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Rising to the Occasion

Braden Holcomb, Foundation Academy baseball

A senior shortstop/third baseman who will also see time in center field this season, Holcomb has been a difference-maker in Foundation’s lineup throughout his career and hit .537 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs last year. He is committed to Vanderbilt but is drawing serious interest from MLB teams as well.

OFM: Is it weird to be heading into your final season at Foundation?

BH: It is a little weird but at the same time it feels like I’ve been here forever, so it does feel like it’s time. It is crazy that I’m actually a senior now.

OFM: Do you have any particular goals in mind for you and the team?

BH: For me personally, it’s really to just keep performing like I have throughout my years at Foundation, be the best player I can be and the best leader I can be. I try not to worry about numbers or anything like that. If I play my game, the numbers will be there. For the team, we went to the state semifinal last year and lost 4-2 in a really tough game to one of the best teams in the state, Miami Christian. I think we’ve gotten better since last year—we’ve added a few people and guys have gotten better—so I really think we should make another run at states and hopefully win it this year.

OFM: Are you playing third or short?

BH: I’m actually going to be playing a lot of center field and probably a little bit of shortstop. I think it’s better for the team to put me in center because I can go track down the ball and eliminate a lot of chaos in the outfield. I can take control out there and kind of roam around. We have a solid infield so it doesn’t hurt us moving me. I’ve been playing infield my whole life and I haven’t shown anything in the outfield, so I’m trying to prove that I can play outfield too.

OFM: I’m sure that versatility will help you down the line in the college or pro game.

BH: Yeah, it will definitely show one, how athletic I am, and two that I can play anywhere on the field really.

OFM: Do you have a favorite position?

BH: Center field can be fun at times but it can also be not nearly as fun as the other positions. It just depends on the game. Shortstop is probably my favorite and the one I’ve played the most. The best players on the field usually play shortstop and center field, so those are probably my two favorite.

OFM: How are you approaching the MLB draft? Are you trying not to think about it? Do you feel pressure because of it?

BH: No, I don’t feel pressure. I’ve got a great opportunity if I perform well and I think things will work out with the draft. If they don’t, I have a great backup plan in Vanderbilt and I am more than willing to go there. I know how they run things there and I know it will make me way better going through that program. They’ve produced some of the best players coming out of college baseball. I’m up for either, so I don’t let it affect me.

OFM: You committed pretty early to Vanderbilt, right?

BH: I committed in the fall of my freshman year, so just coming out of my eighth grade summer.

OFM: Like you said, they’ve produced great players and the program’s reputation speaks for itself, but Vanderbilt is also a great school academically. Did that play a big part in your decision?

BH: Of course. Not only do you get to become a better baseball player at one of the best programs in the country and the guys on Vanderbilt’s team are great young men, but you also get a Vanderbilt diploma which you can do a lot of great things with if baseball doesn’t work out.

OFM: Have you grown up dreaming about playing in the big leagues?

BH: I think anybody who pursues baseball like I have, that’s the end goal. Only a tiny percentage get to actually achieve that goal, so me getting a chance to achieve something I’ve wanted to do for so long is a real blessing. I know I have a great opportunity.

OFM: Do you have a favorite MLB team?

BH: Not really. I don’t have favorite pro teams, I just like to watch players. I am a Buffalo Bills fan in football, but as far as baseball I don’t have a favorite team, I just like players.

OFM: So who are your guys?

BH: I really like the young guys who are coming up in the game now. They’re fun to watch and super talented: Ronald Acuna is one of them, [Fernando] Tatis when he’s healthy, Jazz Chisholm is fun to watch, Mike Trout has always been one of my favorites, and Tim Anderson is another.

OFM: You’re a big righthanded hitter just like Trout.

BH: Yeah, and hopefully the move to center field can show there are a lot of similarities.

OFM: Have you gotten to play in any big-league parks?

BH: Yes, I have. Over the summer I got to play in the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium, Dodger Stadium, the D’backs’ stadium and the Rays’ stadium. It’s just like any other baseball game, honestly, except the field is a lot nicer. The stands at these events weren’t crazy packed like a pro game, so I can imagine that can affect you. But as far as my experiences, it was just like a normal baseball game.

OFM: Is there a park you haven’t been to that you would love to play in?

BH: I’ve always loved Pittsburgh’s stadium and then Yankee Stadium. Those would be the two top choices. Wrigley would be cool too with all of the history.

OFM: So you still played basketball for Foundation this year and up until last year you were on the football team. Why was it important to you to still play those other sports when you knew your future was in baseball?

BH: I’m still a high schooler and technically I’m still a kid. … People ask me why I still play other sports when I’m risking my baseball career, but I don’t like to think about it that way. I’ve grown up playing all three of them and I love all three of them. Obviously, I love baseball a little more than the other two, but I just love to play all three and I love to show that I’m not just a baseball player, I’m an athlete. People don’t realize that other sports like football and basketball help you in baseball, and not even physically but mentally.

