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Their Time to Shine

This high school sports season promises to be more exciting than ever, and these seven student-athletes are likely to be leading the way in their respective sports.

DeMario Tolan, Dr. Phillips football

A senior transfer from Tohopakaliga, this athletic and instinctual linebacker can make plays all over the field. He hopes to lead his new team to a state championship before continuing his career in the SEC at national power LSU.

Orlando Family Magazine: I’m sure you’ve had your senior year circled for a while now. What are your expectations heading into the season?

DeMario Tolan: I really feel like we can get to the state championship and that’s what I’m focused on right now. I want to come out and cause a lot of turnovers and things like that.

OFM: How does it feel to be with a new team and a new school?

DT: It feels way better than where I was because I’m getting pushed now and it’s helping me to be a better player and also a better man. I knew a couple guys from training but that’s about it. It was a good welcome from the team and they did a great job of making me feel like family.

OFM: Have you always preferred defense to offense?

DT: No. I always wanted to play running back, and when I got to high school I got taller so I played receiver and running back. I always played defense but I didn’t want to focus on it, I wanted to focus on offense. This year, most likely I won’t be playing offense unless they need me.

OFM: I know you can play inside and outside linebacker as well as safety. What do you consider your natural position?

DT: I can play it all. I still don’t feel like I have a set position right now. We’ll just see where my body goes when I get to college. I feel I’m as versatile as any linebacker.

OFM: Are there certain linebackers or safeties you’ve tried to model your game after?

DT: It used to be Kam Chancellor and Ed Reed [as safeties] and Ray Lewis from a linebacker standpoint. My first number was 52 because I loved watching Ray Lewis and the Ravens were my favorite team. Then I used to see Ed Reed a lot too.

OFM: I know Miami was one of the schools you strongly considered, which is where Ray Lewis and Ed Reed went to school. Why did you ultimately pick LSU?

DT: First off, LSU is a dream school. I always looked up to LSU and wanted to go there. They brought me in as a family [member] and didn’t try to fake anything; they were real about everything. I felt like I was at home whenever I was there.

OFM: What is Coach O [Ed Orgeron] like?

DT: Coach O is actually a pretty funny guy. You would think from his voice that he’s always serious, but he cracks jokes a lot.

OFM: LSU went undefeated a few years ago and is always capable of playing for a national title. Was that a big draw for you?

DT: Yes sir. I always wanted to play big-time football and that’s another reason why I chose LSU.

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

DT: I want to go on the business side but I’m not really sure what I want to do yet. Maybe accounting or finance or something like that.

OFM: What else do you like to do when you’re not playing football?

DT: I really hang around my family and my brothers and also my girlfriend. We all hang out all the time. I also like volunteering and helping out around the community.

OFM: Are you the oldest in the family?

DT: No, I have two older sisters and an older brother. I also have two younger brothers: One is a freshman and the other is 6. You never get bored and you always feel like you can talk to somebody.

OFM: Is the ultimate goal for you to play on Sundays?

DT: Yes sir, I’ve always had the dream of going to the NFL. It used to be the NFL and the NBA, but I really started taking football seriously junior year and I stopped playing [basketball] at the end of junior year.


Lockett Bowley, Winter Park girls swimming

A five-time individual state finalist during her standout career at Winter Park, Bowley placed fifth in 4A last year in both the 100 and 200 freestyle, and also helped the 200 free relay win a state title. She is in line for a big senior season before moving on to Alabama.

Orlando Family Magazine: Are you excited to be a senior?

Lockett Bowley: I am. I can’t wait to get off to college, but I also want to enjoy this last season with my friends. It will be fun.

OFM: I assume you have been swimming competitively for a long time. What do you love about the sport?

LB: This is going to be my 10th year. I’ve always liked swimming since I was little and I just love the way I feel in the water. My stroke just feels really good and smooth.

OFM: It’s definitely a difficult sport with a lot of hours required. Do you think you thrive on that commitment?

LB: Since I’ve been doing it so long, since I was 8 years old, it’s all I’ve ever known. Usually when my schedule isn’t so rigorous, I don’t get things done. … I’m also in IB [international baccalaureate] so I have a lot of essays and I also just got a job, so I’m kind of all over the place, but I like it that way.

OFM: When you look back on last year, what stands out? Was winning a state title in the relay the highlight?

