The Orlando Sentinel once again honors the best athletes, coaches, teams and all-sports programs with our 2021-22 Varsity Sports Awards presentation.
It commemorates a school year with record-shattering performances, surprise state champions and excellence in every sports season.
The five-county Orlando Sentinel coverage zone generated 20 FHSAA team titles, including Florida’s first official girls wrestling state championship team, Orange County’s first boys tennis championship team since 1935 and a No. 1 soccer squad that had zero seniors
They were accompanied by the area’s usual slew of individual titlists. That list includes a 12-time state swimming champion, one of the greatest distance runners in Florida history and a freshman phenom who excels in volleyball and track and field.
The Varsity Awards include top teams, players and coaches. The Varsity Cup countdown recognizes the area’s best overall all-sports programs for the 2021-22 school year. And the Bill Buchalter Spirit Award tells another heartwarming story of an athlete who overcame obstacles and inspired his school and community.
Last year, Caroline Wells earned 2021 Sentinel Girls Athlete of the Year after setting state records and taking home state championship hardware in cross country and track and field.
This year, it’s déjà vu.
A senior, Wells repeated as the Class 3A state champion in cross country in the fall and the 3A track champion in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs in the spring. That sweep makes her the repeat winner as Orlando area Girls Athlete of the Year and one of the all-time greats in Florida distance running.
Wells is the second two-time winner of this award, joining former Dr. Phillips multi-sport standout Hannah Schaible (2012 and 2013).
Admittedly, this season was tougher than last year for Wells. Injuries forced changes in her training routine during the track campaign.
“My legs haven’t been 100% fresh,” the Stanford signee said after winning her final high school race at the FHSAA finals in May. “Just to be able to push through this … this is what shows your heart.”
Wells had to revise her track training regimen under Winter Springs coach Ocky Clark. She focused on physical therapy between district, region and state meets without any running. Still, she gutted out repeat state meet victories in the 1,600 (4 minutes, 50.56 seconds) and the 3,200 (10:32.22) – where she trailed Lake Minneola senior Lily Henne for much of the way before rallying to win.
The state meet victories allowed Wells to end her high school career with a 41-race in-state winning streak in individual distance events. That dates 2½ years to her 2019 state runner-up finish as a sophomore.
She bypassed postseason national meets this summer to ready herself for college cross country.
As a junior Wells set state records for the 3,200 (10:08.77) and 5K (16:16.02) in national postseason meets. She carried that momentum into her senior year where she ran the fastest 5,000 cross country time in state history (16:40.20) and won the state championship race by more than 70 seconds. She was the repeat winner of the Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Cross Country award.
In four years at FHSAA swimming Class 4A state championship meets, there was one thing Dawson Joyce never experienced: the agony of defeat.
The Sanford Seminole senior finished first in all eight individual races he swam at the biggest high school meet of the year.
Joyce finished with 12 career state titles, including four relay wins. But it’s going 8-for-8 in individual finals that separate him from every other Central Florida swimmer. Joyce broke the area record of seven titles set by Lyman’s Alex Forbes (2002-05) and became only the second Florida boy to win eight consecutive individual finals since 1938.
The University of Florida signee won the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Swimming award as a junior and senior and is the 2021-22 Orlando Sentinel overall Boys Athlete of the Year.
Seminole coach Tony Ackerson called Joyce “the greatest Florida high school swimmer in the modern history of our sport.”
Joyce swam a state meet record 19.77-second time to win the 50-yard freestyle, breaking his own finals record from 2020. He later won the 100 free, where he set the FHSAA finals record (43.59) as a junior.
Joyce’s senior year was his most impressive season considering a big chunk of his offseason training was adjusted or missed because of an injury in the spring of 2021. While making a game-saving catch as a junior outfielder for Seminole’s baseball team, he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder – a body part that’s very important in swimming. It’s a soft tissue that attaches to the shoulder socket and helps keep the ball of the joint in place. He also was feeling pain in both knees prior to the state meet.
The changes and adjustments to the state champion’s regimen continued until his first race at district.
