It’s been some time since athletes had to overcome so much in a calendar year.

Seasons and games were canceled. So, too, were in-person classes, proms and graduations.

It wasn’t easy or fair, but our local athletes persevered through the circumstances.

There were plenty of familiar faces — and some new ones — winning games, breaking records and putting on performances to remember.

Now that 2020 is finally behind us, though, it’s time to focus on the future.

The winter sports playoffs will be here before long, and there are some athletes and teams to pay attention to in the coming months.

Girls Soccer

Several area girls soccer teams could be poised for playoff runs in the coming months, thanks in large part to some dynamic seniors.

Venice, which went to the state final last year, returns a few key seniors. None of them has made as big of an impact as forward Kiki Slattery (17 goals, 7 assists), who has scored in every game for the Indians.

Lemon Bay won its first-ever regional title last year and returns forward Lauren Ragazzone (11 goals, 3 assists), who has set the school’s single-season scoring record twice already.

North Port didn’t go on a run like Venice or Lemon Bay last year, but it has the talent.

Senior forward Aleena Purvis (6 goals, 13 assists) is back this year, but she’s turned into more of a facilitator with sophomore Sierra Spirk (21 goals) alongside her.

The district playoffs for high school girls soccer begin Feb. 1.

Boys Soccer

No area team made it out of the district playoffs last year, but that might not be the case in 2021.

Three teams — Venice, North Port and DeSoto County — have flashed some exciting potential on the way to winning records.

The Indians (7-3) reeled off a five-game winning streak to open their season thanks to so some suffocating defense.

North Port (6-4-2) has heated up going into the break, going 4-1-1 over its last six games as seniors Chris Lamela (5 goals, 3 assists) and Daniel Bogdanets (4 goals, 2 assists) have sparked the offense.

Lemon Bay (5-4-2) has been powered by a trio of upperclassmen — senior Trayton White (6 goals) and juniors Nick Zidanavicius (5 goals) and Michael Greggs (5 goals).

DeSoto County (6-3) has been led by experienced players such as Ruben Sanchez (10 goals), Alejandro Garcia (7 goals) and Eduardo Maldonado (6 goals) along with some talented underclassmen that have given the team plenty of depth.


The district playoffs for high school boys soccer begin Feb. 1.

Girls Basketball

Some area girls basketball teams lost star players to graduation such as Imagine School — down Katie Klein, Arianna Andrade and Skyelar Woods — and North Port, which is now without record-breaker Emani Jefferson.

Charlotte, however, retained most of its talent and added on with a pair of transfer players in D’Yanis Jimenez and Kristen Lowers.

Pair those additions with Ary Hicks (13.3 points per game) and Bella Desjardins (14.2 points per game), and Charlotte has the talent to go make it to another regional final — or even beyond.

The high school girls basketball playoffs begin on Feb. 2.

Boys Basketball

The Charlotte and Port Charlotte boys basketball teams are once again the top programs in the area, to no one’s surprise.

The teams have already battled it out once this season, with the Tarpons pulling away for a six-point win.

The Tarpons (8-3) have one of the more talented teams in school history, with FAU commit Tre Carroll surrounded by athletic guards such as John Gamble and DJ Woods.

The Pirates (4-1) have one of their typically deep rotations featuring returning experienced athletes like Alex Perry, Gerald Robinson, Logan Rogers and Christian Stone.

Each team has what it takes to make a deep run when the postseason begins on Feb. 9.

Girls Weightlifting

The Charlotte girls weightlifting team produced a state champion last year when Annabelle Anderson stood atop the podium for the 129-pound weight class in Panama City Beach.

The Tarpons could have another chance at an individual champion thanks to Huyen Le.

The senior lifter has already put up 160 pounds in the bench press and is shooting to break the state record of 170 pounds for her 101-pound weight class.

The girls weightlifting state championships are from Feb. 11-13 at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach.

Wrestling

The Charlotte wrestling team has established itself as a team capable of producing multiple state champions, and senior Lucas Willis has been a consistent presence atop the podium — winning four straight state titles.

He should have a chance to join a rare group of five-time state champions later this winter at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee from March 5-6.

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