LB: Yes, I would say that was the highlight. Just going to states [was a highlight] because usually we have two travel meets but last year we only had states. It was fun to go with the team.

OFM: The relays are exciting to watch and it seems like it brings the swimmers closer together. Do you enjoy being part of them?

LB: It’s definitely nice to be on the relays just because it takes the stress off of your individual events. It lightens the mood at states because usually we end up psyching ourselves out, so for me personally the relays help to calm me down.

OFM: Do you have particular goals in mind for this year?

LB: Probably just working on technique, and I want to get the 500 free [school] record and drop some time on my 200 free, because I got the record in that last year but just by a fingernail. I also want to win the 400 free relay at states.

OFM: What did you like about the school and the swimming program that made you commit to Alabama?

LB: I just really loved talking to the coaches. They seemed genuine and it felt like a family. I also liked the location, because I wanted to get out of Florida but not too far. Also, the facilities are amazing and they just recently got a new pool.

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

LB: I’m looking at something in the psychology area. I might do pre-med if I want to become a psychiatrist. Sophomore year I actually took an AP psych course. I really enjoyed it and found it very interesting. I figured that’s what I would go to college for.

OFM: Have you lived in Florida your whole life?

LB: I have. I was actually adopted by my mom and my dad. I was born in China … but since then I’ve always lived in Central Florida.

OFM: Have you ever been back to China?

LB: No, my mom and my grandfather on my mom’s side were waiting to take me when I was older so I would remember it. Maybe in the future.

OFM: When you get some free time, how do you like to spend it?

LB: I love going to the beach with my friends. It’s always relaxing. I also like shopping, because sometimes it’s easier since the beach is far away for us.

OFM: Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to doing when the pandemic slows down?

LB: Just traveling out of the States. I was hoping to do a senior trip to Europe. That would be really cool if things cleared up.

OFM: Did you watch the swimming competitions at the Olympics this summer?

LB: I did a little bit. Obviously, Michael Phelps wasn’t swimming this year but it was interesting to see how the pandemic affected the pro athletes and how the younger ones ended up doing well and coming out with some good times. Rhyan White got fourth [in both the 100 and 200 backstroke] so that was really cool to see. She swims for Alabama and she’ll be a senior when I get there.

OFM: Is swimming in the Olympics a goal of yours?

LB: I would like to make the Olympic Trials. I was trying to go for the [200] butterfly and I was actually really close. I think I was a second or two off. The Olympic Trials is definitely a goal of mine.


Ryan Reynolds, Oviedo boys swimming

Reynolds had quite a meet at the state championships last year, as he was part of the winning 400 free relay, placed fifth in the 200 free and sixth in the butterfly to help Oviedo capture its third straight 4A team title. He has high hopes for his final campaign.

Orlando Family Magazine: How are you feeling heading into your senior season?

Ryan Reynolds: I’m very excited. It’s hard to believe how quickly senior year has come. When you’re a freshman you don’t realize it will go by this quickly. Having a great teammates and a winning culture is really fun and makes it go by really quickly.

OFM: The swimming program at Oviedo has had a lot of success through your career. Is it fun to be part of or is there a lot of pressure to live up to expectations?

RR: It’s very fun. We never expected to win even one state championship the first year, so to win three in a row is extremely surreal. In terms of pressure, the pressure we feel is internal, within ourselves. We just want to be the best swimmers we can be and the best team we can be. At the end of the day, we can’t really worry about what other teams are doing, we just have to go out there and swim our hardest and do the best that we can do. It’s really exciting to go out and wear orange and black on our caps and represent a program that has been so successful the past three years.

OFM: You were part of the state championship relay team and also had some strong individual swims at states. What stands out when you look back on that meet?

RR: When I look back at last year’s state championships, I think what stands out is how well everyone swam at night in the finals when the points mattered. Everybody outperformed how they had done in the morning. Everyone went faster, improved place-wise and scored more points than they were seeded to score. Everyone exceeded expectations and throughout the night it just got better and better, ultimately leading to the win in the relay at the end. That’s what stands out the most, how well everyone was prepared and how well the final session was executed. It’s definitely something to remember, bringing eight or nine guys there, scoring as many points as we did and winning three in a row.

OFM: Do you have a favorite event?