“The entire week before the district meet we shut him down totally to help him heal,” Ackerson said. “He was out of the water completely for six days, up until he warmed up for the meet.”
Just because Joyce was flawless for four years doesn’t mean he didn’t feel pressure, especially in his final state meet.
Said Joyce: “With the injuries and the pressure coming into [the state] meet, the pressure of never being beat in that pool, that was a lot.”
One criterion for the Sentinel’s Team of the Year is the historic nature of an accomplishment. For the Boys Team of the Year award that meant winning Orange County’s first title in a sport in more than 80 years.
This year’s Girls Team of the Year kind of did the opposite by becoming the first state championship crowned in a newly sanctioned sport, and doing it in style.
Freedom girls wrestling earned the 2022 honor thanks to a dominant effort in the inaugural Florida High School Athletic Association state finals at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. The Patriots piled up 142 points, more than twice as much as runner-up Ponte Vedra’s 67.
Coach David Bush was proud of how poised the girls were during such a historic event.
“They come into every tournament with pressure, and this week is a different atmosphere with the brighter lights and fans,” Bush said after his team clinched the title on Day 2 of state finals competition with one day remaining. “But pressure makes diamonds.”
Freedom athletic director Bobby Rego said the coaching staff, which included David’s brother, Mike, did more than assemble the first FHSAA state championship roster.
“They find kids in our hallways who often don’t know what they want to do and they recruit them to the wrestling team,” Rego said.
A big contribution came from Lynzie Doll, who coached the Freedom girls for five years before moving on to Limestone University. Doll spearheaded the push for the FHSAA to sanction the sport.
“We had a couple girls interested in wrestling, so we brought in Lynzie since she wrestled in college,” David Bush said. “She was deeply involved in attending meetings and talking to whoever she had to [at the FHSAA about approval for the sport].”
Rego added: “I’d like to believe our program really got it going.”
And that program will forever be known as the first sanctioned champion in FHSAA history.
When the Lake Nona boys tennis team defeated Miami Palmetto 4-2 for the Class 4A state team title, it culminated a four-year evolution for its coach and two seniors who were starters in 2019.
In the state final that year, the Lions lost to Palmetto with freshmen Harry Michalowski and Diego Martinez in the lineup. As seniors, they prevailed in a championship rematch.
In between, coach Tom Beard thought he had a championship-level team in 2020 before COVID-19 forced cancellation of Florida’s spring sports. That led to Beard stepping away from coaching to spend more time being a father.
He returned for the 2022 season and the rest is history. Lake Nona became the first Orange County school to win a boys tennis state title since 1935, making them the Sentinel Boys Team of the Year.
“At the time, we had no idea it had been so long since an Orlando tennis team had won it all,” Beard said. “We will do our best to not let it be another 80-plus years before it happens again.”
That optimism for the future is not just due to finally winning it all. At the first callout meeting, more than 100 boys and girls showed interest in playing with 80 returning for tryouts.
After settling on 24 players and four managers, Lake Nona’s boys and girls teams had undefeated regular seasons, won district titles and played for regional championships.
It wasn’t easy for the Lions to win that first Orange County title in 87 years. Out of the five singles and two doubles matches in the state final match, four were against state champion players and all six completed matches went to third-set tiebreakers.
Beard attributes the camaraderie within the program for its success.
“We have a boys team and a girls team, but we are one family,” he said. “That team-first attitude is one of the reasons we were able to win. They deserve all of this for all the work they did to accomplish it. I told them in November that we were here to win it all, and our boys team did it.”
Amy Geltz was already a legend in Bishop Moore and Orlando girls soccer lore.
She helped lead the Hornets to a pair of state titles and a state runner-up finish in her four years as a high school player (1988-91) while setting national scoring records for goals in a season (60 as a junior) and career (205). Geltz was a girls soccer All-American and earned Orange County Player of the Year all four years. She went on to play at UCF where she’s still top 10 in career scoring.
Her national scoring records were broken soon after she graduated, but Geltz’s loyalty and love for Bishop Moore never wavered as she returned as an assistant coach and took over as head coach for the past nine years.