OFM: What other hobbies do you have other than playing sports?

BH: I don’t have a ton of free time but I like to hang out with my friends and maybe go fishing or go on the lake. But most of my free time is spent working on baseball.

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

BH: Yes, I have. I grew up in the Panhandle of Florida in Destin for the first 13 or 14 years of my life, and then I moved to Orlando and I’ve been here ever since. Orlando offered me so many different things. The baseball here is so much better and athletics in general are better here. It was a great move for me on that side. There’s a lot more stuff to do here in Orlando. I used to live in a small town so this offered me more culture and things to do.

OFM: What’s it like going to school where your mom works as the assistant athletic director?

BH: What’s crazy is that she was actually a PE teacher at my old school back in Destin. She was there from the time I got to campus there and now she’s been at Foundation ever since I came here. So she’s always been on campus with me and it’s cool. She finds out [if I get in any trouble] in about 30 seconds.

OFM: Has it been a positive experience overall to attend Foundation?

BH: Yes, it has been. The school offers a lot of great things. It’s a very good environment for learning, the teachers here really love you and will do anything to make sure you’re doing well in your classes. In public school where there’s a lot more people you don’t get as much attention. Foundation just does it right and there are a lot of good kids here.


Robert Cole Corado, Winter Park boys volleyball

Corado, a senior, played a major role in Winter Park’s march to its first state championship last year, contributing at both setter and outside hitter. He recorded 367 assists, 174 kills and 116 digs to help the Wildcats finish with a 28-3 record. One in a set of triplets, his brother Dickson is also a key player for Winter Park and his sister Merrell is part of the girls program.

OFM: Last year was a special season for the team, of course highlighted by the program’s first-ever state championship. What stands out the most when you look back on the journey?

RCC: The season was just great, from the start to the end. I remember our first two games of preseason, we lost to Cardinal Gibbons and Freedom, who we eventually ended up beating on the final day at states. So it kind of came full circle. What stands out is the family that we created within the team, from the players to the coaches. At practices and games we worked hard and were there for each other and supported each other, and the whole season was just fantastic. It’s definitely something I’ll always remember.

OFM: Did you go into that season expecting to contend for a state title?

RCC: Yeah, I was pretty confident at the beginning of the season. If anybody ever asked if we were going to win states, I would say yes. It wasn’t an egotistical thing, I just knew the ability we had on our team and if we could put it together at the right time then we would have a good shot. Fortunately, come the last two days of the state tournament we were able to put everything together and have a couple of awesome matches and win.

OFM: When did you start playing volleyball?

RCC: I think I was in seventh grade. My mom got me into it. She was a volleyball coach for my sister at a local club and they were starting a boys team with an ex-college player who is still currently my coach. So they put a team together and that’s how I started, with my brother and a few other guys. There were six guys on last year’s high school team who all started at the same club when we were younger, so it was cool to play one final season with the guys we started the journey with in club volleyball.

OFM: Were you always a setter?

RCC: Yes, I grew up setting and that was always my position. Having Ryan and everyone last year who could play multiple positions, it allowed me to be able to hit sometimes but also to stay and set too.

OFM: It’s such an important role and requires chemistry with the hitters. Is that something that comes naturally to you?

RCC: For sure. Because I’ve played sports for so long and I’ve played soccer my whole life, being able to lead a group of guys comes naturally to me. Luckily, that’s a good quality I have. Being a setter has allowed me to understand what I need to do for myself and also how I can help my hitters to be the best they can.

OFM: You mentioned getting a chance to hit last year, and you finished with quite a few kills. Was it gratifying to contribute in a different way?

RCC: Of course. Any time I can do something new and excel at it, it’s always great. I was fortunate to have someone like Ryan who could be our second setter, so I was always given a pretty good delivery and being put in decent spots. To be able to help the team is always great, especially since setting can get tedious—you kind of just push the ball to someone else and let them make a highlight play. When it flips around to you and now you’re the one hitting the ball as hard as you can and scoring points for your team, it becomes rewarding.

OFM: Are you setting this year or moving to hitter full-time?

RCC: I think I’m going to hit. I might set a little bit but we have a pretty good kid who was on our team last year as a freshman and played in the back row. I think he’s going to take the reins and I’ll play outside and hit for a majority of the time.

OFM: With Ryan graduating, that leaves a big hole at hitter.

RCC: Of course. We lost four starters: Andrew [Webb] on the outside, Dylan [Clunan] at libero, John Michael [Mazzotti] in the middle and obviously Ryan [Peluso], who set and hit on the outside. Everybody was a big contributor and was a vital part of the team. But one thing that’s going to help us a lot this year is our depth. We had a lot of depth last year … and this year we have younger kids who are getting more mature and are going to really help us. So hopefully we can go win another state championship and go back to back.

OFM: What’s it like growing up as a triplet?