RR: I’d say the 200 medley relay is probably my favorite event because it’s the first event of the session, it’s an extremely close relay, there’s always lots of teams in the mix and it’s just very exciting. Even though we got second in it last year and the year before, it’s just very exciting and gets the night started for everyone. It’s a very fast relay too and I think it’s my favorite event, that or the 400 free relay.

OFM: Do you swim the butterfly in the medley relay?

RR: Yes.

OFM: Is the butterfly your best stroke?

RR: I’d say it’s either that or freestyle. Fly was my best stroke for a few years but about two years ago freestyle started to emerge as one of my better strokes. The 200 free in particular has become one of my best races. I’ve never considered myself a great sprinter so I wouldn’t say the 50 fly in the relay is one of my best events, but I think fly is definitely one of my better strokes.

OFM: Have you done other sports besides swimming or has this been the main one for a while?

RR: I’ve only swam for the past almost 11 years. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to explore other sports while swimming because it’s a pretty intensive schedule. It’s every day of the week except Sunday for multiple hours. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s been great.

OFM: Are there days when it’s a struggle to get to the pool?

RR: Absolutely. There are days when it’s hard to get out of bed for morning practice, or in the afternoon it’s hard to get your head right for practice after a long day of school. But the goal of being successful, and especially in high school swimming the goal of the team doing as well as it can is definitely motivating and that helps when times are difficult.

OFM: Do you know what you’re doing next year?

RR: Next year I plan on going to college. I’m in the application process right now so where I end up specifically is still in question. I see myself likely going to a school in Florida after my high school swimming career is over.

OFM: Did you watch the Olympics this summer?

RR: I did. After five years it was very exciting to finally watch Team USA compete. I’d say Caeleb Dressel was definitely one of my favorites. He’s from Florida, he’s a well-rounded swimmer and he’s very dominant. He swims with so much power and speed and watching him is incredible. Chase Kalisz is also one of my favorite swimmers. He’s been around the Olympic scene as long as Dressel. They swim very different events but they’re both very good at what they do and they swim with a lot of confidence. Those are the types of swimmers I look at and they motivate me to be a better swimmer and better version of myself.

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

RR: No, I’m actually from the Atlanta area. I lived there until 2014 and then I moved to Central Florida right before school started in 2014. I’ve lived here ever since. The quality of life is so much better here. Being able to swim outside [is great], and I’ve met some great friends and awesome teammates. Swimming for Oviedo has been amazing and I wouldn’t trade that for anything else. Overall, I’m definitely happier here in Central Florida than up in Atlanta. There’s much less traffic and the weather is better year-round.

OFM: Is it true that you’re the oldest in your family and you have five younger siblings?

RR: That is correct. It’s very busy but it’s very fun. Every day is different and there’s always somebody to talk to or hang out with. It’s a blessing to have so many younger siblings and a big family in general and I’m very thankful for it.

OFM: What is the age range?

RR: I have siblings who are twins and they’re 15, they’re a brother and sister. Then I have a sister who’s 14, another sister who’s 12 and the youngest is a little brother who turns 10 next month. Everyone is pretty close in age so that makes it a little more exciting.

OFM: Of course you share your name with the famous actor Ryan Reynolds. Are you a fan of his?

RR: I love Ryan Reynolds movies. It’s very fun to go to the movie theater, watch the movie and see your name on the credits at the end. I’ve been watching his movies for quite a few years now and it’s pretty cool. Whenever I’m somewhere that they have to see ID or they have to check my name and they see it’s Ryan Reynolds, it’s always a good laugh.

OFM: Do you have a favorite movie of his?

RR: Probably the first Deadpool. I liked that movie a lot.

OFM: When you get a break from swimming or school, how do you like to spend your free time?

RR: I love to go to the beach and I love to hang out with friends. I’m at the beach pretty frequently whether it’s with my family or friends. I love to watch college football too. Even though it’s only a few months a year, that’s probably one of my favorite things to do. I like to keep up with sports in general.

OFM: Do you root for Georgia or Florida in college football?

RR: I’m a Georgia fan. Both of my parents are Georgia Bulldogs; my grandpa is a Georgia Bulldog and he played football there for a year or two. I definitely have red Georgia blood.


Amber Schulz, Timber Creek girls cross country

Despite battling nagging injuries last fall, Schulz was able to return for the state championships and took first in 4A with a time of 18:26, helping her team to a fourth-place finish. She is the school record-holder with a PR of 17:44 and is hoping to close out her career on a high note.

