Coming off a banner school year for sports at Alonso High School, expectations are for the Ravens to soar even higher.
Last May, Alonso was presented the 13th annual Vernon Korhn Award, emblematic of Hillsborough County’s top public school athletic program. It recognizes athletic success, academics and sportsmanship.
“We believe that excellence in athletics—as well as excellence in all areas—is where we want to be in our school’s culture,’’ Alonso principal Kenneth Hart said.
Alonso won two state championships (competitive cheer and flag football). Boys basketball had its best finish with a region semifinal appearance. Boys lacrosse was a top 10-ranked program. Girls track and field won the county championship. Overall, the boys and girls track and field programs claimed six medals at the state meet.
Alonso also had six Western Conference Coach of the Year awards—Alex Brown (boys lacrosse), Sarah Hartman (girls track and field), Matt Hernandez (flag football), Bamar Lewis (girls basketball), Roger Mills (boys track and field) and Todd Price (boys basketball).
Some familiar names and key performers have graduated—and you will hear about a few of them in college athletics.
But it’s time for new Ravens to step up.
Here are some Alonso athletes to watch for the 2019-20 school year:
Benjamin is rewriting the record book for Alonso girls track and field. Her signature is everywhere.
During the Class 4A state meet at the University of North Florida, Benjamin was third in the triple jump at 38 feet, 3.5 inches (she had previously gone 39-6, breaking the school record of Quatasia Fantroy, the 2013 state champion). She was fifth in the 400-meter run with a school-record time of 55.69 and seventh in the 200 meters (24.62).
All told, Benjamin currently holds school record distances and times in the long jump, triple jump, 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters. She was also part of record-setting teams in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays.
“Shaniya has a great future ahead of her,’’ Alonso track and field coach Roger Mills said. “She will be a great addition to a college program.’’
Benjamin began running at age 8 with her mother, Theresa Hawkins, who was a track and field athlete in her home state of Kansas. Benjamin then competed in AAU events and enjoyed it. She tried basketball, but that couldn’t provide the accomplishment and thrills of track and field.
“I just like to be versatile and compete in a lot of events,’’ Benjamin said. “If I had to pick just one, I think it would be long jump. That’s my favorite. But I’m glad I don’t have to pick just one because it’s all fun to me.’’
Benjamin said she hopes she can win a state championship as a senior—hopefully in multiple events—but is also happy to be leaving a legacy at Alonso.
“It makes me feel good,’’ Benjamin said. “I can look at my name and see that I accomplished a few things at my school.’’
Benjamin has attracted college interest, but probably won’t make a decision until 2020. If she continues to improve, Benjamin said she’d love a chance to run and jump professionally.
Bletsch has played soccer since age 4. She took up volleyball last season. She is a key performer for Alonso’s two-time Class 2A state champion flag-football program.
“I have my flag football medals hanging from the rearview mirror of my car,’’ Bletsch said. “Everywhere I go, I have them with me. It’s a great reminder.’’
Soccer. Volleyball. Flag football.
That’s a lot.
But there’s more.
This season, Bletsch will compete as a place-kicker on Alonso’s football team. Yes, tackle football. Bletsch is believed to be the first girl on Alonso’s tackle football team, although several females have been competed on teams at other Hillsborough County schools through the years.
Bletsch, who is confident in her leg strength due to her soccer background, approached Alonso football coach Ron Perisee last spring about the possibilities. Perisee, who knew Bletsch from his time as a flag-football assistant, was receptive. After all, what football coach would turn down a potentially effective kicker?
Bletsch, who will compete with two other kickers, said she’s comfortable on field-goal attempts from 35 yards and in. During summer training, she connected on a 47-yarder, although she kicked off a tee (without a snapper or holder) and wasn’t wearing pads.
“I had the idea and was interested in trying this, but I wasn’t sure girls could play,’’ Bletsch said. “It’s all cleared and I’m good to go. I’ve been training with the team all summer.
“A lot of my friends know about it and they think it’s great. I have many friends on the football team, too. The boys are like family and they treat me like I’m one of them, so I think it’s going to be fine.’’
Meanwhile, Bletsch is one of the top returning players on Alonso’s flag football team. She’s a receiver/linebacker who had her top moments in the 26-19 victory against Riverview in the region final.
She had an interception on the game’s second play. She also scored the game-winning touchdown with about three minutes to play.
“We had lost a lot of players from the previous season, so it was really amazing to win the state title again,’’ Bletsch said. “The feeling of winning it is untouchable. No one can take that feeling away.
