OUR POSITION: Hats off to area high school sports teams who are still competing for state championships this weekend.
It all began this summer, on muggy practice fields or in gymnasiums where floor burns were the norm.
For some, it’s been a year-round quest — one that meant playing on travel teams, spending hours in the weight room or honing skills at summer camps.
For four area football teams and two volleyball squads, the payoff comes this weekend. Their success during the regular season — and in regional tournament action — has earned these high school prep teams a shot at a state championship. And it starts, or ends, tonight and Saturday.
In football, it’s a rare feat when four local teams make the playoffs, but that’s exactly what happened this year.
Port Charlotte’s Pirates, with the best record in the area at 9-1, earned a fifth seed as an at-large team (thanks to a second-place finish in the region). The Pirates will take on fourth-seeded Tampa-Hillsborough, on the road.
Charlotte High’s Tarpons, a sixth seed, take on Westwood in Fort Pierce. The Tarpons are probably the only playoff team in the area with a chance at a home game if they win. That would set up a potential second-round game with Lake Gibson, if the seventh-seeded team beats No. 2 Auburndale.
Meanwhile, the Venice Indians, which managed one of the strongest regular season schedules in school history, will travel to Lehigh for a first-round matchup.
And, topping off the quartet of playoff teams, Lemon Bay High’s Manta Rays, thanks to a strong finish to their season, will play at Tampa Catholic tonight.
Whatever the outcome, all four of these teams must be proud to be representing their region in the playoffs.
But football is not the only sport where successful seasons are culminating with championship runs.
Port Charlotte High’s girls volleyball team shook off a slow start Tuesday night to upend unbeaten powerhouse Osceola and earn a trip to the Final Four in state 5A competition.
The Pirates have been outstanding all season and credit a strong schedule with preparing them for the playoffs. That was obvious Tuesday when they took on an Osceola team that was unbeaten in 25 games all season. It was the first Regional championship for Port Charlotte since 1988.
The Pirates will be in Ponte Vedra Saturday for the state semifinals.
And, finally, the Venice Lady Indians captured a regional title when they beat Fort Myers, Tuesday night. Venice had a mediocre record of 12-12 in the regular season but, like Port Charlotte, played a strong schedule and won its last five matches to gain some momentum going into the regional tournament.
The victory over Fort Myers gave Venice its seventh regional title in the past eight years and 13th overall. The Lady Indians will take on Leon, a Tallahassee high school, in the state semifinals Saturday. If Venice can pull off two more wins, it would be the sixth state championship for the Lady Indians.
With the final games of their season coming up, it’s certain these athletes can look back on the bruises, the tough practices and even the losses as sacrifices that championship teams must make to accomplish greatness.
Kudos to the players, coaches and fans for such memorable seasons. State championships or not, you can all take pride in your success.