Orlando Family Magazine: How are you feeling heading into your senior season?

Amber Schulz: I am very excited, especially since I haven’t raced too much in the past two years. My sophomore year, track season got canceled, and my junior year of cross country I think I only got to race four times because I got an injury. Throughout track season it was the same injury so I didn’t get to race in track my junior year either. So I am super excited for cross country.

OFM: What exactly was your injury?

AS: We thought it was a lot of different things. I went to countless doctors and was told it was imbalances that I had, I was told that I had a crooked pelvis, I was told that my gluteus medius was weak, I was told that it was a nerve issue. I was told a lot of things and after eight months of it not getting better, I saw my chiropractor and he noticed that my mindset toward my injury was so, so bad and I was making it even worse than it was. … So I started focusing on what I could do in that moment and just being thankful for where I was, and it slowly started to get better.

OFM: It must have been difficult to race at states while not being 100% healthy.

AS: Yes. Four weeks before state cross country I got a muscle strain and we don’t really know how it happened. I had to cross train the four weeks before and come state, it was good enough to race and I ended up winning and doing really well. But after that it was kind of downhill, and maybe three weeks into track my coaches came up to me and said, “Amber, we think it would be best for you if you sit out, focus on getting strong and getting everything right.” Mentally, I was not in a good place because I was so frustrated that I couldn’t live up to what I knew I was capable of doing just because the injury was holding me back. It ended up being a fascia issue, which we found out about two months ago. So I just started running again about two months ago.

OFM: Do you feel healthy now and ready to go?

AS: It’s definitely still a journey that I’m on but it’s a lot better and I can actually run consistently now, which I couldn’t do two months ago. I was happy to get in a mile. This past weekend I did a 10-mile run, so definitely a lot of progress.

OFM: Dealing with all of that and still placing first at states, what does that tell you about yourself?

AS: It showed me what I can do physically, but honestly it showed me so much what I can do mentally. In the past I struggled really badly with an eating disorder, so going into cross country season, it was kind of a way for me to show myself that fueling my body and taking care of myself is going to take me a lot farther that not taking care of myself and not listening to my body. So that whole cross country season was super duper important to me. When I got injured it was almost heartbreaking, but it also showed me how strong I was that I could cross train for four weeks and still come out winning state. I went into that race knowing I was going to win it before I even stepped on the line. I 100% believe that is why I won the race, just because my mindset was so strong throughout the race.

OFM: Looking at your whole senior year, in cross country and track, is your goal just to remain healthy and have fun, or are you still focused on winning titles?

AS: You know, my main goal right now, especially being in high school, is focusing on longevity in the sport and keeping it fun. I’m really focusing on taking in the whole experience. Of course I have goals and dreams, but I also need to focus on staying healthy after everything I’ve been through. The main thing is listening to my body, staying healthy and being happy. I know if I can do all of those things, the times are going to align and everything is going to happen exactly as it should. No matter what, I’m going to give it my all, no matter what my all is at that time. That’s just who I am, that’s my personality. I’m always going to work extremely hard.

OFM: I saw on YouTube that you went out to Oregon this summer while the Olympic Trials were happening. What was that experience like?

AS: Yes I did, I went to the New Generation Camp and I actually got to watch the Trials. That was probably the best experience I’ve had in my entire life, and that’s saying something because I’ve done a lot of things and gone to a lot of places. That was a whole different atmosphere, a whole different energy. The New Generation Camp was focused specifically on media influencers and the people who document track and cross country, so it was really cool. There were photographers, writers, vloggers and obviously YouTubers. It was a really cool experience to meet so many like-minded people and to see so many amazing runners at the Olympic Trials. I also got to run on a crazy amount of trails, so it was really cool.

OFM: I know you like to document your cross country and track experiences on YouTube and it seems like you have a lot of fun with it. How did that all start?

AS: When I was in middle school I would always post on Instagram how I was doing with my running, and I started to notice that I was inspiring a lot of people with my work ethic and my mindset and how I went about life. I started to realize that I could help a lot of people by doing that. So going into high school when I started dealing with my eating disorder and went into recovery, I started sharing my journey. I realized how much stronger I was getting and people were reaching out to me telling me how much I had truly changed their life, and that they never would have recovered from their mental struggles and that I really helped them change their mindset on life by looking at the positive. I’m kind of known for always being positive, looking on the bright side and looking for the good in every single situation, because I truly believe that our lives are dictated by how we look at things. I got so much good feedback and it makes me so happy that I can help so many people throughout the world. I have people in Australia and crazy places [watching me], and it’s really cool to see that I can help by sharing my story.

