockledge, 38-6 loss, Doak Campbell Stadium

2002: Bolles (2A) vs. Chaminade-Madonna, 6-0 win, Doak Campbell Stadium

2002: Trinity Christian (1A) vs. Delray Beach American Heritage, 42-7 win, Doak Campbell Stadium

2020: Bolles (4A) vs. Cardinal Gibbons, 35-21 loss, Doak Campbell Stadium

2020: Trinity Christian (3A) vs. Chaminade-Madonna, 25-22 win, Doak Campbell Stadium

2020: University Christian (2A) vs. Champagnat, 41-27 loss, Doak Campbell Stadium

2021: Trinity Christian (2A) vs. Champagnat, 41-23 win, Gene Cox Stadium

Kitchings, Hayes enter FHSAA hall

On Sunday night in Gainesville, the FHSAA Hall of Fame officially added Jacksonville high school legends Bob Hayes and Earl Kitchings.

Double Olympic champion Hayes, from Matthew W. Gilbert High School, won the title of World's Fastest Man in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, and went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.

Kitchings coached for more than a dozen seasons, first leading Gilbert football in the 1950s and 1960s and then moving to Raines as the Northwest Jacksonville school's inaugural coach from 1965 to 1969.

Swimmers rewrite record books at Holleman meet

Swimmers jump into the pool for the girls 500-yard freestyle during the Frank Holleman Invitational high school swim meet.
Swimmers jump into the pool for the girls 500-yard freestyle during the Frank Holleman Invitational high school swim meet.

When Lily Doyle woke up Saturday, she wasn't expecting to become a record holder by evening.

"I'm really happy, because I didn't expect it going into the meet," said the Ponte Vedra sophomore, who touched the wall in 4:56.56 in the girls 500-yard freestyle at the Frank Holleman Invitational. "I dropped a lot of time, so I was very surprised."

Doyle was far from alone: Meet records tumbled early and often in Saturday's 20-team invitational at Planet Swim, the third edition of the fast-growing event that now ranks among the largest competitions on Northeast Florida's aquatic schedule.

Perennial superpower Bolles, fielding some but not all of its swimming stars, topped the boys standings with 541 points, ahead of Nease and Bartram Trail. Ponte Vedra, Class 3A girls champion last year, placed first in the girls list with 497 points, with Bolles and Creekside next in a showcase that brought together hundreds of the region's leading swimmers.

"We all get along. Obviously there's a rivalry with that, but it's so fun to get up and go," said Bolles sophomore Lucas Knapp, who swam the boys 200 free, 100 fly, 200 medley relay and 400 free relay.

The roll call of records: Bartram Trail's Thomas Frost (1:50.10 in the boys 200 individual medley, 4:27.96 in the 500 free); Bolles' Andy Kravchenko (20.55 in the boys 50 free and 51.74 in the 100 backstroke); Fleming Island's Maryn McDade (50.97 in the girls 100 free, 22.94 in the 50 free); Fletcher's Maxwell Shaver (291.90 in boys diving); Tocoi Creek's Alex Kim (50.23 in the boys 100 butterfly); and Bolles' boys 200 medley relay of Krish Jain, Eldad Zamir, Michael Gumino and Kravchenko.

Nease's Luke Zardavets leads the field during the boys 100-yard breaststroke at the Frank Holleman Invitational high school swim meet.
Nease's Luke Zardavets leads the field during the boys 100-yard breaststroke at the Frank Holleman Invitational high school swim meet.

Nease collected meet records in bunches. Charlotte Driesse recorded a 2:04.98 in the girls 200 IM, Olivia Moore swam 1:51.04 in the girls 200 free, freshman Luke Zardavets won the boys 100 breast in 56.40 and two relays set new marks. Jack Mainville, Declan Costello, Walker Lanoue and Brandon Gear won the boys 200 free relay in 1:27.26, and Mainville, Lanoue and Gear combined with Zardavets to take the 400 free relay in 3:08.90.

"We utilize this meet as a midseason test to see where the kids are and then adjust the training for the next six to eight weeks where they compete at states," said Nease coach Gustavo Calado. "To be able to test the kids at a high-quality meet where we have a field of the best swimmers in North Florida here coming together, this is a real luxury test for us."

The event, which also includes a food donation drive to benefit the Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County, also marks one month from the start of district meets for Class 3A and 4A.

"I think we're setting up really well for the incoming state series," Ponte Vedra junior Penny Zarczynski said. "We're looking really good, so I'm excited. We have a good shot for this year."

Barracudas perfect at Elise Bush Invitational

Beachside's Laney Lipovetsky (10) spikes the ball as Bishop Kenny's Cami Labyak (6) tries to block.
Beachside's Laney Lipovetsky (10) spikes the ball as Bishop Kenny's Cami Labyak (6) tries to block.

In barely a year on the volleyball court, Beachside's Barracudas have proven that they're more than ready for prime time.

The Barracudas slashed through the Elise Bush Invitational at Bolles with five wins in barely 24 hours Friday and Saturday, defeating Providence, Ridgeview, Episcopal, three-time state champion Ponte Vedra and finally Jupiter.

At 13-2, Beachside has lost to only Mandarin and Bishop Kenny, the latter in a closely-contested four-set match on Wednesday. The Barracudas' victory against Ponte Vedra was the first for any St. Johns County school against the Sharks since October 2016.