Geltz was inducted into Bishop Moore Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994 with a plaque listing all of her accomplishments. It will need to be updated after she led the Hornets to the Class 3A state title with a 4-2 victory over Delray Beach American Heritage in late February. She was named Dairy Farmers of Florida Girls Soccer Coach of the Year and earned the Sentinel’s overall Girls Coach of the Year honor for 2021-22.
Geltz remains humble, giving credit to everyone else around her, including assistants Bobby Sauer and Emily Funston.
“I have some good coaches and the kids are very close and know how to fight through adversity,” she said. “They take ownership of everything going on with our team.”
There’s a good chance those players will get to earn more hardware next season since the Hornets had no seniors on the roster.
“They are still so young,” Geltz said. “They have learned from their mistakes and fight through things.”
Most of the same group experienced a long postseason run in 2021, losing to Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons in a shootout in the state final four. The Hornets are 35-7-3 during the past two seasons.
“It was a great process to watch them grow as the year progressed,” Geltz added. “The juniors were strong when they were freshmen and the growth over three years culminated in a state title.”
What makes a great high school coach?
Winning is usually the most obvious answer, but the coach should be developing players and helping the team as a whole get better. When the process of getting better helps a team win state championships, it’s a huge bonus.
Orlando Christian Prep boys basketball coach Treig Burke led the Warriors to the Class 2A state title with a 66-49 victory over Sagemont School (Weston). It’s OCP’s 10th title in 15 seasons, a first for Florida boys basketball.
OCP finished 26-4. All four of the losses came in the first half of the season against other state and nationally ranked teams.
“As the season went on, we kept getting better and better,” said senior A.J. Brown.
Brown, an Ohio University signee, and fellow senior Ven-Allen Lubin, a Notre Dame recruit, were four-year stalwarts on teams that went 105-12 with three straight state titles to end their careers. They’re also part of the reason Burke earned the Sentinel’s overall Boys Coach of the Year honor.
“Three-peat, that’s all we ever wanted,” Lubin said.
In a sport where transfers often tip the scales, OCP won its 2022 title with a starting five of returners. They all were developed by Burke and his staff and thrived in the system he emphasized in the locker room before the state final.
“All I asked is, ‘play tough, play together, give it your best,’” Burke said after the victory. “Selflessness and defense win championships.”
Burke should know as he became the second coach in state history to win five titles in six years. The other was the late Rex Morgan with Jacksonville Arlington Country Day with five consecutive 2A titles from 2005-09. Coincidentally, that streak ended in 2010 when OCP, coached by Reggie Kohn with Burke as an assistant, defeated the Apaches in a 2A state final.
Besides the postseason success, which includes 21 straight playoff wins since finishing state runner-up in 2019, the Warriors had won an Orlando-area record 48 consecutive games before a narrow loss to Olympia in the second game of the 2022 season.
Victoria Hill had a tough choice when it came to picking a sport at Trinity Prep.
Does she go with the one her parents thrived in and her brother, Isaac, competes in at Cardinal Stritch University?
Does she go with the one her sister, Samarah, plays at LSU?
Turns out she didn’t choose one or the other and that has worked out very well for one of Central Florida’s best young athletes.
In the fall, she shined in volleyball. Hill had 420 kills, 387 digs, 32 blocks and 29 aces and was the only ninth-grader selected to the Sentinel All-Area Team.
In the spring, she competed in track and field and advanced to the Class 2A state finals for the second straight season. Hill won state titles in the long jump with an area-best mark of 19 feet, 0 inches and triple jump with a leap of 38-10½ and was named to another Sentinel All-Area Team.
Those accomplishments make her the Girls Breakout Athlete of the Year.
“I wanted to be like my sister playing volleyball,” Hill said. “We practiced in the backyard and I liked it, so I joined a team. I also saw videos of my parents in college competing in track and hearing all of their track stories made me want to try it because I thought it would be fun.”
