It would be an understatement to say that the Wesley Chapel High (WCH) football team has hit some potholes in the road.
The Wildcats lost their home opener to cross-town rival Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) by a touchdown. WCH lost its starting quarterback and top college prospect, Isaiah Bolden, to a shoulder injury in that game, and he was later dismissed from the team.
The ‘Cats suffered a demoralizing Class 5A, District 8 defeat at Anclote 27-10, as Florida State University recruit Chaz Neal was ejected and suspended for the next game against Ridgewood.
And, a rash of injuries has sapped the Wildcat roster down to the low 30s, even the high 20s on some days.
The Wildcats, however, remain in the playoff hunt, and they actually control their own destiny. At 4-1 in Dist. 5A-8 (and 6-2 overall), WCH has two crucial distrct games remaining — Oct. 20 at home against first-place Zephyrhills (5-0), and next week’s home finale against River Ridge, currently tied with Wesley Chapel for second with a 4-1 record.
Senior running backs Dexter Leverett and Malik Melvin are still a potent one-two punch. Leverett is closing in on another 1,000-yard season after running for 179 and two TDs in a 33-6 win over Ridgewood.
Senior linebacker Austen Wittish leads the county in tackles with 104 (and five sacks), and senior wideout-turned-quarterback Justin Trapnell has solidified the QB position since the loss of Bolden.
Along with the aforementioned standouts, sophomore receiver Jelani Vassell, junior tight end Tyler Wittish, junior lineman Seth Petty, and senior linemen Andrew Brooks and Matt Severson form a group that the team is rallying around.
“It’s a special group of guys that stick together and have true grit,” Wildcats head coach Tony Egan says. “There’s not one of them that takes a play off and I anticipate them all playing at the next level somewhere.”
“It’s been more responsibility these last couple of weeks but we tell each other to work hard and stay together,” Austen Wittish said. “We have to play together as a family.”
Bulls Also In The Hunt
After a season of narrow escapes, WRH finally lost its first game of the season Oct. 6 to Gaither by a 23-12 score, but bounced back with a 39-8 win over New Tampa’s Freedom and is currently 6-1.
The Bulls had opened their season with five straight wins, but only a 20-0 victory over New Tampa’s Wharton High was comfortable. The other four victories were by a combined total of 21 points. But the Bulls are in good shape for a second straight playoff berth, with tonight’s game against winless Leto, an Oct. 27 home game against Plant and Nov. 3’s season finale against Auburndale.
Cypress Creek Middle High (CCH), which won the first game it ever played 12-0 over Gulf, has found matching their hot start difficult.
The Coyotes, who play their last home game Oct. 27 against Mulberry, had been outscored 273-0 the past five games heading into tonight’s game at Springstead.
VolleyBulls Break Through
The WRH volleyball team had a breakout season.
Brimming with offensive firepower, the Bulls finished 20-6 – the second-best regular season record in school history — before losing a close 25-23, 26-24, 25-16 match to Wharton in the Class Class 8A, District 8 semifinals.
The Bulls’ offense carried them through a tough schedule and to a Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) championship, which they won 3-2 over Land O’ Lakes on October 10.
Three Wiregrass outside hitters are in triple-digit kills for the season. Juniors Jaizah Anderson and Destanie Aydt led the team heading into the postseason with 159 and 135 kills, respectively, while senior Caroline Eichelberger rang up 113 kills during the regular season.
“I’d like to say I developed them (the trio), but they came that way,” Wiregrass head coach Michelle Davis said. “We have a great feeder program in John Long Middle School and all three of those girls play on high-level club teams. It’s amazing talent coming in, I just have to fine tune it.”
The three didn’t even come all the way together until this year. Aydt and Eichelberger played together in 2016; Anderson transferred in from Fivay High in Hudson.
Now, the trio is a force to be reckoned with. Davis doesn’t even need to have all three on the floor at the same time, even though Eichelberger can play middle hitter with Aydt and Anderson on the outside. Davis often opts to rest one of her hitters to keep them fresh, in case a team like Land O’ Lakes (15-8) takes them the distance.
“It’s encouraging, we have not had this kind of power for years,” Eichelberger says
“It’s always good to have someone on the team who can back you up, even if you get into slumps,” Aydt says.
Lankton Making Waves
WRH’s boys’ swim team also is showing some promise.
The Bulls are coming off of a fourth-place finish at the SAC meet, but even more promising is the rise of sophomore all-distance freestyler Doug Lankton.
Lankton won the 200-yard freestyle at conference and placed second in the 500 free. Lankton also led off the 4×100 freestyle relay for the Bulls that wound up taking second at the conference meet..
Lankton, even as a sophomore, brings experience to the Bulls as a veteran of the Pipeline swimming club under coach Rene Piper. He is sure to be a factor in his strongest events, the 200 and 500 freestyles, when the Bulls take to the water for districts on Wednesday, October 25, at the Bobby Hicks Pool in Tampa.
“We think he has chances in both events ,” Wiregrass boys coach Kyle Gramm says. “He’s just now coming up to his peak and cut five seconds from his 500-yard time at conference. It’s going to be exciting to see what he does at districts.”
Season Of Firsts For CCH
In its very first year of existence, everything accomplished at the new Cypress Creek Middle High School is a new school record.
Sophomore boys golfer Jarrod Smith is helping to establish some of those records. Smith, who played for WCH as a freshman, is coming off a third-place finish at the SAC tourney held at Northdale Country Club.
Smith shot a two-over 74 and made First Team All-SAC. He is no stranger to the sport, having picked it up six years ago and making Second-Team All-SAC as a freshman at WCH. He is and will be the guy to watch at Cypress Creek.
“He is definitely our bright spot,” Cypress Creek boys coach Anthony Mitchell said. “It’s super exciting. Obviously, by this time next year and beyond, he’s going to be one of the favorites to win conference.”
Smith’s strong suit is his putting game. He hit a 30-foot putt for birdie on the 10th hole at the SAC championships to help secure his third-place finish. He led the Coyotes into the Class A, District 13 championships at the Eagles Club Golf Club in Odessa last weekend.
“I just try to go out and play the best round I can every day,” Smith said.
CCH Cross Country Team Making Strides
In its very first year of existence, Meanwhile, the CCH cross country team, while tiny in its first year, has the benefit of veteran coaches coming over from WCH, where boys coach John Hoffman and girls coach Eliza Passardi coached together for three years.
“New facilities, new rubber track and it was exciting to be a part of a brand new program,” Passardi says.
The coaches didn’t even discuss coming over to CCH together, it just happened.
“I knew I was coming over but we didn’t talk about it,” Passardi said. “We had a great team at Chapel where, between the two of us, we went to states two of the last three years.”
The Coyotes, who are competing in Class 2A, District 7 meet in Weeki Wachee on Thursday, October 26, only have 11 cross country runners, with seven of them boys. But, Hoffman thinks he has a couple of runners who could advance to Regionals in sophomore Joe Vreeland and freshman John Rowsell.
There will certainly be a lot more attention drawn to the program as spring track season rolls around. Hoffman, already pegged for the head track coach position, will have the only eight-lane rubber track in Pasco County. CCH is already confirmed to host the conference track meet and Hoffman is trying to work out hosting a large invitational for the spring as well.
“Everything’s new here at the school, it’s a lot to put together,” Hoffman said. “We even already have the hurdles for the track, packed in boxes, unassembled.”