Five Plant City-area sports teams stood out from the pack this year.
1. Plant City Softball
Though the 2017 Raiders came just shy of making it to the state championship game, they did cement themselves as the best softball squad in school history.
Led by senior utility player Edmilly Molina and sophomore ace pitcher Ashley Blessin, Plant City won 22 games (including nine shutouts), its third consecutive district title with head coach Ashley Bullion and a regional championship over a vaunted Lakewood Ranch team. It was the first time Plant City had ever gotten to the state’s Final Four round, and the Raiders came in hot on a seven-game win streak that featured three shutouts.
This Raiders team raised the bar for the program and, with just three seniors lost to graduation, set high expectations for 2018.
2. Strawberry Crest Swimming and Diving
There’s no doubt Strawberry Crest’s swimming teams ruled the pool in 2017.
The boys and girls teams finished the season undefeated for the first time in program history. Under new head coach Amanda Linton, the girls picked up their first-ever Western Conference win. Eleven swimmers and diver Adrienne Flott made the cut for the 4A state championships in November and Celi Guzman, Zane Richardson and Rob Haywood recorded top-10 finishes in their respective events. Flott, a freshman, became the first Crest diver to make a state championship meet, a feat even more impressive considering it was the first year the Chargers offered diving.
The Chargers are hoping the success of 2017 will lead to more good things in 2018, including a bigger diving team.
3. Strawberry Crest Cheerleading
When the most disappointing thing about your state championship routine is a hair bow that won’t stay put, you’ve had a great run.
The Chargers placed first at regionals in January, despite being down one flyer. The Western Conference win streak (four consecutive titles) came to an end, but that experience was as good a motivational tool as any. The Chargers would have had a perfect score at states if not for that fallen bow, but an 82.3 was still good enough for the title by 8.1 points. No other team in Hillsborough County has ever three-peated at states.
Head coach Loveny Rivas and the Chargers are hoping to get back to the top of the cheerleading pyramid in 2018.
4. Plant City Dolphins Midgets
The only Plant City-area team to make a TCYFCC Superbowl did so in spectacular fashion.
The Plant City Dolphins Midgets team won all 10 of its regular-season games and gave up only two touchdowns, then cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs to set up a Superbowl showdown with the Brandon Cowboys on Dec. 2. Plant City prevailed, 6-0, thanks to a clutch defensive stop as time expired. They went on to play in the United YFL Football Championships and Game Day of Champions the following day.
Since most of the Midgets players were members of the 2016 Pee Wee squad that lost in that Superbowl, they wanted a win in 2017 more than anything else. As the team’s coaches like to say, good things came to those who trusted the process.
5. Durant Girls Basketball
Constance Mitchell’s fourth season with Durant saw the Cougars finally make the transition from “rebuilding project” to “playoff contender.”
Durant won 19 games, including 10 in 8A-District 9 play, and rode a nine-game win streak from mid-January through February’s district title game, a convincing 61-46 win over Tampa Bay Tech. Though the team did not make it out of the first round of regionals — it took a 63-43 loss to Palm Harbor University at home Feb. 9 — it was clear Durant had taken the next step as a program.
The team lost six seniors to graduation, though it did retain leading scorer Ashlyn Myers for one more season.