RCC: It’s always been competitive but my brother didn’t really take up sports until late. … It’s always been fun, especially now, to have someone you can say, “Hey, do you want to go train?” Then we can go pepper or play some beach. So it’s been good.

OFM: Aside from sports, are you all close with each other and get along for the most part?

RCC: Yes, I would say we’re all pretty close. … If any of us ever needed anything, we’re there for each other and always by each other’s side. I’ve been fortunate to have them and I think we’ve all been fortunate to be in a household that allows us to individually be ourselves but has taught us to be there for each other.

OFM: I know you’re also a standout soccer player. Is that the sport you’re going to focus on in college?

RCC: That’s the plan. I’m still undecided but I have three offers and I’m probably about to get my fourth, so it’s just going to come down to where I want to go. [I’m looking at] academics mostly, and obviously the quality of play is important. But at the end of the day, what’s on my diploma is going to be more important that my resume from playing. I know the likelihood of me going pro is not high, and also that’s not something I would necessarily want to entertain. So I’m looking for a school that will push me academically and set me up to be successful after college.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study?

RCC: I want to study business and entrepreneurship but also I would not mind doing pre-med. It depends on the school I go to. There is one school I’m looking at right now that I would go entrepreneurship, but another that I would go pre-med.

OFM: How long have you lived in Florida?

RCC: I was born here in Winter Park. The community has been great, and getting to know everybody and having a support system outside of your family in the town has been fantastic. My friends are fantastic too. My grandfather started a community bank here 20 years ago that my dad now is a part of, and I’ve interned there. It’s allowed them to create lasting relationships with a lot of people in town and it’s allowed me to know a lot of people. Also, my mom has worked for the mayor of Winter Park, so I’ve been able to meet a lot of people and some of my best friends are from here.

OFM: What do you do for fun aside from soccer and volleyball?

RCC: I love to hang out with friends and we normally go to play pickleball or golf. We also do a lot of boating and we’ll go wakesurfing. I love to be on the water and be outdoors and be with my friends.


Ava Wyant, The Master’s Academy girls track

Wyant, a junior, is coming off a memorable sophomore season in which she placed third in the 1600 meters at the 1A state meet with a time of 4:53, a time that ranked 10th nationally in her class. She also clocked a 2:18 in the 800 to take fifth at states, and closed the spring season by running 2:13 in the 800 at Music City in Nashville.

OFM: Looking back on last year, how did you feel about your performance at states, particularly in the mile?

AW: I was incredibly happy with my performance at states. Going into the [1600] I was experiencing a handful of emotions, ranging from extreme excitement to extreme nerves. My goal going into the race was to go sub-5, and beforehand I had some really hard workouts leading up to states that kind of confirmed my pacing. So I just kept telling myself, “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.” That was a big part of pushing me through it. I was going against two nationally ranked seniors, and I decided that in order to go sub-5, I needed to pace off of them. It’s funny, I remember the pain and pure exhaustion I felt going into the last 200 meters, and that’s when the two top runners broke away from me. But I could hear my team in the stands cheering me on and that helped me finish the last 200 strong. I ended up running a 4:53 and taking third place, and it was definitely a moment that I will never forget. Even to this day, before tough races I try to rewatch the footage to remind myself of what I’m capable of, and it helps motivate me.

OFM: Do you like the mile better than the 800?

AW: I get asked that question a lot and honestly I love both of them equally. I also do the 4×8 and the 4×4.

OFM: What goals do you have for this season for yourself and the team?

AW: I really want to focus on enjoying the season and just having fun. A main thing I really want to work on is focusing on the process goals rather than the outcome goals. That’s the buildup: taking practice seriously and working on the process because the process is how you get those outcome goals. One thing I always say is I want to work on getting comfortable in the uncomfortable, and of course that also means taking my recovery day seriously and making sure that I’m getting a good amount of rest. My parents always say that I need to control the controllable, which is something I’m working on. Of course I do have specific goals that I’ve talked over with my coaches and I’m looking forward to hopefully hitting those this year. For the team, I feel like we’ll have a competitive 4×4 and 4×8 team, and encouraging each other and becoming close is a really big thing.

OFM: How did you get into distance running in the first place?

AW: I actually started cross country and track and field in the sixth grade. My primary sport at that time was soccer; I started playing soccer at a very young age and I was a part of club teams until I moved to Orlando. It’s funny, I decided to join the cross country team to stay in shape for soccer, and after my first cross country season I fell in love with the sport and that spring I decided to try out for track. I ended up having a pretty successful middle school season and I was brought up to varsity my sixth grade year. I ran the third leg of the 4×8 and I also ran the 3200. After that, I’ve been hooked and I’ve done it every year. I feel like each year, I start to love the sport even more.

OFM: How do you prepare for a big race—do you have any certain rituals?

