When 2016 started, the Cocoa High football team was a few weeks removed from ending its season in the state semifinal round for the fifth year in a row, while the Viera Hawks girls soccer team was a few weeks away from defending a state title.
Both teams found reason to celebrate the year, while two major coaching changes were among other highlights to the year that ends in a few days.
One of those departing coaches was Melbourne Central Catholic’s Mike Riazzi. He retired in January after a quarter century as head football coach and was replaced by Stacy Sizemore, who led the Hustlers to a 9-0 regular season and their first state semifinal appearance, with a nine-overtime regional final win along the way.
Merritt Island football coach and athletic director Jeff McLean was inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January. Head coach for nine years and offensive coordinator for 20, his tenure has included a stretch of five district championships without a district loss. He’s been part of 16 district titles at the school and coached with track and field for 15 years.
Astronaut High’s own past was highlighted when the school received two golden footballs from the NFL in recognition of having two graduates play in the Super Bowl: Cris Collinsworth and Wilber Marshall.
In late January, Viera and Merritt Island advanced to the girls state soccer tournament at Melbourne High. Viera beat USA Today No. 1 and unbeaten St. Thomas Aquinas and then beat another previously unbeaten team, Niceville, 2-1 in the title game to repeat as state champion on Feb. 5.
The following week, the Holy Trinity boys played in the 1A state tournament, also at Melbourne. The Tigers lost in the semifinal round on penalty kicks to Orangewood Christian, 2-1 (3-1).
Winter sports continued with more success. In mid-February, the Covenant Christian girls made their first appearance in the 2A state basketball semifinals, losing to heavily favored FAMU, which entered the game 28-2.
In front of an overflow crowd at Melbourne High two nights later, the Bulldogs defeated perennial boys basketball power Bartow to earn a trip to state, 58-55. A night later in Winter Park, Holy Trinity won a nail-biter over Trinity Prep, 51-50, to qualify for a second consecutive state appearance.
Holy Trinity defeated Westminster Christian in the 4A semifinal, 41-38, but the Tigers fell to Jacksonville Bolles in the title game, 46-39. Melbourne’s winningest season ever (29-3) ended in the 7A semifinals against eventual state champion Blanche Ely, 62-59.
In the first week of March, 32 Brevard County wrestlers represented their schools as state tournament qualifiers. Six won medals. Connor Kirk had the highest placing, getting to the 1A final at 126 pounds.
And then a couple of major milestones. On March 18, MCC baseball coach Tom Dooley got his 500th victory with a 6-5 win over Cocoa Beach. The same day, Astronaut senior Tristan Schultheis high jumped a Brevard County-record 7 feet, 2 inches. He went on to repeat as state champion a couple of months later before heading off to compete for the University of Miami.
On April 2, the Heritage High baseball team appeared live on the Today Show. Coach Rob Querry had told his team it could name his son, due in a few months, if they had the school’s first winning season. They did so, beating Harmony, 8-1, on April 5, and Benjamin Smalls Querry, named after a character in The Sandlot, was born in July.
Later in April, in Altamonte Springs, Viera junior Sasha Belaya won the Class 3A tennis championship. The No. 1 seed, Belaya defeated No. 2 seed Geetha Velusamy of Tarpon Springs East Lake, 6-2, 6-3. She also teamed with partner Izzie Diaz for the doubles title as the academic year’s end came into view.
But it wasn’t over. On the first weekend of May, several Brevard athletes joined Schultheis as state track and field champions.
Holy Trinity’s Giana Gayles won the 1A long jump with a distance of 19 feet, three-quarters of an inch and the 100 hurdles (14.84 seconds), as well as anchoring the winning 4×100-meter team (48.54).
Kiara Simmons’ 20-2 ¼ long jump won the 2A title, and Steven Cross won the 3,200 meters in 3A with a time of 9:14.71 and the 1,600 in 4:22.33.
Noah Mumme won the 2A pole vault at 14-6, and Jeremy Lawson helped the Cocoa boys finish second as a team in 2A when he won the triple jump (46-9 ¾). Both Rockledge’s (in 2A) and Holy Trinity’s (1A) girls teams also finished as state runners-up.
On May 10, MCC clinched a state baseball tournament appearance with a 10-0 win over Sarasota Booker in a regional final in Melbourne. The Hustlers lost to Bolles in a 5A semifinal.
At the end of the school year, Merritt Island was awarded the Barbara Caywood trophy, given to the team accumulating the most points in Cape Coast Conference competition during the academic year. The Mustangs edged Viera by half a point.
Speaking of academic, in late June, Hannah Lyons was named the FHSAA Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The Cocoa Beach senior and valedictorian maintained a 4.0 GPA and was recognized at the 22nd FHSAA Academic All-State Awards Banquet. MCC’s Max Diaz was also named academic all-state.
After the summer, fall sports got the county high school scene moving again. Danielle Koehler of Rockledge finished as the state runner-up in girls bowling at the Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando in early November. The two-time FLORIDA TODAY Girls Bowler of the Year overcame a pulled muscle and blisters on her hand to work her way back through the consolation bracket to make the championship final.
The day after Koehler’s feat, Viera diver Sarah Rousseau defended her Class 3A title. She had won conference, district and regional championships, scoring 463.25 at state to make it a sweep.
At the state cross country meet in Tallahassee one more day later, Satellite’s boys and girls team took third in 2A. It was the best finish ever for the boys. Holy Trinity’s Samantha Folio was the 1A runner-up.
Amanda Beach managed fifth, but she made her name statewide and took it national later in the month with a fifth-place showing at the Foot Locker South Regional in Charlotte, N.C., with her career best time of 17:31.1. That earned her a spot at the national race in San Diego, where her 12th-place finish was the best for a Brevard girl.
Titusville’s girls had the best showing for a Brevard swim team at the state level, third in Class 2A in mid-November. The Terriers established three girls and one boys school record at the event.
Cocoa’s football team had one of the year’s biggest highlights and the last one of the year, winning the 4A championship over Jacksonville Bolles, 31-17 on Dec. 8. The Tigers scored on runs of 70, 72 and 75 yards. Quarterback Bruce Judson was named the Florida Dairy Farmers 4A Player of the Year, and John Wilkinson took the top 4A coaching award.
Then the year ended as it had begun: with a coaching change. Astronaut High, which lost 19-year head football coach Randy Hallock to retirement in November, named graduate Justin Worden to fill the job just before Christmas. Hallock left with 132 career wins, while Worden recently led his former school, Nature Coast Tech, to a second-consecutive unbeaten regular season.
2016 Brevard County state champions
Viera Hawks, Class 4A girls soccer
Cocoa Tigers, 4A football
Sasha Belaya, Viera, Class 3A girls tennis singles
Belaya and Izzie Diaz, Viera, 3A girls tennis doubles
Steven Cross, Merritt Island, 3A 1,600 and 3,200 meters
Giana Gayles, Holy Trinity, 1A 100 hurdles, long jump
Holy Trinity girls 4×100 relay (Gayles, A. Pound, Elizabeth Bacon, Taya Britten)
Jeremy Lawson, Cocoa, 2A boys triple jump
Noah Mumme, Satellite, 2A boys pole vault
Tristan Schultheis, Astronaut, 2A boys high jump
Kiara Simmons, Rockledge, 2A girls long jump
Sarah Rousseau, Viera, 3A girls diving