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Volleyball: State semifinals breakdown

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Class 7A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 7A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Lake Nona (19-3) at Plant (21-8), 2 p.m.

How they got here: Lake Nona d. Olympia 3-0, d. Windermere 3-0, d. Kissimmee Osceola 3-0; Plant d. PHU 3-0, d. Steinbrenner 3-1, d. Vero Beach 3-1.  

Top players: Lake Nona: OH Isabella Rujano, Jr. (193 kills); L Yulianna Amador, Sr. (241 receptions, 180 digs, 21 aces); S Nyah Molina, Sr. (293 assists); MB Gabriella Karman, Sr. (21 blocks); Plant: OH Erin Morrissey, Sr. (362 receptions, 281 kills); L Sophia Kotsovolos, Jr. (345 digs, 45 aces); S Sophie Fleeger, Sr. (298 assists); MH Reese Friar, Jr. (53 blocks). 

Outlook: This is one of the best semifinal matches in any classification. Lake Nona, which is ranked second in 7A and eighth overall in the state by MaxPreps, is playing in the state semifinals for the first time. The Lions are on a 14-match win streak and have swept their last four. Plant, ranked third in 7A and 14th overall in the state, is playing in the state semifinals for the fifth time in the past six years. The Panthers are trying to reach the final for the first time since 2018. 

Class 6A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 6A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Tallahassee Leon (10-0) at St. Petersburg (16-3), 2 p.m.

How they got here: Leon d. Fleming Island 3-2, d. Cypress Creek 3-2, d. Niceville 3-0; St. Petersburg d. Sunlake 3-0, d. East Lake 3-2, d. Ocala Forest 3-1. 

Top players: Leon: OH Cailin Demps, Jr. (167 kills); S Alexa Washington, Jr. (368 assists, 115 digs); MH Macy Maxwell, Sr. (153 receptions); S Naomi Somerset (19 aces); MB Sydni Hunter, So. (25 blocks); St. Petersburg: OH Kate Youmans, Sr. (167 kills); L Livvi Harting, Jr. (393 receptions, 346 digs); S Nicole Robison, Sr. (653 assists); MB Jenna Davs, Jr. (67 blocks); OH Jordan Bunce, So. (34 aces). 

Outlook: Leon, the defending state champion, is playing in the state semifinals for the fifth straight season. The Panthers are ranked first in 6A, second overall in the state and 18th nationally by MaxPreps. They are undefeated, though two of their last three matches have gone to five sets. This is the second straight match St. Petersburg has faced an undefeated opponent. Last week, the Green Devils handed Ocala Forest its first and only loss in the region final. That put St. Petersburg (No. 6 in 6A) in the state semifinals for the first time. 

Class 5A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 5A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Robinson (15-5) at Jensen Beach (20-1), 2 p.m.

How they got here: Robinson d. Hardee 3-0, d. Land O’ Lakes 3-0, d. Port Charlotte 3-1; Jensen Beach d. American Heritage 3-0, d. Archbishop McCarthy 3-2, d. Merritt Island 3-2. 

Top players: Robinson: OH Mila Yarich, Sr. (197 receptions, 191 kills, 149 digs, 57 aces); S Jill Tanke, Sr. (221 assists); MH Katie Kemp, Sr. (68 blocks); Jensen Beach: OH Naiya Sawtelle, Sr. (317 kills, 233 digs); S Raegan Richardson, Fr. (639 assists, 53 aces); L Lauren Askeland, Sr. (394 receptions); MH Lindsay Walch, So. (47 blocks).

Outlook: Robinson, ranked 14th in 5A, is playing in the state semifinals for the first time since 2017. The Knights have plenty of momentum, winning 10 of their last 11 matches, including eight via sweeps. The lone loss during that stretch was to Plant last month. Jensen Beach, ranked fifth in 5A, also is playing in the state semifinals for the first time since 2017. The Falcons’ lone loss was to Fort Pierce Central back in September. 

Class 4A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 4A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (19-8) at Academy of the Holy Names (18-8), 2 p.m.

How they got here: Bishop Kenny d. Baker County 3-0, d. Yulee 3-1, d. Alachua Santa Fe 3-2; Academy of the Holy Names d. DeSoto County 3-0, d. LeBelle 3-0, d. Weeki Wachee 3-0. 

Top players: Bishop Kenny: OH Allison Cavanaugh, So. (262 kills, 52 blocks); S Alexis Chin, Sr. (775 assists, 39 aces); L Tina Nika, Jr. (453 digs, 384 receptions); Academy of the Holy Names: Oh Kinsley Warbritton, So. (389 receptions, 216 kills, 41 aces); S Morgan Garlick, Jr. (395 assists); L Olivia Mortellaro, Sr. (275 digs); OH Mia Zazzero, Sr. (43 blocks). 