“It’s hard to compare the two championships. The first one was history. I was on JV part of that season. This past season was different. I was a starter and really felt like I had a hand in helping us to win it.’’
Before she has the opportunity at a flag football three-peat, Bletsch will be plenty busy with her other sports. She would have it no other way.
“Sometimes I think it’s a bit much and maybe I should cut back,’’ Bletsch said. “But when I get a break, I get bored. It keeps me well-balanced and well-rounded. I love it.’’
There’s a good chance that Donovan, a resident of The Bridges, won’t leave the field during Alonso football games this fall. He’s a safety who calls the defensive signals. He’s a receiver known for making clutch catches. He also plays special teams.
“It can be exhausting,’’ Donovan said. “But you get caught up in the adrenalin of the game. I feel like I’m involved in every facet of the game.’’
Donovan is nothing but involved, whether it’s athletics or school life.
He’s a defenseman for Alonso lacrosse.
He’s the treasurer for student government and belongs to several clubs.
“I like to be in the middle of things,’’ Donovan said.
That’s especially true with Alonso’s defense. Last season, Donovan was the team’s second-leading tackler (behind Jael Feliz) while accounting for eight turnovers—two interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
His season highlight came against the Riverview Sharks. With Alonso nursing a slim advantage, Riverview was driving and threatening to take the lead.
There was a sideline pass to a seemingly wide-open Riverview receiver, but Donovan sprang from nowhere to nab the interception, neatly tapping both feet inbounds, then rolling to the ground.
It was the game-clincher.
During Donovan’s four-season tenure, which included an elevation to varsity as a freshman, the Ravens have gone 0-10, 5-5 and 4-6—with three different head coaches. But with Coach Ron Perisee buckling in for his second year, there’s finally some stability.
“I feel like we have things we can build on and find some more consistency,’’ said Donovan, who began playing football at age 6 with the Westchase Colts. “We have shown some flashes. It’s almost like we’ll play better against a good team, but not duplicate that effort against a lesser opponent.
“We need to show the same effort and consistency each week. I think we have plugged up some of the holes that we’ve had in the past. We have more talent than people think we do. I’m looking for bigger things as a senior. I think we have a chance to show a lot of improvement.’’
Donovan said Alonso’s lacrosse team is a good example to follow. The Ravens, considered underachievers in past seasons, made the playoffs and finished in Hillsborough County’s top 10 rankings.
“I think anything is possible if you work hard enough,’’ said Donovan, whose older brother, Alex Faedo, was a star pitcher for Alonso and the University of Florida who now competes in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. “We’re going to put the work in and hopefully have a memorable senior season.’’
When his sister played softball at Alonso, Drumheller watched Raven pitching aces such as Jose Fernandez and Alex Faedo.
When Drumheller became an Alonso varsity player, he was teammates with Raven pitching aces such as Jordan Butler and Franco Aleman.
Drumheller is the Raven pitching ace.
“It has been a goal to have that role,’’ he said. “I want to be the guy who can go out there and shut down the other team, giving us a chance to win.’’
Drumheller, a 5-foot-9 left-hander, has steadily improved each season. He was 6-1 with a 1.36 ERA and 61 strikeouts last season, losing only in the region quarterfinals at Vero Beach.
His fastball tops out at 88 miles per hour, but he has an excellent curveball and an improving changeup. He can make an opposing batter look silly with his assortment of arm angles and changing speeds.
Since age 4, his first T-ball season, he has been all about baseball. His earliest memories are at the ballfield or in the dugout. No wonder. He comes from a baseball family.
His father, Al, is a former professional player who reached Triple-A with the San Diego Padres. From 1991-93, he was an All-SEC left-handed pitcher at the University of Alabama, where he also played outfield and won the team’s Triple Crown (highest batting average, most home runs and RBIs). Now he’s the Alonso pitching coach.
His older brother, Ryan, was a four-year Alonso starter. His younger brother, Ben, is an incoming Alonso freshman player.
“I always watched my older brother play and learned a lot from that,’’ Drumheller said. “I’ve always been at the field, working with my dad, figuring stuff out. It has been a huge part of my life. I want to go as far in the game as I can.’’
Drumheller made Class 9A all-state and won Alonso’s best pitcher award after last season. His profile rose this summer when he was selected for Team Florida in the inaugural National Championship Series at Sugarland, Texas. It also featured teams from California, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
The invitation-only event, which required a recommendation from a professional scout or college coach, had its championship game broadcast on ESPNU.
“It was the biggest thing I’ve participated in,’’ Drumheller said. “It was great exposure.’’