OFM: Can you envision a future where you’re in front of the camera like that?

AS: Yes. I want to go to school to be a dietician and I want to continue to do YouTube and social media as a job and keep sharing who I am and spread as much good and positivity as I can. There’s so much negativity out there; I want to be a light that people can look to and feel confident in where they’re going and who they’re becoming. I can definitely see myself making a career out of it.

OFM: Do you know where you’re going to college yet?

AS: No idea, to be completely honest. That’s been a journey all in its own.

OFM: Was it your mom who got you into running in the first place?

AS: My whole family has always been super athletic. My dad is a body builder and my mom is a runner, so growing up I always saw her going out to races. I was dragged to races and put in kids’ runs, and I always liked it. I took a little break and did soccer for a while, and then I got back into running and did it more competitively. Ever since then, I kept doing it and now I absolutely love it. So yes, my mom definitely got me started.

OFM: Have you ever done a marathon like her?

AS: No, but I did a half-marathon though. I don’t plan on doing a marathon for a really long time because I want to focus on the speed stuff while I still have it. Maybe one day, I’ll do a marathon. I want to conserve my speed.

OFM: What other interests do you have away from running?

AS: I love cooking. Nutrition and cooking is something I love so much. I also love hiking and traveling. I like to call myself a free spirit and I like to constantly be in nature, doing stuff and exploring as much as I can. We’re only here for so much time and I want to experience everything. For my 18th birthday I’m planning to go sky diving. I like to do as much crazy stuff as I can but still staying safe. [Laughs]


Mohit Balaji, The First Academy boys golf

Balaji was the 1A state champion last fall, carding a two-day total of 145 for a one-stroke victory. He also enjoyed plenty of success this summer, including a second-place finish at the Matthew NeSmith Junior Championships in South Carolina, and is in line for a monster senior season.

Orlando Family Magazine: Are you excited for your final golf season at The First Academy?

Mohit Balaji: Yes sir. I have some big goals and hopefully I can achieve them. I’m really looking forward to this year. I completed a lot of my golf goals last year and over the summer. I still have a few golf goals but most of them are education at this point in time. I really want to increase my SAT to about 1450, so I’ve been studying for that. In golf, I’m hoping to win a lot of the big invitationals for my high school, and on top of that I’m looking to shoot a few more rounds in the 60s.

OFM: What did it mean to you last year to win the state championship?

MB: Honestly, I think about that a lot because it wasn’t just a win, it was a turning point in me having confidence in my game. I never really felt like I won anything huge until that point. My game was getting good and improving every day last season, and every month I felt like I got better. When I got to that tournament and won I was like, “Wow.” I had failed at that course so many times before so that was huge.

OFM: I saw you had a hole-in-one over the summer at the tournament in South Carolina. How did that feel?

MB: I made that on a really difficult par-3, so I really had momentum after that. Everyone was bogeying that hole, so to walk away with a one was huge.

OFM: Had you ever had an ace before?

MB: That was actually my fourth hole-in-one. I was still super happy about it, though. Everyone in my group was saying, “I think that went in.” My left eye is really bad with vision, so I don’t always know specifically where my ball is headed. I knew it was close but I didn’t know for sure where it went. Then when I got up there, an official told me I made it.

OFM: Overall, are you happy with how you played this summer?

MB: Definitely. At the end of spring, I was kind of struggling a little bit. I wasn’t playing bad but I wasn’t playing at the level I really wanted to be. To have all my hard work finally seem like it’s paying off, that was huge this summer.

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

MB: It was mostly my parents. [When I was living] in Georgia, they wanted me to try a bunch of different sports and different instruments and things like that, and eventually we found golf. I felt like basketball and football and all of those sports came easily to me, but when I went to golf, it was so difficult. It’s so crazy and it’s not something you can just step up and play. I wanted to try it more, and it turned into me playing every day. It’s a crazy sport but I love it.

OFM: So you’re originally from Georgia?