Outlook:  Bishop Kenny is back in the state semifinals after missing the final four for the first time in eight seasons last year. The Crusaders are ranked second in 4A and have won five straight matches, including an impressive 3-2 state title contender Alachua Santa Fe in the region final. Academy of the Holy Names is making its second straight state semifinal appearance. The Jaguars, ranked third in 4A, have won each of their last six matches via sweeps. 

Class 3A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 3A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Ocala Trinity Catholic (16-6) at Bishop McLaughlin (24-2), 2 p.m.

How they got here: Trinity Catholic d. Orangewood Christian 3-0, d. Trinity Prep 3-0, d. Pensacola Catholic 3-1; Bishop McLaughlin d. Northside Christian 3-0, d. Carrollwood Day 3-0, d. Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 3-1. 

Top players: Trinity Catholic: OH Kiana Laborde, So., (364 receptions, 281 kills); S Isabella Sanchez, Sr. (421 assists, 31 aces); L McKenna Yates, Fr. (317 digs); MB Elayana Johnson, Fr. (58 blocks);  Bishop McLaughlin: OH Audrey Koenig, Sr., (374 kills, 26 aces); L Adrianna Lopez, Sr. (301 digs, 258 receptions); S Naomi Chinchar, Fr. (698 assists); MB Ezzie Thompson, So. (51 blocks). 

Outlook: Trinity Catholic, which won the state title in 2018, are in the state semifinals for the third straight season. The Celtics, ranked seventh in 3A, have won seven straight matches, six via sweeps. Bishop McLaughlin, ranked first in 3A and third overall in the state, is in the state semifinals for the third straight season. The Hurricanes got here by knocking off defending state champion Sarasota Cardinal Mooney in the region finals. Another win and Bishop McLaughlin will advance to the final for the second time in school history with the chance to win its first title. 

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FHSAA releases softball class and district assignments

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The Florida High School Athletic Association released the classifications, districts and regions for softball this coming season. The assignments are based on student enrollment numbers from October 2020. This is a one-year cycle that the FHSAA board of directors voted on earlier this year. There likely will be a two-year cycle starting with the 2022-23 calendar year. Below is the list for area teams. For the full  boys softball list click here.

Class 7A, District 6

Durant

Newsome

Plant City

Riverview

Class 7A, District 7

Alonso

East Lake

Steinbrenner

Palm Harbor University

Plant

Class 6A, District 5

Gaither

Land O’ Lakes

Largo

Leto

Mitchell

Sickles

Class 6A, District 6

Armwood

Strawberry Crest

Tampa Bay Tech

Wharton

Wiregrass Ranch

Class 6A, District 7

Bloomingdale

Bradenton Manatee

Lennard

Palmetto

Class 5A, District 5

Fivay

Lecanto

River Ridge

Springstead

Sunlake

Class 5A, District 6

Auburndale

Groveland South Lake

Lakeland Kathleen

Pasco

Class 5A, District 9

Blake

Freedom

Hillsborough

Jefferson

King

Class 5A, District 10

Countryside

Osceola

Pinellas Park

Seminole

Class 5A, District 11

Boca Ciega

Hollins

Northeast

St. Petersburg

Class 5A, District 12

Braden River

Bradenton Southeast

Brandon

East Bay

Spoto

Class 4A, District 9

Cypress Creek

Hudson

Nature Coast

Wesley Chapel

Zephyrhills

Class 4A, District 10

Anclote

Clearwater

Dunedin

Gulf 

Tarpon Springs

Class 4A, District 11

Chamberlain

Lake Region

Middleton

Mulberry

Robinson

Class 3A, District 6

Central

Hernando

South Sumter

Weeki Wachee

Class 3A, District 9

Academy of the Holy Names

Berkeley Prep

Brooks DeBartolo

Lakeland McKeel

Tampa Catholic

Class 3A, District 11

Calvary Christian

Clearwater Central Catholic

Lakewood

Parrish

Sarasota Cardinal Mooney

Class 2A, District 6

Bishop McLaughlin

Hernando Christian

Mount Dora Christian

Ocala Trinity Catholic

Seven Rivers Christian

Class 2A, District 9

Academy at the Lakes

Cambridge Christian

Carrollwood Day

Foundation Christian

Lakeside Christian

Seffner Christian

Class 2A, District 10

Admiral Farragut

Canterbury

Indian Rocks Christian

Northside Christian

Shorecrest

St. Petersburg Catholic

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General

Former Largo and Illinois standout Bobby Roundtree dies

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Bobby Roundtree, the former Largo High and Illinois standout defensive lineman who became an inspiration for many by vowing to walk again after suffering a spinal cord injury, died Friday afternoon, the family confirmed. He was 23. 

No other details were provided. 

A candlelight vigil will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Ridgecrest YMCA. Those in attendance are encouraged to wear their 97Strong apparel.