Victoria’s parents are her jumps coaches at Trinity Prep with the resume to back it up. Sam and Sarah Hill competed at Arkansas State University. Sam won a national title in the high jump and Sarah competed in the same two events Victoria won at state.
“Thanks to volleyball, she’s gotten taller and stronger,” Sarah said of her daughter. “The time commitment is tough with school, [club volleyball] and track in the spring. But she’s well-rounded using muscles in two sports that complement each other.”
Said Victoria: “Having Mom and Dad as my track coaches is a privilege. Sometimes it can be hard because they know me so well and know if I’m slacking. They push me harder than anyone else would.”
Before Foundation Academy’s baseball season, Braden Holcomb wasn’t very optimistic.
After all, a new coach in Jay Welsh had arrived and Holcomb’s first two years of high school ball weren’t memorable.
“I was a little skeptical about all the changes happening for the baseball program, and the last few years the program had really struggled. So I didn’t know what to think at the beginning of the year,” Holcomb said.
Once Welsh sat down with Holcomb and set out a plan, the longtime travel ball standout changed his tune when it came to high school competition.
“I told Braden that for us to go deep in the postseason, we were going to need him to carry us,” Welsh said. “His attitude changed, he embraced high school baseball and he was on fire from April on.”
The explosion on the field led the Lions to the Class 2A state semifinals for the first time. Holcomb, regarded as one of the nation’s top 2023 prospects, is the Sentinel Boys Breakout Athlete of the Year.
His hot streak the last two months of the season led to finishing with a .537 batting average, 8 home runs, 26 RBI, 32 runs scored and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.588. Welsh also hoped the 6-4, 215-pound junior would embrace a leadership role, and that happened.
“I began to realize our team had a crazy amount of talent, a great coaching staff, and that we could go very far,” Holcomb said. “The only thing I thought we were missing was a leader on the team, so I told myself I was going to be that guy.”
Holcomb also excelled in football and basketball for Foundation early in his high school days, but his future is brightest in baseball.
“I’ve been fortunate to coach five guys who went on to play in the Majors and I think Braden has more talent than any of them,” Welsh said.
Between his time in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida, there were former Major Leaguers Dave Telgheder and Gary Disarcina, and current players Adam Haseley (White Sox), Nick Fortes (Marlins) and Brendan Rodgers (Rockies).
The recipient of the 2022 Bill Buchalter Spirit Award, Justin Williams, was born with Apert syndrome, which impacted the development of his head, hands and feet and required more surgeries than he can count. He still managed to play basketball for Foundation Academy and was an inspiration for his teammates, school and community.
A stellar spring season, with its lacrosse, water polo and girls tennis teams excelling, led Lake Mary to the Varsity Cup all-sports championship for the 2021-22 school year.
The Rams, a consistent contender for Super Six acclaim, climbed to the top of the all-sports mountain for the second time in the 23-year history of the award, which recognizes overall excellence by athletic programs in the Orlando Sentinel coverage area.
The Rams, runners-up a year ago, outscored another perennial all-sports power, Bishop Moore, to win the Cup. A very tight race determined the next four slots in the Super Six.
The hefty Varsity Cup traveling trophy will move from 2021-22 winner Winter Park to Lake Mary. The Rams also will receive a smaller version of the Cup that can be on permanent display.
The Sentinel Super Six schools are determined by a points system that encompasses all 31 sports sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association:
1. Lake Mary (207.5 points)
Lake Mary, No. 2 to Winter Park a year ago and also runner-up in 2017-18, also won the Cup in 2004-05. The Rams’ tradition-rich girls golf program captured its sixth championship in 10 seasons and competitive cheer was a state champ for the sixth consecutive year. Lake Mary was ranked No. 1 in the area in boys lacrosse (19-3); No. 2 in boys and girls golf and girls tennis (14-1); and No. 3 in football (10-2) and boys volleyball (27-2); and top six in girls soccer, boys water polo and girls water polo.