MB: I was actually born in Denver, and from Colorado I moved to Atlanta just because my parents enjoy warmer weather. I started getting really into golf in Atlanta, and from there we moved to Florida because the weather is even warmer and I could play more golf. That was six years ago.

OFM: How do you like living here?

MB: It’s amazing. It’s probably the best area I’ve ever lived in. I live in Reunion, which is like a resort a little bit off Kissimmee. It’s sunny every day and there’s so much to do. There’s a lot of good people and I’ve made so many awesome friends.

OFM: Reunion has a lot of great courses too. Which local course is your favorite to play?

MB: I’d probably say the [Jack] Nicklaus one in Reunion. It’s such a difficult course; it’s my home course and it’s one of the only ones I can play from the tips and say, “I don’t know if I’m going to shoot under at this course, because it’s so difficult.”

OFM: What’s your favorite course in general that you’ve played?

MB: I played the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) at Bay Hill last year, and for the tournament they put the same pins that they actually use for the Arnold Palmer [Invitational]. The course was also in crazy good condition, so it was fun. You could hit it in the rough and sometimes you’re taking pitching wedge just to hit out because it’s so thick.

OFM: What would be your dream course to play and your dream foursome to play with?

MB: My dream course definitely has to be Augusta National. I love the layout of that course, and growing up in Georgia I always wanted to play Augusta. My dream foursome, I’ve wanted to play with Tiger Woods for so long, so I definitely have to have him in the group. There are probably a few artists I can say; I love Post Malone’s music, so I’d love to play a golf round with him. And the last one would be another Tour player. It would probably be Jon Rahm.

OFM: Do you know what you’re doing next year?

MB: Right now I’m just playing junior tournaments and trying to figure out where I want to go to college. I have a few colleges in mind that I want to tour this semester and hopefully I can find the one that is the best fit for me.

OFM: Obviously, you want to play golf as long as you can, but what other career are you eyeing?

MB: I’ve had a few different ideas. If golf doesn’t work out, I’ve thought about staying in the golf business and being a head pro or a teaching pro, something along those lines. That would be amazing. If none of that really works, I would probably do something in the medical field, just because my brother is a doctor and I’ve always been fascinated with anatomy and how the human body works.

OFM: Do you like going to school at The First Academy?

MB: I love it. I couldn’t find anywhere else I’d want to go to school. It’s amazing. … It seems like everywhere you go, there’s an amazing athlete at The First Academy. It kind of pushes you to be better in your sport.

OFM: What else do you like to do when you’re taking a break from golf?

MB: I’ve actually been getting into cooking. I try to cook my own meals and stay as healthy as possible and get a lot of protein in. Besides that, I watch a lot of TV, whether it be Netflix or anime. I also love learning about the human body from my brother on long FaceTime calls.

OFM: What are some of your favorite shows to watch?

MB: I’m starting to get into a show called The Good Doctor. It’s about this autistic person who is becoming a doctor and facing prejudice. It’s kind of a struggle for him to be a doctor but they realize that he has a photographic memory and he’s amazing. The way he looks at stuff fascinates me. I’ve also watched a little bit of All-American, and on the anime side I just watch everything. I watch My Hero Academia because that puts me in a sports kind of feel. It’s about someone who wants to be the best at what they do and they train really hard for it.


Yoko Tai, Windermere Prep golf

A native of Singapore, Tai started playing golf at a young age and has thrived in the sport since coming to Florida for her education. She placed third in the state in 1A last year and finished 17th at the U.S. Girls Junior Championship in July.

Orlando Family Magazine: Are you looking forward to the high school season?

Yoko Tai: Yeah, I am. It’s my senior year so I’m pretty excited.

OFM: Did you spend a lot of time on the golf course this summer?

YT: Yes, I did. I played in eight tournaments and the [U.S. Junior] was my biggest one. That was very fun for me because it was my first time qualifying and playing in that specific event. It’s probably the biggest stage for girls’ junior golf, because it’s 150 players and less than half make it to match play. To make it to the round of 32, I was pretty happy with that. Obviously, I would have liked to gone further, but for my first time I was proud of where I finished.

OFM: Overall, were you happy with the progress you made over the past few months?

YT: Yeah, for sure. I played a couple of AJGA events, which is the American Junior Golf Association. I had a couple of top five finishes and a couple of top 10 finishes, so overall it wasn’t bad.

OFM: What are your goals for the high school season?

