Wesley Chapel has had the occasional high school team break through. Saddlebrook Resort trains world-renowned tennis players. But, to call our community a sports “mecca” would be an overstatement.
That may, however, be changing.
Consider in 2017 alone: Wesley Chapel hosted the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team training camp, some of the best professional women’s tennis players in the world competed in the Federation Cup semifinals at Saddlebrook, a new indoor sports facility received approval (and will break ground next year) and even the local kids made a little history at Wiregrass Ranch, Wesley Chapel and Cypress Creek high schools.
Not bad for one year.
As for ranking what we feel were the top stories, where do we start?
* The RADD Sports indoor sports complex will break ground in 2018, and could be open by spring of 2019. While we’re still not sure how much use Wesley Chapel residents will get out of the complex, its overall local economic impact is likely to be significant.
* The Fed Cup semifinal pitting the U.S. against the defending champion Czech Republic at Saddlebrook Resort in February put a buzz in the area’s significant tennis population.
Saddlebrook constructed a temporary 3,500-seat stadium around one of the resort’s Har-Tru Classic Green Clay Courts, and it was nearly full on both days of the event, despite temperatures that were blazing.
The Fed Cup, started in 1963 as the women’s version of the men’s Davis Cup, is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sports, with roughly 100 teams competing.
The semifinals were a good get for Wesley Chapel, and the U.S. delivered an exciting down-to-the-wire 3-2 win as Coco Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won the final doubles match to clinch it.
Many of those who watched from the stands in Saddlebrook that weekend were also watching from their couches in November on The Tennis Channel as Vandeweghe (this time with Shelby Rogers) again clinched a 3-2 win in Minsk, Belarus, ending a 17-year Fed Cup championship drought for the Americans.
* Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) became the first team from Wesley Chapel to win a Florida High School Athletic Association football playoff game, despite a few 10-0 seasons back in the early-2000s by Wesley Chapel High (WCH).
The Mark Kantor-coached Bulls, led by 1,000-yard rusher Adrian Thomas, managed a school best-ever 9-3 record, and a 17-10 win over Lake Nona in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs (before a loss to state powerhouse Lakeland ended their season).
* At WCH, the softball team made some of its own history. Losers of 27 straight games and 43 of 44 over a three-year span at one point, coach Steve Mumaw and freshman pitcher Jordan Almasy led the Wildcats to their first playoff appearance ever. WCH won a school record 19 games, beat Robinson 4-0 for their first postseason win, and had eventual Class 6A champ Land O’Lakes on the ropes before losing 4-2 in the Regional semifinals.
* And, the new kids on the block at Cypress Creek Middle High (CCH) hit the ground running — on August 25, the Coyotes, coached by Mike Johnson, won the first football game they ever played, beating Gulf 12-0.
The closest anyone came to winning a state title in 2017?
* The WRH boys tennis team, which already won state titles in 2014 and 2015, fell short in their bid for No. 3 in four years, in April. The Bulls lost to Parkland Stoneman Douglas High 4-1 in the State Class 4A championship match, just the third time in their last 114 matches the Bulls boys have lost a head-to-head battle.