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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 1 week ago

COLUMN: Three reasons for joy in 2021

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Forget 2020, because the winter and spring seasons offer a lot of quality sports content. Here are three things you should be looking out for to start the new year.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

Happy New Year, folks! How are y’all doing?

At this point, that question feels rhetorical, given the Dumpster-fire year we just survived, but the good news is it’s a new year, and there is some high-quality ball happening locally — right now.

I ended 2020 with a column reflecting back on last year, and the first edition of this year’s paper looked at how COVID-19 will possibly affect the 2021 sports year. Now, I’m ready to take some time to examine three things I’m looking forward to the most in the first few months of prep sports.
 

BOYS BASKETBALL HAS TITLE CONTENDERS

You heard me — this area has a couple of teams that will be vying for state championships come playoff time. Mark my words.

Leading the charge are Ben Witherspoon’s Dr. Phillips Panthers and Mark Griseck’s Windermere Wolverines — both among the favorites to take the Class 7A crown.

At DP, Witherspoon — who works with voodoo-like magic — has turned the Panthers back into a contender in only his second season in command. Outside of one loss to No. 1 nationally ranked Montverde, his team sits at 11-1. 

Down the road, you have Windermere, which currently sits at 10-4 thanks to Griseck’s leadership and the play of guys such as Kanye Jones and Trey Moss. And actually, what should easily be the game of the year comes down to Windermere and DP in their regular-season finale Tuesday, Feb. 2, at Windermere. If COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, this game would require the fire marshal, because you wouldn’t be able to swing a stick without hitting someone.

Also, look out for CFCA (8-4) and Olympia (9-3). Both schools are making noise. For the Eagles, this isn’t incredibly shocking. The Titans, though, have come out swinging in an incredibly strong start.
 

WILL SOCCER OVERCOME POSTSEASON WOES?

Often, there are some great sports that often get overshadowed by the proverbial “moneymakers.” In this case, it’s soccer playing a second fiddle, when in reality the programs in the area are solid.

Soccer is one of those sports in which just about every school in the coverage area has showed incredible strength, and don’t overlook what these boys and girls are doing.

Before my glorious two-week vacation, I mentioned DP’s Kayla Estep and Foundation Academy’s Ian Garcia in High Five after they scored four goals apiece in their respective matchups. That’s been the trend among area schools, many of which sit above .550 (like DP’s boys team and the Windermere girls team).

The big question: Does the regular-season success translate into postseason success? Since the FHSAA began holding championships for boys and girls soccer — in 1977 and 1982, respectively -— only the West Orange boys soccer team, which finished runner-up in Class 5A in 2013, has made an FHSAA finals. Other teams have made runs, and Windermere Prep has taken the SSAC title, but no one has walked away with an FHSAA title.
 

THE RETURN OF SPRING SPORTS

Of all the things that excite me right now, it’s the revival of the spring season.

Last spring, athletes had their seasons abruptly and unexpectedly ended. A lot of kids lost their last year to play, which is why I know this year’s crop of seniors won’t take this season for granted.

As of now, the FHSAA plans to go on with the season with the same kind of precautions as the fall and winter, and that’s all I can really tell you on that front. But otherwise, it’s going to get busy with nine sports starting up here soon.

The clangs of lacrosse sticks smashing together and echoes of leather balls hitting leather gloves are the sounds I could put on a playlist to fall asleep to.

Around here, the spring sports programs are some of the best in the state, and given how last season disintegrated, I know those athletes across the nine sports are about to rage on the field. 

This is their time, and I hope y’all are ready to take this wild, much-needed ride with them.

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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