YT: Obviously, I would love to win states individually and as a team. But for me, it’s more about having fun. That’s the same mindset I had last year and I finished pretty well. That’s the mindset I bring into every single tournament; I try not to stress out too much about how well I place and how well I play.

OFM: It seems like golf is really big in your family. Is that how you got started?

YT: My whole family plays golf. My dad started playing first and then he taught my mom. They brought my older brother into it and then I got brought into it. My brother is going to play college golf at Georgia Tech in January. He’s pretty good—better than me, for sure.

OFM: Do you play a lot as a family?

YT: Yes. Right now, my brother and my dad are in Singapore. My brother has been there the past two years because he’s [fulfilling] military service in the navy right now; that’s mandatory for Singaporean men. That’s why he has to start college a little later than the rest of the people his age. My mom is with me so I’m getting to play with her quite a bit.

OFM: How long did you live in Singapore?

YT: I was there until the age of 6 or 7 years old, and then I lived in Shanghai for a little bit. I moved to Orlando when I was 11.

OFM: Have you enjoyed experiencing different countries and cultures?

YT: Yes. I’ve definitely learned a lot from it and it’s a unique experience. It’s not an experience a lot of people get to have so I’m very grateful to have that at such a young age. … Once COVID is over and the travel restrictions are over, I plan to go back to Singapore because that’s where my parents live.

OFM: What’s the biggest difference between living in the U.S. and Singapore or China?

YT: In Singapore and China, golf isn’t as big of a deal as it is here in Florida, which is pretty much the golf capital of the world. The courses in Orlando are a lot closer; I can find five different courses within a 15-minute range. In Singapore and especially in Shanghai, it’s a lot tougher to find a course. When I was living in Shanghai, we drove 45 minutes to an hour to get to my home course.

OFM: Do you have a favorite course that you regularly play?

YT: I wouldn’t say I play them regularly, but I definitely have favorites just because I’ve been to a lot of places and played a lot of different courses. I really like Bandon Dunes in Oregon because that was one of the first places where I played golf and that’s where I really started to develop my game. Bandon Dunes is really firm, so I would hit the ball in the fairways and it would roll for miles. That was fun for me when I was younger. I also really liked my home course in Shanghai, Sheshan. It hosts the WGC-HSBC Championship for the men.

OFM: Which courses are you itching to play that you haven’t had a chance to yet?

YT: I really would love to play Augusta and Pebble Beach. My parents played Pebble Beach, I think before my brother and I were born, so hopefully we get to play there again.

OFM: Do you follow the pros closely?

YT: Yes. I definitely enjoy watching the guys play more. The girls on the LPGA, how they play the game is how you should play it. They hit the fairways, they hit the greens. It tends to become a little bit boring, but I wish my game was like that—so boring to the point that it’s so easy. But for me it’s more entertaining to watch the guys because you see Bryson DeChambeau just rip a drive like 350 [yards] over the trees. I can’t see myself doing that, so seeing someone else do it is pretty cool. My favorite golfer is Rory [McIlroy]. He’s been my favorite golfer since I was 11. I actually took a picture with him because he used to play the WGC-HBSV in Shanghai.

OFM: Do you like going to school at Windermere Prep?

YT: Yes. I’ve always gone to international or private schools, but Windermere Prep is a different experience I would say. When I first arrived there I was in sixth grade, 11 years old. I was in the boarding program so I was just with my brother, I didn’t have my parents with me. I didn’t really know what to do but I made friends really quickly. The environment there is very welcoming and they don’t hesitate to reach out to you and help you in any way. That helped me learn and love the school even more.

OFM: Do you know what you’re doing for college?

YT: I committed to Columbia University just a few days ago and I’m going to play golf and study there. The coach [Amy Weeks] and I have a great relationship; she’s a golfer herself and has a great background, especially in college golf. She played for Oklahoma State and that is one of the top universities for golf. You might not think the Ivy League is necessarily big in competitive golf, but I know with her in the coaching position she can definitely push me and the team to do better in golf and academics. The university itself is wonderful and the history behind the school is incredible. It has a lot of great alumni and it has produced a lot of success, so I know I’ll be set for whatever I want to do in the future, whether I become a professional golfer or choose a different career path.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study?

YT: I’m leaning more toward math or engineering at the moment but I haven’t officially decided yet. It’s kind of tough because Columbia is more of a liberal arts school so I have to think about all of that and then make my decision.

