Sports are about excitement, energy and excellence, and while every athlete possess some of these qualities, some set themselves apart with a combination of electric play and engaging personas. The athletes below put fear in defenders and joy in the hearts of friends and family. Some have established accolades, while some are just beginning to reach their potential, but all are capable of putting on a show.
Here are 10 top East County high school athletes to watch in 2020.
1 — O’Mariah Gordon, Braden River High girls basketball
When you are named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, you are deserving of the top spot.
That is exactly what Braden River High sophomore guard O’Mariah Gordon did in 2018-2019. The 5-foot-4 Gordon averaged 29.7 points, 6.8 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 5.3 steals per game and led the Pirates to the Elite Eight. She has stayed just as hot in 2019-2020, and even made her game more well-rounded, averaging 22.4 points, 7.6 assists, 10.3 rebounds and 4.6 steals through seven games (as of Dec. 17).
2 — Claire Davidson, Lakewood Ranch High softball
There are a lot of Lakewood Ranch High softball players deserving of spots on this list, but senior Claire Davidson made her impact felt at the plate and on the mound. In 2019, the Duke commit hit for a .439 batting average, second on the team, and led the Mustangs with 13 home runs. The left-handed Davidson was also one of the program’s ace pitchers, holding a 0.57 ERA and leading the team with 10 wins.
Davidson’s huge season landed her on the 2019 MaxPreps All-American Team. She is ranked 45th on the FloSoftball Hot 100 recruiting list for her class.
3. Shawqi Itraish set the Braden River High passing yards record in 2019.
Taking over for a Division I quarterback in Bryan Gagg, now at East Carolina, was no easy task. It took Braden River High junior Shawqi Itraish, and the Pirates themselves, a few games to get rolling. Once he did, though, there was little defenses could do to stop him.
In 11 games, including a playoff game at Palmetto High, Itraish threw for a program record 2,525 yards while completing 60% of his passes, to go with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for three touchdowns.
4 — Christian Shaneyfelt, Lakewood Ranch High boys basketball
Lakewood Ranch High senior guard Christian Shaneyfelt saves his best for big moments.
The 6-foot-6 Shaneyfelt averaged 11.3 points per game in 2018-2019 and had a team-high 21 points in the Mustangs’ 60-38 win against Fleming Island High that sent the team to the state championship game. The Rollins College commit’s strong play has continued into 2019-2020, as he hit a buzzer-beating, fadeaway 3-pointer to send Lakewood Ranch’s Dec. 12 game against Riverview High to overtime; the Mustangs would win 84-79.
5. Lakewood Ranch High sophomore Dimiter Zafirov won a bronze medal in the 200-yard freestyle in 2019.
In 2019, sophomore Lakewood Ranch boys swimmer Dimiter Zafirov proved that his freshman season, in which he reached the Class 4A state meet in multiple events, was no accident. This past season, Zafirov managed to take home some hardware, finishing third (1:39.21) in the 200-yard freestyle.
Zafirov also finished eighth in the 100-yard butterfly (50.29). He was the youngest competitor in the top-eight finishers of both events, something that bodes well for his 2020 season.
6 — Grace Marston, Braden River High girls cross country/track and field
Grace Marston, a Braden River High sophomore, made a mark on the running scene in 2019. She finished 19th at the Class 3A cross country state meet (19:18.75) and previously helped the Pirates finish second at their district meet for the first time in program history.
Marston also finished 11th at the state track and field meet in the 3,200-meter run (11:18.37).
7. Abbey Burwood is the next leader of the ODA girls soccer team.
After the 2019-2020 season, The Out-of-Door Academy star Natalie Gorji will be gone to Rice University. The Thunder may already have her replacement in eighth-grader Abbey Burwood.
Burwood has five goals and four assists through the Thunder’s first six games, as of Dec. 17. Gorji, who also started her ODA varsity career in middle school, said she was impressed by the young forward’s skills and knowledge of the game.
8 — Peyton Mullin, Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse
The Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse team made a leap in 2019 after a rocky inaugural season, and that was in part because of goaltender Peyton Mullin.
Mullin, a junior, averaged 14 saves per game, according to MaxPreps, and was a captain for the Mustangs. His leadership and play helped the program to an 11-5 record. That was not quite good enough to make the postseason, but 2020 is a chance to take another step forward in his and the team’s development.
9. Braden River junior shortstop Jade Moy had a great year with her glove and her bat in 2019.
Braden River High junior shortstop Jade Moy made noise in 2019. The Purdue commit hit for a .506 batting average and used her speed to hit 11 triples and eight doubles. She also led the Pirates with seven steals.
It was her defense that pushed her over the top. Moy had a .956 fielding percentage last season, helping Braden River limit opportunities for opposing offenses.
10 — Nolan Lewellen, The Out-of-Door Academy football
Playing both sides of the ball is a tough task for football players, but The Out-of-Door Academy junior captain Nolan Lewellen did it with aplomb in 2019. Lewellen was a part of the Thunder’s passing game as a wide receiver (15 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns) but made his biggest impact on defense.
Playing cornerback, Lewellen had five interceptions, eight pass breakups, 25 tackles and a forced fumble, which he recovered. On a team with a young roster and little depth, Lewellen was a steady presence for the Thunder and locked down his side of the field.