Roundtree’s death came two weeks after he received the Bruce Capel Award for Courage, an honor given annually by the Illinois football program. 

Less than 24 hours ago before he passed, Roundtree posted a message on his Twitter page.

More than two years ago, Rountree was in a hospital bed, the result of a swimming accident near the docks off John’s Pass that required spinal cord surgery. It left him in a wheelchair. 

Before the accident, the goals were all related to football. A former two-sport star, Roundtree developed into a ferocious pass-rusher, first at Largo, then at Illinois. As a sophomore in 2018, he won the Dick Butkus Outstanding Defensive Player award after leading the Illini in tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (7.5) and pass breakups (7). His play made him a viable NFL draft pick.

Photos courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Since then, the ambitions have been different. 

Roundtree wanted to be independent. He wanted to travel. He wanted to coach, maybe even start his own rehabilitation center. 

Most of all, he wanted to walk again. 

“I just want to show everybody that anything’s possible,” Roundtree recently said last year in his first interview (via Zoom) with reporters since the accident. “You can be on top of the world and something happens, things might not go as planned, but there’s something out there for everybody.

“This injury isn’t going to overcome me. I’m going to beat this and be successful.”

After the accident, once the surgery was over, Roundtree woke up to machines beeping in every corner of the room. His mother, Jacqueline Hearns, kept saying he was special, that he was beating the odds. 

Friends and teammates were there, too, including former East Lake standout Jake Hansen, now a starting linebacker with the Illini. 

The coaching staff also came to the Tampa Bay area to be by Roundtree’s side. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith practically lived at the hospital, even while preparing for the 2019 season. 

The bond between the player and coach has always been strong. After all, Roundtree was one of the marquee names in Smith’s first recruiting classes. 

“Everything that Lovie said during the recruiting process, about being a family, he stuck by,” Packers coach Marcus Paschal said last year. “You could see it during Bobby’s injury and hospital stay. I don’t know of too many other college coaches who would have done what he did. That was big.”

In June of 2019, Rountree was transported to a rehabilitation center in Chicago. He had lost 70 pounds. He could barely raise his right hand, much less do push ups, after the surgery. 

Roundtree ignored conservative prescriptions for recovery, continuingly defying odds. Before long, he was manually pushing himself in a wheelchair. His triceps muscles were developing.

None of this came as a surprise to Jeremy Busch, the head athletic trainer for Illinois football. 

“After this injury you watched a person that eventually was at the worst point in his life, and yet he doesn’t acknowledge that to where it beats him, but he acknowledges it to motivate him,” Busch said last year of Roundtree. “He’s truly your idea of hope and inspiration on a daily basis. He’s gone from the simplest of struggles to absolutely overcoming everything that you put in front of him.”

Roundtree also was determined not to stay in football exile. He kept in contact with teammates. The coaching staff included him in meetings, virtually. 

The grit Roundtree showed through the grueling stages gave the Illini inspiration. A sign was displayed on the top of a tunnel that the players would touch before heading out to Memorial Stadium. It read: 97 Strong (referring to Roundtree’s number).

Illinois became the feel-good team of college football in 2019. The wins kept coming, often in dramatic ways. 

A field goal as time expired was the difference when the Illini handed the Badgers, ranked No. 6 at the time, their first loss in October of last season. It was the Illini’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2011. Afterward, Illinois players recorded videos of their celebration and sent them to Roundtree.

Three weeks later, the Illini rallied from a 21-point third quarter deficit to beat Michigan State 37-34. 

“I would do anything for the kid,” Hansen said last year of Roundtree. “He’s been a huge inspiration.”

Roundtree attended the 2019 regular season finale, his first game at Memorial Stadium since the injury. He led the team in a pregame prayer. 

And Roundtree remained part of the team. His locker was untouched. 

“Having the team I have now I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Roundtree said last year. “They’ve been very supportive. They know I’m going to work. I know they’re going to work. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

The Illini faithful have shown financial support, too, pledging money to help offset some of Roundtree’s medical expenses. 

“With everybody so behind me and pushing me, that makes me want to go harder,” Roundtree said last year. “The support of everybody fundraising and everybody donating that means a lot having that support. I don’t have a million dollars to help me through this all. People are giving their last pennies to help me out. That’s just a lot of love right there, and I appreciate everybody for that.”

Roundtree spent the past year at home in Largo rehabilitating. He kept posting video messages of his progress. He bench pressed. He did core work. He rolled on to his side, even tried to stand up with the aid of athletic trainers.  

The final steps Roundtree wanted to take were on his own. 

“When somebody tells me I can’t do something I’m going to prove them wrong and show that I’ll be able to do it,” Roundtree said last year. “It might take me a couple of tries, but I’m going to do it.

“I want to show everybody that anything is possible, no matter the situation.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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