Versatility stands out for the Barracudas. While sophomore Adriana Jeanpierre leads the attack with 172 kills, sophomore Erica Duffy (85 kills, 177 assists) and freshman Mollie VanDeusen (25 kills, 106 assists) are filling multiple roles in a young lineup that's strengthened by the senior core of Laney Lipovetsky, Macey Williams and Air Force-committed middle blocker Lainie Stapleton.

The statewide MaxPreps rankings currently list Beachside inside the top 40, among three Northeast Florida schools in the Class 5A top 10.

Creekside's Johnson dominates Bale-N-Trail

Creekside sophomore Alyson Johnson, pictured at the Florida Horse Park Invitational earlier in September, added another title at the Bale-N-Trail Original.
Creekside sophomore Alyson Johnson, pictured at the Florida Horse Park Invitational earlier in September, added another title at the Bale-N-Trail Original.

News flash: Alyson Johnson is fast.

The Creekside sophomore left her previous best time in the dust on the way to a dominant 17:50.5 at Saturday's Bale-N-Trail Original at Bartram Trail.

Johnson, a double Florida High School Athletic Association track champion last year, is entering exclusive territory. She's already cut nearly a minute from her 2022 best of 18:46, and she now joins a list of just above a dozen Northeast Florida runners to break 18 minutes in a girls 5K competition.

While Johnson starred for Creekside's girls, it was the Knights' boys team that took top honors at Bale-N-Trail. Led by sophomore Asa Swope (16:12.6, second behind Ocala Trinity Catholic's Cedric McFadden), Creekside scored 57 points to edge Gainesville Oak Hall by way of tiebreaker because of the effort of sixth runner William Foulk.

Girls team honors at Bale-N-Trail went to a superbly balanced Bishop Kenny. Emily Wheldon led BK with a third-place 18:50 and seven other Crusaders broke 20 minutes to finish with 29 points, ahead of Oak Hall and Providence.

Two other area runners, meanwhile, went especially low on the clock away from the First Coast. Mandarin sophomore Alaysa Chipunov won the girls title at the Hare and Hound Invitational in Charlotte, N.C., chopping half a minute off her personal best to run 19:25.4. That earned the Mustangs a fifth-place finish in the multi-state meet, with help from a sixth-place 20:12.6 from Ashlin Price.

Fleming Island senior Graham Myers also ran a season-best 15:26.2 at the Wingfoot XC Classic at Sam Smith Park in Cartersville, Ga., the hometown of Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

The scene now turns to Tallahassee's Apalachee Regional Park, site of Saturday's FSU Invitational and a preview of November's state finals.

Big numbers for Trinity's King

Is Jacksonville about to crown a state stats champion in volleyball?

Trinity Christian junior Mari King entered the new week atop the MaxPreps statewide list for kills with 269. She's since been surpassed by Lydia Chinchar of Carrollwood Day and Fallon Stewart of Winter Park, but with a potential long playoff run in prospect, she has plenty of opportunities to add to her numbers.

With 1,625 kills and counting in five-plus seasons going back to a portion of her sixth-grade year on varsity, King is climbing near the top of Northeast Florida's all-time list.

Providence's Kamara Kelly blasted 1,842 kills in five seasons from 2014 to 2018; St. Johns Country Day's Madison Dill collected 1,650 between 2011 and 2015; and Christ's Church's Julia Mangum scored 1,290 from 2015 to 2019. Just last year, Grace Albaugh of Bolles, Ally Cavanaugh of Bishop Kenny and Jaycee Davis of Union County wrapped up their high school careers at or above 1,240 kills.

Numbers, however, are not complete for some programs. Among the high scorers with incomplete career numbers is former Bolles attacker Courtney Johnston, who recorded three of the area's top single-season kills totals from 2004 to 2006 (492, 390 and 527) in addition to contributions in 2002 and 2003. The FHSAA converted from best-of-3 side-out scoring to best-of-5 rally scoring before the 2003 season.

King isn't the only local in state contention: Bolles' Penelope Kavalieros and Bishop Kenny's Mallory Swain rank among Florida's top five in digs.

Around the area

Wolfson senior midfielder Natalie Hall committed to Montreat College for women's soccer.
Wolfson senior midfielder Natalie Hall committed to Montreat College for women's soccer.

Fletcher linebacker D.J. Parrish committed to Campbell football. … Wolfson midfielder Natalie Hall committed to Montreat women's soccer. … Tocoi Creek wing Kaitlynn Weaver committed to St. Leo women's basketball. … St. Johns Country Day pitcher Jules Raimondi committed to Rollins softball. … Bishop Snyder junior Faith Kennedy reached 1,000 career assists in Wednesday's volleyball victory over Riverside. … Fleming Island setter Leeann Maysonet reached 500 career assists in Thursday's volleyball. … Former Columbia pitcher Tyler Myrick was named a Northwest League All-Star for the High-A Eugene Emeralds in voting from managers across Minor League Baseball. … Fleming Island senior Rauly Eason scored a career-high 15 kills Thursday against Atlantic Coast to surpass the Golden Eagles' career school record of 568. … The United States Soccer Federation selected St. Johns Country Day sophomore Sydney Schmidt for a training camp with the Under-16 women's national team this week in West Palm Beach. … The annual High School 9:12 Basketball Media Day is scheduled for Oct. 24 at Winston Family YMCA in Riverside. … The FHSAA converted Monday's scheduled board of directors meeting to an orientation session for its new members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The board is next scheduled to meet Nov. 5-6 in Gainesville.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: High school football 2023: Bragg Stadium may boost Northeast Florida