AW: Before big races, I like to take time to myself and kind of be alone. It gives me time to think and visualize the race coming up. I try focusing on deep breathing, because that’s what you’re doing in the race—focusing on getting those deep breaths in. … I also read over a paper that I have; I call it my confidence vault and it’s a paper where I have a bunch of encouraging things to motivate me and give me confidence going into the race. Then I take time to roll, stretch and of course I do a warmup run where I’m listening to my track playlist and getting in the right mindset. I also take time to pray and lift up my race to Christ, because that’s the major part of my ritual. There can be a lot of nervousness and anxiety before races so I always repeat the phrase, “Stress is opportunity,” and that’s what drives me to move forward.

OFM: What’s on the track playlist?

AW: I would say the two major songs are “Unstoppable” by Sia—I love that one—and “Champion” by Carrie Underwood.

OFM: Have you started thinking about college yet?

AW: Yes. I definitely want to continue my running career in college and I have a list of my top five schools that I’m interested in. It’s exciting because I’ve been talking to my top two schools since the summer. … I’m just really thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to hopefully continue my career in college.

OFM: Are you looking for a certain academic program or a certain location in a college?

AW: I haven’t decided on what field I want to study yet, but higher education is definitely important to me. Right now I’m leaning toward business or sports medicine. As for location, somewhere warm would be ideal, and I of course want to choose a college with a competitive cross country and track team, and a coach I can trust and communicate with. The team aspect is also super important, so I’m looking for a team that is supportive, encouraging and uplifting.

OFM: Where did you live before moving to Orlando?

AW: I was born in Maryland and I moved to Orlando in first grade. Then in third grade I moved to Jupiter, and going into sixth grade I moved back to Orlando.

OFM: What do you like about growing up in Central Florida?

AW: I feel like I’m at a really good school and I have a good group of friends that I can rely on. Central Florida is my home, I’ve been here the longest.

OFM: What are your hobbies aside from running?

AW: When I’m not running, I love spending time with my family and friends. I go snowboarding one or two times a year and that’s always super fun. I love biking, swimming and I also love weightlifting.

OFM: What do you like about going to school at The Master’s Academy?

AW: I really enjoy the Christian-centered education at my school. There are so many different programs you can join at TMA, like a program I’m part of called Catalyst. We are called to go the second mile and we launch outreach programs to aid our students in the community around us. There’s another program I’m in that’s a mentoring program for middle school students, and I love that. I have one student I meet with every week, and I help her handle the challenges of middle school and prepare for high school along with discussing personal matters at heart and helping her with balancing school and athletics. I feel like The Master’s Program has so many different opportunities.

OFM: What’s it like having your mom Lauren as your track coach?

AW: [Laughs] So many people ask me this question. I love my mom being my head coach, and my dad [Evan] is actually my high jump coach as well. It’s one big, happy track family. I’m an only child so I like to say I’m exceptionally close to my parents. It’s fun having both of them there, and my mom is a fantastic head coach who is extremely encouraging, caring and hardworking. She makes sure that everyone on our team is loved and cherished and I love that about her. She has a large coaching staff that supports her, so she’s able to wear multiple hats at once. I believe track is a brutal sport that is demanding and tiring, but she finds a way to build our community and she makes it fun. I also have my long distance coach who is my cross country coach. He works with me directly and he programs my workouts, so I have to give a shoutout to him. His named is coach [Chris] Lipscomb and he’s become like family too.


Jackson Bennett, Windermere Prep boys lacrosse

The all-time leading scorer in school history with his senior season still to come, Bennett had 63 goals, 25 assists and a 68% faceoff percentage last year as the Lakers captured their first-ever district championship. Also a standout running back in the fall with a litany of school records, he will focus on football at Brown University.

OFM: Is it weird to think this is your final season of high school sports?

JB: It is really weird to think about, especially for lacrosse, because after I moved down here from Maryland I actually started playing on the varsity team at Windermere Prep in seventh grade. So this is my sixth year on the lacrosse team. All the guys who graduated before me always said how fast it goes and I never really believed it, but of course now that I’m in this position it’s really weird to think this is the last season.

OFM: Since you’ll be focusing on football in college, this is also the end of your lacrosse career.

JB: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been playing it since I was 4 years old, so to think that this is the last time I’ll be playing hasn’t hit me yet. I feel like it will at a certain point, it just hasn’t happened yet.

OFM: You come from a lacrosse family, right?

JB: Yes. My dad played in high school at Calvert Hall, which is one of the best teams in the country, and both of my sisters played college lacrosse. They all encouraged me to play, and growing up in Baltimore, everyone around me was playing it. It was kind of hard not to get into lacrosse.

OFM: Do you have any particular goals in mind for yourself or the team?

JB: We won the first district championship in school history last year, so our goal is to get back, repeat and hopefully go further than we did last year. I broke most of my personal goals last year, so I just want to get better and finish off with a great season.

OFM: Do you know what your career totals are entering your senior season?

JB: When I broke it, I believe 230 points was the record, and I believe I’m six points off of 300 right now, so I’m almost at that milestone.