2. Bishop Moore (191.25)
The Hornets, runners-up in the FHSAA Class 5A all-sports standings, made another run at the Varsity Cup before settling for second for the fourth time (2001, 2016 and 2017). Bishop Moore’s state championship girls soccer team was No. 1 in the area and state runner-up boys soccer also was No. 1. Competitive cheer and girls basketball were state runners-up and girls volleyball was a final four team. Hornets had nine district title teams.
3. Hagerty (189)
The Huskies recorded their highest finish after sixth-place showings in 2013 and 2019. Hagerty claimed a competitive cheerleading state championship and added region titles in baseball and beach volleyball. Ten teams were in Super Six or Super 16 rankings, with beach volleyball No. 1, softball No. 2, and wrestling, girls soccer and girls lacrosse No. 3. Hagerty claimed eight Seminole Athletic Conference team titles and won the SAC all-sports title.
4. Lake Brantley (183)
The Patriots wrapped up their second straight fourth-place finish with a state runner-up girls softball season. They had 11 teams ranked in Sentinel Super Six or Super 16 rankings, tied for best in the area. Lake Brantley was No. 1 in the area in softball, and No. 2 in boys swimming, girls volleyball, girls soccer and baseball. Its boys volleyball and girls swim teams were No. 4. District title teams included boys basketball, boys soccer and both water polo teams.
5. Windermere (182.5)
The Wolverines, in their sixth year of existence, are a Super Six all-sports program for the second time (third place in 2020). A state runner-up girls volleyball team and 25-4 baseball team led the way. Both were area No. 1 as was boys golf. Windermere won the Metro Conference all-sports title for Orange County Public Schools after claiming 12 conference team titles. Strong sports included girls swimming along with boys weightlifting, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball.
6. Winter Park (180.5)
The Wildcats won the boys volleyball state championship and were a state runner-up in girls water polo and competitive cheer. They racked up nine district titles and five region championships to continue their streak as the only school to be in the Super Six every year since the award was created in 1999-2000. Girls swimming joined boys volleyball as No. 1 teams in the area. Winter Park holds the record with 14 Varsity Cup titles, including 2020-21.
Rest of Sentinel Super 16
7. Lake Highland Prep (170.75)
State champs in girls basketball and girls lacrosse; area No. 1 in boys basketball, 11-0 in football.
8. Dr. Phillips (166)
State champ girls basketball; state runners-up teams in boys water polo and boys basketball.
9. Lake Nona (157.5)
Undefeated state title teams in girls water polo and boys tennis. Girls tennis was area No. 1.
10. Oviedo (134.25)
Tied Lake Brantley for area lead with 11 teams ranked in Sentinel Super Six or Super 16 rankings.
11. Timber Creek (129.5)
Balanced program owned area’s No. 1 girls bowling team and ranked No. 2 in girls wrestling.
12. Apopka (116.75)
State runner-up football was area No. 1. No. 2 boys bowling finished fourth at state tournament.
13. Montverde Academy (113.5)
Track and field state champ boys and runner-up girls. Top Eagles sports don’t compete in FHSAA playoffs.
14. The First Academy (92.5)
Royals led by state champ girls softball team and region title boys golf and girls tennis teams.
15. Sanford Seminole (88.75)
Area No. 2 football team lost overtime region final vs. Apopka. Boys track and field was strong.
16. Trinity Prep (85)
Saints were area No. 2 in boys tennis and No. 3 in boys swimming. Edged Boone (80.5) for final slot.
About the Varsity Cup: The Sentinel Super Six all-sports compilation dates to the 1999-2000 school year, when Winter Park was the inaugural winner. The Varsity Cup trophy was created in 2004.
The all-sports formula awards points to teams ranked in the Sentinel’s final Super Six and Super 16 rankings for each sport and combines those with all-sports points the FHSAA compiles. The FHSAA counts are based on top 16 finishes in each sport, by classification, with bonus points for district and region titles.
The Sentinel coverage area includes high schools in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake counties and schools in Southwest Volusia.
The Orlando area players of the year by sport for the 2021-22 school year. Athletes are selected by the SentinelVarsity.com staff in consultation with coaches.
Football offense: Cedric Baxter Jr., Edgewater, Jr.
