ORANGE PARK - Fleming Island High senior wrestler Chad Nix suffered his lone loss of the season at a Christmas tournament to an eventual Georgia state champion and then went scorched Earth to his own state title.
Keystone Heights High junior golfer Camille Jackson fulfilled a three year journey of hers not to get to the state golf championship, which she did, but to bring her team with her for the ride.
For their individual excellence that led to team success, Nix and Jackson are named the Clay Today Male and Female Players of the Year.
For Nix, headed to Campbell University in the expected fall season to continue his wrestling, dominated in the first period spans of his matches that followed his Christman loss with 40 straight wins including a 3-0 win for the Class 3A title. Nix was third for Fleming Island in his junior year (195) and third for Jensen Beach in Class 2A (195) before coming to Fleming Island.
For Jackson, who has been the most consistent golfer in Clay County for nearly four years since her eighth grade first visit to the Class 1A championship tournament, 2019 was her shot at getting the entire team to the Big Show with her leadership permeating the rest of her team; sister Candace and seniors Sloan Siebert, Ashton Ludwig and Savannah Heinz.
For the rest of the county, the players of the year from each school were chosen by Clay Today Sports Editor Randy Lefko and his sports staff (Ray DiMonda, Doug Deters, Don Long) to have had the best year of sports action for their respective schools
Junior wrestler Matthew Rodriguez got about as close as he could get in his third state championship tournament with a second unbeaten regular season and a state championship medal; this year a silver medal. Rodriguez, in Class 1A this year with powerhouse Lake Highland Prep, got his shot in the final against Lake Highland Prep's Danny Nini, a third place finisher as a freshman last year, who won a 14-6 major decision. Rodriguez, third as a freshman in Class 2A and second last year in Class 2A, again with an unbeaten record to the final, can return and garner that elusive gold as Lake Highland Prep's nationally ranked team has excluded itself from Florida state wide post season competition to concentrate on its national prowess.
Ridgeview's girls weightlifting team had its share of success with depth bringing a district title and a region top three finish behind powerhouses Clay and Baker County all on the diminutive shoulders of senior Aysia Hill. Hill, who battled back from a no-show last year because of weight, stormed her season in dramatic style, to finish second in Class 1A at 129 pounds. Hill finished runnerup to Emily Bennett of Arnold, the defending 139 pound state champion who dropped down to 129 for 2019.
The one guy who was not given the chance to make Raider history was Orange Park High senior track sprinter Alex Collier. Collier, the defending 400 meter Class 3A champion, and a third place in the 100 meters last year, was on his way in explosive fashion of being in the mix for a possible double or triple gold medal performance at this year's state meet with major splits in all three sprints; 100, 200 and 400 coming prior to the season shutdown.
For the Lady Raiders, without an injured key player on the court all season, Orange Park High girls basketball team got about as much elbow and knee skid marks on the floor from senior Macie Faucett as one could give up before 911 would be called. Faucett, as aggressive a player on the backline of the Lady Raider volleyball team, was fearless in her chasing of loose balls as she was in launching timely three-pointers for coach Fred Coles.
Only a freshman, golfer Chase Carroll had to survive some near-scare final finishes just to get to the state final on his first season, but the younger brother of state champion Cody Carroll, now at University of North Florida, proved that following and watching his big bro' was as much a learning experience as it was a challenge to surpass. Carroll was three strokes off winning at districts, then went to playoffs to get his ticket to state. At the region meet, Carroll was on top of the leaderboard early, fell back in disastrous form, then regrouped with seven pars and a birdie to earn his state berth. Carroll finished 25th in Class 2A with a tough second round of play proving troublesome.
Middleburg High basketball shooter Britany Range had her mojo going for the Lady Broncos with a flurry of 20-plus point games including two 30-plussers to push the Lady Broncos to a district title and a region playoff berth on top of an upset win over previously-unbeaten University Christian in regular season play. Range also was a major net presence for the Lady Broncos' volleyball team with a team-leading 251 kills for the season. Range will head to Seton Hall University to continue her basketball in the fall.
With Nix nabbing the Clay Today Player of Year, Fleming Island High senior quarterback Dean Hyams is the Fleming Island male player of year after finishing his four-year career with a flurry; an unbeaten regular season, a region playoff win and a near-miss region playoff loss to Niceville High. Hyams, recently signed to Kentucky Wesleyan University (NCAA Div. II), was masterful in his command of close games; Lake Minneola and Fletcher that came down to second half saves and a 17-14 thriller over First Coast. With nearly 2,000 yards passing with seven scores, Hyams was not overwhelming in statistics, but effective in keeping drives moving downfield with his 96.3 quarterback rating, as the Golden Eagles offense was one of the trickiest to defend.
Fleming Island's girls swimming 200 medley relay squad of sisters Sarah and Emma Grimm, Abree Clark and Christine Johnson could be named as a four-man player of year, but breaststroker Emma Grimm provided the damaging leg of the quartet to set the path to the gold medal. The same quarter was second in the 200 free relay as well. Grimm would finish 11th in the 100 breaststroke.
Just a sophomore, 220 pound wrestler Garrett Tyre got beat up in his early matches; one in particular in Valdosta, but stayed the course to finish fifth in Class 1A in a mild turnaround for the young grappler battling in a tough weight class. Tyre, 47-16 for the year, had season records of 62-5 and 63-3 for his two primary state opponents with his semifinal loss to the eventual two-time state runnerup.
For junior swimmer Sara Stotler, swimming fast is common, swimming faster is the goal as the next great Blue Devil swimmer not named Dressel got a second in the 200 individual medley and second in the 100 butterfly, by just .01 second, in a year of speed for all of Class 2A. In both races, Stotler made gallant races in the second half to nearly catch the early leaders. Stotler also lead top 10 finishes in two relays; fourth in 200 medley, eighth in 200 free.
ST. JOHNS COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
When sophomore distance running ace Matthew Stratton predicted "pain" for his opponents for his upcoming cross country and track seasons, most snickered at the youngsters brashness except that Stratton backed it up with performance. A come-from-behind final mile flurry in the Class 1A state race got Stratton second place and one of the fastest times in the state, plus a much-coveted finish ahead of rival Junious Brown of Maclay, a senior headed to Florida State University. Brown won district and region titles over Stratton with some coy gamesmanship by Stratton's coach, dad Greg, giving Matthew the best finish of the season; 20 seconds faster than Brown's region split 15:59.95, at the state race.
As the middle of two standout soccer sisters, Spartan forward Paige Crews had the dilemma of being the learner from the older, the teacher of the younger. With older sis Peyton rocking at Texas Christian University and young sis Paige wearing an ankle boot, Paige took it upon herself to be the distributor of statistics from her center forward/midfielder slot to lead the Lady Spartans to yet another state soccer title; this one number eight in row, in Class 2A. Crews had three scorers under 20 goals, a 24-1 record and a final fifth place national ranking, according to Maxpreps.
A school record in soccer goals is Dean Hoggs for this year and could be on the docket when he returns next. The junior scatback for the Indians' soccer smashed in 47 goals and got the Indians into the region playoffs with two games with five goals and one with four with a handful of multiple goal games throughout the season.
With Camille Jackson dominating the golf scene and getting the Clay Today Player of Year nod for girls, junior distance runner Camryn Williams is the Keystone Heights player of year with a superb best-in-county finish; 19:44.58 for 34th in Class 2A, followed by a scintillating early 1600 meter race in the spring as prelude to a possible state meet medal finish if not for the season termination. In her state run, Williams beat two of the three runners that finished ahead of her at the region 2-2A race.