OFM: I know you’re strong on faceoffs as well, which is such an important part of the game. What does it take so succeed on faceoffs?

JB: I just think to be a good faceoff guy you have to know what you’re good at and use it to your advantage. Some guys are really quick and some guys are good at guessing the whistle and going as soon as it blows. I know what I’m good at and that’s mostly power, so I’m able to use that. Guys might be faster than me, but if they get the clamp down I know that I can power it out of their clamp. It’s just understanding what you’re good at and mastering that part of your game.

OFM: Is it rare for a faceoff guy to stay on the field and play as much as you do?

JB: Yeah, usually a lot of the better teams we play have a FOGO who will get the faceoff and get off. I’m usually the only faceoff guys who ends up staying on the entire game. Most of them I’ll only see for a couple plays out of the full 48 minutes.

OFM: Are you used to being an iron man from football?

JB: [Laughs]. Yeah, I’ve been starting on both sides for four years now, so it’s something I’ve been getting used to in all of my sports.

OFM: Did you always know you wanted to focus on football in college, or was there a time you thought maybe lacrosse was the way to go?

JB: As long as I can remember, my goal was to play college football. I’m not really sure why, to be honest. My dad played college football so that could be a part of it. It’s always been my goal to play Division I college football and that’s never really changed.

OFM: What led you to Brown?

JB: One thing that made it different from all of the other programs was my relationship with the coaching staff, especially my future position coach [Willie Edwards]. In the recruiting process, a lot of things are said and a lot of promises are made, but throughout the whole process Coach Edwards stuck to his word and did exactly what he told me he was going to do. Meeting him and the rest of the coaches, they were so encouraging and supportive of everything I did. That made it hard not to love a place like that, how much they supported me as a person and a player.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study?

JB: I’m not 100% sure but I’m thinking about a double major in computer science and finance. On my official visit, I stayed with a player host who was able to walk me through what he does, and he’s a double major in economics and computer science, so I was able to learn a lot from him about what it’s like. It’s something I’d like to get into and something I think I’ll be able to do.

OFM: Had you ever been to Providence before? What kind of connection did you have with the city?

JB: My first time in Providence was my first time visiting Brown and I think it was for camp. I had never heard anything about it, but it’s an amazing city. Some people think because Rhode Island is such a small state they don’t have much to do, but it’s not what you would expect at all. It’s a very big city, it’s got a little bit of everything, and it has more than you could possibly think of doing. When I visited, it just solidified my decision that it’s a place I want to be.

OFM: Since you grew up in Maryland until seventh grade, are you prepared for going back to the cold weather in Rhode Island?

JB: Oh yeah, I miss the cold and I’m ready to get back to it. It’s 84 degrees here today in February, so I have to get away from it.

OFM: What have you enjoyed about living in Florida?

JB: I believe that if I didn’t move here to Florida, some of the opportunities that presented themselves might not have happened. The school I’m at has a great reputation and I think that played a role in the [college] opportunities I had. The people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made have made the process so much easier. I’m very thankful for moving here and I think it opened so many doors that wouldn’t have been opened if I stayed in Baltimore.

OFM: Do you ever visit Baltimore?

JB: I do. All of my family is still there, so whenever I can I like to go back and visit. Sometimes they come to visit me and watch my games. We’re a big Ravens family.

OFM: What else do you do for fun aside from sports?

JB: If I’m not playing sports, I’m either hanging out with my friends or playing video games. Madden would probably be my favorite.


Olivia Miller, Bishop Moore softball

A senior lefthanded pitcher with more than 500 career strikeouts and counting—a school record—Moore led the Hornets to a 16-11 record and a berth in the regional semifinals last year. Also a key part of the lineup, she is poised for a monster final season before moving on to Ole Miss.

OFM: It must be strange that your senior season is here. What are your goals for yourself and the team?

OM: Yes sir, it is. I’m excited though. I just want the team to feel accepted and I want us to be able to win districts this year, because we haven’t been able to win in three years. I just want to make a name for myself at this school and show everyone what I can do.

OFM: Were you happy with last year’s playoff run?

OM: Yes, but we weren’t able to win districts because we ran into the hardest team we’ve ever faced [Eustis]. But we changed districts this year so we should have a pretty good chance.

OFM: Eustis has developed into a big rival, right?

OM: Yes sir. I absolutely want to destroy that team every time we play them. I have no doubt in my mind that we can beat them. Nobody knows who we can be, but if we don’t psych ourselves out and we beat that team, we can be unstoppable.

OFM: You’re a captain again this year after serving in that capacity last season. Is that a role you take seriously?

OM: Yes sir, 100%. I make sure their attitudes are always uplifting and positive. If one girl is being rude to another, I shut it down immediately, because that’s not how you build a team, that’s how you destroy a team. I make sure if there is criticism, we do it in a [friendly] way instead of just telling someone what to do. I care about this team so much and I’ve spent the last three years pouring all of my energy into it. This year feels different. I’ve said that for the last three years, but this is my senior year and I want to go out with a bang.

