- June 17, 2020
As the West Orange High campus sits in peace and quiet, the sound of sneakers on hardwood squeak out through the door.
It’s Monday, June 24, and although basketball season doesn’t start for another several months, new girls basketball head coach Brian Rizo is holding a summertime practice.
He’s been on the job now, officially, for just a few weeks or so, but he’s ready to get started — it’s why he is holding practices so early in the summer.
“There is some young talent that has to be groomed and set properly in terms of putting them in a position to be successful,” Rizo said. “I think with the work ethic and summer workouts, it’s doing things they haven’t normally done in the past.
“They haven’t been doing things (such as) getting into the gym and working out and lifting and doing some of those things to get them stronger, and get their bodies prepared to handle the rigor of a regular season,” he said.
While Rizo leads his players through drill work, out in the back of the school at the baseball field, Jay Welsh purveys the lay of the land.
Like Rizo, Welsh is taking over a new program of his own as the Warriors’ varsity baseball coach. And the position for Welsh seems tailor made for him, honestly, especially when you take in the fact he has been in the area for so long.
“Having been in the Central Florida baseball community for the past 15 years, I know a lot of people,” Welsh said. “So even coming into the job — even in the first week that I’ve had of making phone calls — it’s been easy, because it has been somebody that I’ve known. I’ve had — of my kids that are returning — probably six to eight players who have already played for me, so I know what I’m getting coming in and I couldn’t be happier.”
Both Rizo and Welsh have a long history in their respective sports.
In the case of Rizo, a native of New York City, his journey into basketball started with a quick realization he had when he arrived to college at UCF: His life in the sport wouldn’t be in playing it.
Instead, he turned his eye to working under the coaching staff for the men’s and women’s teams at UCF, before going on to do the very same thing during his time in grad school at Michigan State University.
From there, Rizo served as an assistant at Dr. Phillips before joining the Atlanta Hawks as an advanced scout. From there, he assumed his most recent role as assistant varsity coach at Winter Springs last season.
“I knew that it was kind of my time to have my own program, and run my own program, and so that’s what I started seeking shortly after getting back into the high-school ranks,” Rizo said. “Having had this wealth of knowledge and experience at all these different levels, I knew it was time for me to run my program. I was fortunate to land this opportunity — there were quite a few out there, but the West Orange one appealed to me the most.”
Welsh’s story is somewhat similar to Rizo’s in many aspects: He traveled the different divisions of his sport trying to find the right fit. After his playing days at Lafayette College ended, Welsh spent his time bouncing between the collegiate and high-school levels — starting as an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts.
After a stint away from the game — and a move to Florida — Welsh went through different roles at Lake Nona and Ocoee before taking his first head coaching job with a struggling Celebration team.
“That was a program that was 9-and-41 when I took over, and then in two years, we won the district championship and made it to the Sweet 16,” Welsh said. “That was quite a turnaround to have the success I had down there.”
It was also during that time that Welsh took over as the head coach of the Winter Garden Squeeze — a position he held for three years (2016-18) — before becoming the pitching coach at Lake-Sumter State College.
Although the year in college ball was a great experience for him, Welsh found it to be just too much.
“It just got to be too time-consuming, and I just feel like I was better served at this point to just return to the high-school circuit and continue to try and have success there,” Welsh said.
Although their first seasons are still a ways away, there’s a lot for both coaches to be excited about.
Rizo takes over a talented team that has been a 20-plus game winner the past several seasons. And although his team will be young and without some key seniors (such as Morgan Beacham and Sarah Placide), Rizo still has depth with players such as Paris Pickett and Cami Siemer to lead the way.
“I’m looking to just kind of create a culture — a very fun, energetic culture,” Rizo said. “I’m looking forward to our schedule — it’s going to be a very, very challenging one. I set the bar pretty high, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”
Meanwhile, on the diamond, Welsh will look to take a young team — that last year finished 13-11 — to heights it hasn’t had a chance to experience in a few years.
“My goal is to build a consistent winner there,” Welsh said. “All the pieces are in place in terms of the players and how the players have been developed up until this point. There’s nothing more that I enjoy than to help kids achieve their dreams in baseball.”