OFM: But professional golf is something you’ve thought about?

YT: Yes. I definitely want to see how my four years in college go, because professional golf, especially for the ladies, is really hard to make it to. Even if you do make it, it’s hard to make a living, so I have to think about that. Right at this moment, I’m not ready for professional golf, but in four years I don’t know where I’ll be.


Ana Bleeker, Windermere girls volleyball

A senior outside hitter, Bleeker recorded 106 kills and 85 digs in just 12 games last year, leading Windermere to a 9-3 record and its second consecutive district championship. She is aiming for more team success this fall before continuing her career at the University of Georgia.

Orlando Family Magazine: How are you feeling heading into your senior season?

Ana Bleeker: I’m a little sad that it’s my last go-around but I’m excited.

OFM: Last year you didn’t have a full season because of COVID. Was that tough to deal with or were you just happy to have something?

AB: It was really short but I was happy to have something. I have a lot of friends across the country from volleyball and I know they didn’t get anything. I was really fortunate that I at least got to play a few games.

OFM: What are your goals for this season?

AB: We’re definitely trying to defend our district title and trying to make it further in the regional playoffs. We always get stuck in the same spot so our goal is to push through that breaking point. For my personal goals, I’m just looking to improve my all-around skills, especially getting ready for club season and going into college. I’m also learning how to be a better leader now that I’m a senior and I have to take the younger girls under my wing.

OFM: When did you start playing volleyball?

AB: I started when I was 9. My mom played D-I volleyball and she actually moved from Brazil to the U.S. to play volleyball. It kind of runs in the family, so I had to jump into it at some point. My mom has been a great influence. She’s one of my role models and one of the people I look up to the most because of all she’s accomplished in her life. She didn’t let anything stop her; she had a language barrier and she was like, “So what?” [She shows me that] anything is possible. If you keep pushing through it, you are capable of doing whatever you want to do.

OFM: Have you ever been able to visit Brazil?

AB: I used to go all the time during the summer when I was little. I haven’t been back in the last few years just because everything has been so crazy. It’s great going there because I get to see all of my family, meet new people and see new things. It’s nice to have a change of scenery. We go to an area a little south of [Rio]. It’s on the coast and it’s a little beach town, and there’s also a farm in the mountains that we go up to.

OFM: Do you have any siblings?

AB: I have a little brother who’s a sophomore. He just got into volleyball this past year.

OFM: Have you ever played any other sports or has volleyball always been your focus?

AB: I did soccer and gymnastics when I was little until I started volleyball. It was kind of a love-hate relationship with the sport in the beginning, but after my first season I realized this is the sport I want to do, and I cut ties with the other sports.

OFM: I know you’ve had a lot of success with your club team and won national championships. Has that experience done a lot to make you a better player?

AB: For sure. It kind of taught me how to deal with pressure situations and how to control your nerves and how to block out stuff around you. Don’t play because there’s someone watching you; play because you and your team worked hard and you want the win for them.

OFM: What did you like about the school and volleyball program that made you commit to Georgia?

AB: I love the coaches—they really sold it for me. They’re great people, they’re running a great program, and how they talk about volleyball and take care of their athletes is amazing. The school is nice and the campus is so pretty. It just felt like home and it’s close to home; it was one of the closer options I had. The coaches made it really personable and it was easy to feel like I was welcomed there. I was sold from the first conversation I had with them.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study?

AB: I’m looking into the engineering field, either chemical or biomedical engineering. My dad is an engineer and in school my stronger subjects are math and science. It kind of just comes easy to me, so it makes the most sense for me.

OFM: What do you think you’re going to miss most about Florida when you’re away at school?

AB: Family, friends. There’s a lot of stuff to do in our area. There’s a lot of stuff in Athens too, but it’s going to be a little bit of a culture shock because there’s so much going on down in Florida. It will be a little quieter up there but it will be good.

OFM: Aside from volleyball, what other hobbies and interests do you have?

AB: My friends and I go to the beach whenever we can. We go to Disney Springs or CityWalk and find a mini golf to do or something fun to do.

OFM: What do you like about going to school at Windermere?

AB: It’s a great school and I love a lot of the teachers there. Even though it’s a new school, we found a way to have our own traditions. Since we’re one of the first classes to come through and graduate, we get to build the culture that we want the school to have.