OFM: Does it mean a lot to you to have the school strikeout record?

OM: Wherever I go, I always try to be the best they’ve ever had. Riley Oakes was the best before I got here, and I’ve wanted to be the best since I got here my freshman year.

OFM: Were you always a pitcher?

OM: When I was in rec ball I played third, then first, and I started pitching when I was 7. It changes the game. Once you have the game in your control, it gives you a different mentality.

OFM: How many pitches do you have?

OM: I have six pitches. I love my curveball, that’s my best pitch. I’m trying to make my riseball break more, because right now it’s just a high fastball. If it breaks more at that velocity, it can be unstoppable.

OFM: What has enabled you to become a Division I pitcher?

OM: I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I put every second and every ounce of energy into playing softball and pitching. Honestly, if I was doing something else, I don’t think I would feel like myself. Softball is my No. 1 sport and I don’t have time for anything else.

OFM: You’re also a really good hitter too. Do you love that part of the game?

OM: Yes sir. I don’t know if I’ll hit at Ole Miss but I do hit in high school and I enjoy it so much. I love being able to see how far I can hit the ball, because I’ve been told I have a lot of power. I usually bat third or fourth.

OFM: What made you commit to Ole Miss?

OM: The school is absolutely gorgeous, the environment is breathtaking and the coaching staff is amazing. My dream has always been to go to an SEC school and I just loved that school so much, so it worked out perfectly.

OFM: How far from home is it?

OM: It’s 11 hours away. I had other opportunities to play closer to home, but I needed to live my life away [from Orlando] and enjoy the college experience. We’ll travel closer but it’s not like I’ll be in UCF.

OFM: What are you going to miss the most about home, other than friends and family?

OM: I don’t know. I’ve lived in the same house my whole life, so maybe the environment. I live down in College Park so I’m near the city. It’s been awesome here and I’ve been able to meet so many great people, do so many things and make so many memories.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study in college?

OM: I want to do sports management. I just love sports and I would love to be at the head of an organization in the future. I want little girls and whoever comes my way to know that the sport they’re playing is going to change their lives.

OFM: Are there certain players you’ve looked up to over the years?

OM: Hannah Rogers, a four-time All-American at Florida, used to be my pitching coach. She was amazing and I looked up to her. I remember when I was little, watching her in the World Series and just imagining playing there. That’s my goal, making it to Oklahoma City and playing in that World Series. That would be a dream come true. I’m already living my dream by going to an SEC school and having great coaches, but that would be amazing. Aleshia Ocasio is another one I’ve looked up to. She went to my pitching coach and she’s great on and off the field. I want to be a great pitcher, a great performer and a great person off the field.

OFM: What are some of your other interests away from softball?

OM: I like baking, I love doing puzzles and I love spending time with my family and friends. I don’t do much, softball is basically my life. It’s gotten me this far.


Alyssa Novoa, Apopka girls tennis

Novoa’s sophomore season was one for the ages as she reeled off a 17-1 record in singles play, claimed a district championship and advanced all the way to the 4A state quarterfinals. Also an accomplished tournament player outside of high school, she has high hopes for her junior campaign.

OFM: Last year was a special one for you. What stands out when you look back on it?

AN: Definitely winning districts. That was something that meant a lot to me because I put a lot of work in during the offseason to improve and I had my family and my teammates there supporting me. I just wanted to make them all proud.

OFM: What are your goals for the year ahead?

AN: I have three goals. One is to improve my match play just by playing in more tournaments. Two is to become more patient, because I want everything to happen now and I’m trying to understand that it takes time to get better. And three would be to commit to a Division I or II college in November.

OFM: What are you looking for in a college?

AN: I want a college that’s going to focus on player development, and also of course a school where I can get a great education.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study?

AN: I want to study media, production and management. After tennis I would like to be in front or behind the camera and working in sports, maybe for ESPN.

OFM: What are your long-term goals with tennis?

AN: I would love to have the opportunity to play professionally after college. [It will take] a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and persistence.

OFM: Do you do anything else sports-wise besides tennis?

AN: I do strength training three times a week and I do some running to help build my endurance. I play soccer a little bit for fun here and there.

OFM: When did you start to get serious about tennis?

AN: I started playing when I was 3 years old. We had these courts right by my neighborhood that were built when I turned 3. My dad played recreationally and he taught my mom how to play, and when I was old enough he wanted to teach me to play. From an early age, we would play every day, even in 40-degree weather.

OFM: What’s it like to have your dad as your individual coach to this day and your mom as your high school coach?

AN: Having my dad as my coach is honestly the best thing for me because he really understands me. I know that sometimes I can be a little difficult, but he knows how to steer me in the right direction. He’s been at every tournament—he only missed half of one because he had to go to work. He’s always learning and doing research to become a better coach, and I trust him a lot. My game has really improved since I was little. And having my mom [at Apopka] is fun. I really like having the support from both of them, it really helps.