Drumheller, who has a 5.0 weighted grade-point average, said he’s hopeful of playing college baseball. His immediate goal, though, is helping Alonso go deep into the playoffs. That’s what pitching aces do.
“I think we have a chance to do a lot better than last season and we could make a run,’’ Drumheller said. “We need to be on the same page and have our heads in the right place. We have lots of returning players and we’re very capable.’’
Her earliest memories are of basketball gymnasiums.
Sometimes, she would be off to the side, playing with her toys while her father conducted summer camp. At age 7, she became a camper, putting aside dance and gymnastics, and her future eventually became clear.
Carly Price loved everything about basketball. That’s obvious to anyone who has watched her Alonso career. Going into her fourth season as a varsity starter, Price needs 172 points for 1,000, a fabled career mark for any player. She shoots 40 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line.
She will generally arrive at the court with her father (Alonso boys coach Todd Price) for early-morning shooting sessions, sometimes beginning at 6 a.m. After getting in her work—always closing with three straight 3-pointers, three straight free throws and a layup (with no misses)—she will prepare for school.
Price’s arrival has coincided with the best era of Alonso girls basketball—an overall 59-17 mark and back-to-back district championships. The Ravens fell short last season, falling in the district semifinals, so Price has added incentive.
“I’d like to go out with the best season we’ve ever had and go deep into the playoffs, of course,’’ said Price, a 5-foot-3 guard. “We all want that. We just have to work hard.’’
If there’s one thing that Price knows well, it’s hard work.
She’s a straight-A student with a 5.6 weighted grade-point average. If she’s not shooting baskets, she’s studying.
“If I have some time, I might bake something,’’ she said. “But I really don’t have a lot of time.’’
Price is aware she’s running out of time at Alonso, but she’s eagerly anticipating her final season. After that, she’d love to play college basketball.
“Growing up with my dad being a coach, I have been around the game so much,’’ Price said. “It’s funny, but before I started going to his camp, I didn’t do much of anything. I was kind of a couch potato.
“But now, I look forward to basketball every day. Sometimes, you have these games where you feel like you can’t miss and that feels so good. I love that.’’
Price had one of those games last season.
In a 55-21 win against Gaither, Price produced a career-high 27 points—and a school-record nine 3-pointers.
“My coach (Bamar Lewis) told me about the record the next day,’’ Price said. “I had no idea. When the shots go in and everything is clicking as a team, it’s so much fun. I hope we can do that a lot this season.’’
Wagner (6-feet, 175 pounds) said he’s considered on the small side for lacrosse. “I run into plenty of defenders who are like 6-3, 225 pounds,’’ he said.
Size means something.
But it doesn’t mean everything.
“You need a lot of endurance,’’ Wagner said. “Size doesn’t matter as much as having a big heart. If you’re determined to go get something, you can definitely do that and outwork the other guy.
“If you’re constantly trying and hustling, you’re going to do better than the other guy, even if he’s twice your size.’’
That description tells the story for Wagner—and for Alonso lacrosse.
The Ravens, previously a lightly regarded program in Hillsborough County, made major waves last season by finishing 12-6 and earning a playoff berth.
Wagner, who plays midfield/attack, set a perfect tone for the turnaround year in the season-opening 9-8 upset at Bloomingdale. With the Ravens and Bulls tied in the final minute, Wagner raced to the goal crease and caught a pass from Kennedy Klaus. Wagner noticed the Bloomingdale goalie was defending the strong side.
“So I shot it behind my back,’’ Wagner said.
“It felt great,’’ he said.
Wagner paced the Ravens with 89 points (56 goals, 33 assists), serving notice that Alonso lacrosse wasn’t going to be pushed around any longer.
“I think we made a name for ourselves, but now we have a target on our backs,’’ Wagner said. “That’s OK. We’ll be up for the challenge. But we need to raise our level to get where we want to go.’’
Wagner, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average, said he hopes to play lacrosse in college, perhaps at an out-of-state school. He trains with a travel team, the Bay Area Sandsharks, and gained summer exposure by playing in a tournament at Gettysburg, Pa.
It’s a long way from his introduction to lacrosse, when he was 10 years old.
“My neighbor played and he got all my cousins and sister into it as well,’’ Wagner said. “We played in the yard, in the street. I could barely catch and shoot when I started, but the game really grew on me. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.’’
Especially as an Alonso senior.
“We’re geared up for a special season,’’ Wagner said. “I can’t wait for it to start.’’
By Joey Johnston; Photos by James Broome Photography