Football defense: Demari and Ja’Cari Henderson, Seminole, Srs.
Football Iron Man: Eddie Kelly, West Orange, Sr.
Girls bowling: Payton Vogel, Cypress Creek, Sr.
Boys bowling: Malek Taylor, Apopka, Jr. .
Girls cross country: Caroline Wells, Winter Springs, Sr.
Boys cross country: Nick Carpenter, Trinity Prep, Sr.
Girls golf: Izzy Pellot, Lake Mary, Sr.
Boys golf: Luke Poulter, Circle Christiann, Sr.
Girls swimming: Jordan Agliano, Lake Nona, Sr.
Boys swimming: Dawson Joyce, Seminole, Sr.
Girls volleyball: Ana Bleeker, Windermere, Sr.
Girls basketball: Nyla Harris, Lake Highland Prep, Sr.
Boys basketball: Brice Sensabaugh, Lake Highland Prep, Sr.
Girls soccer: Madison Jones, Lake Brantley, Sr.
Boys soccer: Omar Rivera, Bishop Moore, Sr
Girls weightlifting: Jillian Vinci, Winter Springs, Sr.
Boys wrestling: Cooper Haase, Osceola, Sr.
Girls wrestling: Kailey Rees, Freedom, Sr.
Baseball: Ben Barrett, The First Academy, Sr.
Girls beach volleyball: Cambrie Riffe, West Orange, Sr.
Flag football: Jamiyah Coleman, Jones, Sr.
Girls lacrosse: Jacqueline Jaskiewicz, Lake Highland Prep, Sr.
Boys lacrosse: Lawton Dowdell, Winter Park, Sr.
Softball: Hannah Marien, Lake Brantley, Sr.
Girls tennis: Alyssa Novoa, Apopka, So.
Boys tennis: Harrison Michalowski, Lake Nona, Sr.
Girls track and field: Caroline Wells, Winter Springs, Sr.
Boys track and field: Brayden Seymour, Hagerty, Jr.
Boys volleyball: Ryan Peluso, Winter Park, Sr.
Boys water polo: Sam Collingwood, Dr. Phillips, Jr..
Girls water polo: Emily Scheerer, Lake Nona, Jr.
Boys weightlifting: Julian Sykes, St. Cloud, Sr.
Here are No. 1 teams in the final 2021-22 Sentinel Super 16 and Super Six rankings. The SentinelVarsity.com staff ranks teams for 31 sports during the school year (*denotes state title teams).
Girls bowling: Timber Creek
Boys bowling: Leesburg*
Girls cross country: Circle Christian
Boys cross country: Circle Christian
Girls golf: Windermere Prep*
Boys golf: Windermere
Girls swimming: Oviedo
Boys swimming: Winter Park
Girls volleyball: Windermere High
Girls basketball: Lake Highland Prep*
Boys basketball: Lake Highland Prep
Girls soccer: Bishop Moore*
Boys soccer: Bishop Moore
Girls weightlifting: Winter Springs
Boys wrestling: Kissimmee Osceola
Girls wrestling: Freedom*
Baseball: Windermere High
Girls beach volleyball: Hagerty
Flag football: Apopka
Girls lacrosse: Lake Highland Prep*
Boys lacrosse: Lake Mary
Softball: Lake Brantley
Girls tennis: Lake Nona
Boys tennis: Lake Nona*
Girls track and field: Montverde Academy
Boys track and field: Montverde Academy*
Boys volleyball: Winter Park*
Boys water polo: Dr. Phillips
Girls water polo: Lake Nona*
Boys weightlifting: St. Cloud
Orlando area teams that won FHSAA state championships in the 2021-22 school year:
Lake Mary girls golf (3A)
Leesburg boys bowling (one class)
Freedom girls wrestling (one class)
Foundation Academy competitive cheer
Hagerty competitive cheer
Lake Mary competitive cheer
West Orange competitive cheer
Sentinel Sports Final
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Lake Nona girls water polo (one class)
Winter Park boys volleyball (one class)