OFM: Do you enjoy playing at the high school level?

AN: It’s really fun. In a way, it helps me see what it’s going to be in college, although obviously that will be a higher level. Our team is always supporting each other and trying to help each other improve.

OFM: Is there a player you like playing against the most?

AN: Definitely Jessica Maras from Lake Mary. She’s one of my close friends. We played each other last year at districts … and literally a week after we played a USTA tournament together for doubles and we won. It was fun doing that.

OFM: Do you follow the professional game closely?

AN: Yes, I love watching the Grand Slams. I like Paula Badosa and I always liked Maria Sharapova too. I loved the dedication she and her dad, Yuri, put in. Her dad was told that if she wanted to go to the next level, they would have to move to the States. Her mom was still in Russia and she made a lot of sacrifices to get where she is. It’s a great story and I just love her dedication.

OFM: Have you ever been to a Grand Slam in person?

AN: I went to the U.S. Open back in 2015 or 2016. It was really cool, actually.

OFM: If you could go to just one of the others, which would you pick?

AN: Probably the Australian Open, just because from what I’ve heard, the Aussies love tennis. It sounds like a really cool environment, and I would also like to go see koalas. They’re pretty cute.

OFM: What do you do for fun when you’re taking a break from tennis?

AN: I love doing my own nails and I really enjoy reading. I also like hanging out with my friends, and my grandparents live about 30 minutes away in a 55-plus community so I love going there. All of their friends are super fun to hang around.

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

AN: Yes. I grew up in Apopka and I moved to Miami for two years for my dad’s work, and then we moved back to Apopka. … I love Florida—it’s great weather to play tennis year-round.


Izzy Hughes, Lake Highland Prep girls lacrosse

A junior midfielder and draw specialist, Hughes scored 41 goals as a sophomore to go with 70 draw controls as she helped the Highlanders win the 1A state championship. A Vanderbilt commit, she will be asked to emerge as an important leader for a young team this spring.

OFM: Are you excited to build on what you accomplished last year?

IH: Yes, I am. We have a young team this year but I definitely think we’ll be good and hopefully get to the state championship again.

OFM: Do you think your role going to change as one of the returning veterans?

IH: I do. Last year we had so many seniors, so it was split among all the top people. I think I’ll have to take on a bigger role this year since we’re a lot younger. I want to be a leader on the field and communicate with everyone off the field.

OFM: Is it hard to speak up more or does it come naturally?

IH: I think it comes naturally, because I’ve always been more of a leader among the people in my grade for lacrosse. So I’ve always been the one to step up and take control of things.

OFM: Do you have any individual goals for this season?

IH: I think last year I had 41 goals, so I’m definitely trying to get that number up. I also want to win draw controls. I’ve always taken the draw and you just have to have the first reaction off the whistle, and then get it inside your stick.

OFM: I know you started out your athletic career as a swimmer before switching your focus to lacrosse when you were 8. Why did you make that decision?

IH: My older sister played lacrosse, and since swimming is an individual sport, I saw that she was on a team and I always wanted to be on a team. That made me want to switch sports.

OFM: I know your late father Rodney, who played in the Canadian Football League, was a big influence on you. What kind of impact did he have on your lacrosse career?

IH: He was definitely the one to push me to go out and practice all the time, and I think that’s where I got my skills. Every day we would go out and do different drills and go running. He would always work me out and condition me so I could get better.

OFM: Do you often think about your dad while you’re playing?

IH: Yes, I do. He’s definitely one of my biggest inspirations to get better.

OFM: What led you to commit to Vanderbilt?

IH: Three years ago, I didn’t know much about the school, but my sister’s best friend actually goes to Vanderbilt so we went on a trip there to look at it. As soon as I stepped on campus I was like, “Wow, this is where I want to go.” It became my No. 1 [choice] and I would go to their camps and clinics. I loved all the players, they’re all really nice, and at other schools sometimes the people on the team aren’t as cohesive. I noticed how much they loved the sport and that’s why I wanted to go there.

OFM: I understand that you want to follow in your mom’s footsteps and become a doctor?

IH: Yes. Growing up, I always saw her in the hospital and was interested, and I love science, it’s my favorite subject. Biology and those courses interest me and I love that you get to help people. I’m a people person and that’s what I want to do.

OFM: What kind of doctor do you want to be?

IH: I think I want to be a plastic surgeon. My mom is anesthesiologist and at first I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but I decided I wanted to be more hands-on … and actually perform the surgeries.

OFM: Are you nervous about going pretty far from home for school?

IH: No, I’m excited to leave Florida and see some different places around the country. There are no seasons here, so I’m excited to experience seasons. I’m definitely independent, so I think going to a different state will be OK.

OFM: Have you already done a lot of traveling through lacrosse?

IH: Yes. During the summers, I’m always gone. A couple of years ago, my team went to Vail, Colorado, and that was nice because we got to stay in a resort there.

OFM: What are you going to miss the most about home when you’re at college, other than friends and family?

IH: I do like the weather here and I like going to the beach a lot. When it’s winter up north, I’ll definitely miss going to the beach and the pool.

OFM: What else do you like to do for fun?

IH: I really just hang out with my friends. We’re always together, hanging out.

OFM: What do you like about going to school at Lake Highland Prep?

IH: I think Lake Highland gives us a lot of opportunities. There’s always different speakers and people who have done different things. A couple of days ago, the African Children’s Choir came all the way from Africa. They’re touring the U.S. and they put on a show [for us], and I think that’s an experience that not a lot of schools have.

OFM: I know you often face American Heritage, the team you beat in last year’s state final, during the playoffs. Is that your biggest rival?

IH: American Heritage is definitely our biggest rival and it’s exciting to play them because every year it’s a battle and it’s not guaranteed for either team. I also like playing Bishop Moore, because that’s more of a local team and I know a lot of the players. It’s exciting because all of the students come to those games.


Ryan Tannus, Dr. Phillips boys water polo

A starter since his freshman season, Tannus scored 23 goals and handed out 25 assists last year to help the Panthers go 30-1 and reach the state championship game. This spring he has emerged as the leading scorer and a key leader for a team that hopes to stay among the elite.

OFM: Last year was a special season for the team. What are the memories that stand out the most?

RT: The tough wins, how hard we had to work and how much time we put into everything. We were waking up at 5 in the morning for some practices. We put a lot of hours in and to win 30 in a row was amazing.

OFM: Did you know going into the year that you had the potential to be a great team?

RT: Yes, because the year before we went 29-1. A lot of the other teams knew we were on the map and we knew we had a pretty good chance of making the final game.

OFM: Were you happy with your individual performance?

RT: Yes, I felt pretty good and I didn’t mess up too much. But this year I’m definitely improving and looking to get more of the spotlight since I’m an upperclassman now. Before, I was more just trying to play my part and get the chemistry going. But this year the spotlight is more on me, compared to last year when the spotlight was on some of our seniors, who were definitely better players.

OFM: Does that come with pressure or do you feel like you’re ready for that role?

RT: It does come with pressure but I work well under pressure and I think it will help me improve if anything.

OFM: How did you get into the sport in the first place?

RT: In fifth grade I started doing swimming lessons at the local pool and I saw some of the older kids playing water polo. So I talked to the coach and I just hopped right in and got into it. I loved it from the start. It’s definitely the most fun sport to play in my opinion.

OFM: It comes with its challenges, for sure. Do you like that part of it?

RT: Oh yeah. It gets really hard, but once you get the hang of it and start having fun, it’s the most fun sport. The team environment is amazing.

OFM: Are you on the swim team at Dr. Phillips too?

RT: Yes, I am. I play other sports for fun but I focus on water polo and swimming [for the school].

OFM: Is Olympia the rivalry game you get pumped up for the most?

RT: Yes, it’s always been Dr. Phillips and Olympia. You know ahead of time and you’re counting the days [to that matchup]. Those games are when the energy is really high and it’s really loud.

OFM: Do you think this team can reach the level of the previous two teams despite all the talent you lost to graduation?

RT: We definitely graduated a lot of key players from last year, but going into this year we’re looking to rebuild. We have a lot of strong young players and our team this year and next year is going to virtually be the exact same team. So we’re looking at a long-term plan. This year we’re going to go far, and making the regional semifinals or regional final would be amazing. But next year we’ll definitely have a pretty good shot [at a state title].

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

RT: I was born in South Florida in Miami, and then I moved up north to Connecticut for two or three years. I came to Orlando when I was 5 years old and I’ve stayed here since. Living so close to the theme parks is definitely a big plus and I love the people here. Everyone is so nice.

OFM: What’s your go-to park?

RT: Universal. I love The Mummy and there’s a new one called the VelociCoaster that is just a rush.

OFM: What else do you like to do for fun?

RT: I like to work out and go to the gym. Me and my friends will go to the park and play basketball. I’ve always loved sports.

OFM: Do you want to play water polo in college?

RT: I’m definitely looking to play water polo at the collegiate level. It’s something I’m looking into right now, actually. The top [programs] are all on the West Coast. On the East Coast there are a few, mostly in the Ivy League.

OFM: What do you like about going to school at Dr. Phillips?

RT: The team environment is amazing. It’s always been so fun to be around the team since I was a freshman. The whole environment at Dr. Phillips is really fun.

OFM: There are quite a few famous alums from Dr. Phillips. Do they have their pictures hanging up in the school?

RT: [Laughs] No, but everybody knows who the big ones are. We have a really nice [theater program] and that’s a very big thing at Dr. Phillips. They have a whole area dedicated to it. I’m not really part of that, though. I’m just sticking with sports.