Tate, Kelter among Ultimate Preps
Ultimate Preps: The best of 2008-'09
There are teams of the year, coaches of the year and players of the year, but at ESPN RISE, we take it one step further by narrowing the field to the best of the best.
We gave our Team of the Year award to the boys' and girls' teams that were truly dominant and played the strongest competition possible.
For School of the Year, we picked programs that had no equal in winning championships and earning high national rankings.
Our Coach of the Year award recognizes those who not only guided their team to a major state championship, but have also been molding the lives of successful teenagers for many years.
Our Super Achiever of the Year, which we consider our highest individual honor, selects a male and female athlete who has been at least an All-American in one sport and at least all-state in a second sport and has earned a GPA above 3.0.
We think we've come up with some surefire Ultimate Preps in each category. Let us know what you think.
Boys' Team of the Year: St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Football
The Raiders are the perfect example of improving in each game of a season. In the Class 5A state final against Lakeland, a perennial power that also was undefeated and was ranked No. 1 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 just two seasons earlier, coach George Smith's team executed flawlessly on both sides of the ball and roared out to a 42-0 lead at halftime. The final score of 56-7 cemented the team's status as the No. 1 team for the final FAB 50 as well as one of the greatest football teams in Florida history.
For the season, St. Thomas Aquinas outscored its foes by a whopping 695-117 margin. In addition to routing Lakeland, the Raiders also impressed in wins of 65-10 against Deerfield Beach and 49-8 against Dillard of Fort Lauderdale. What made the team so strong was its balanced and explosive offense, combined with a lockdown defense. Junior running back Giovanni Bernard rushed for a team-best 1,528 yards and 18 TDs, while senior quarterback Ryan Becker passed for 2,033 yards with 30 TDs and just five interceptions. Wideout Duron Carter, the son of former NFL great and ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter, had 14 touchdown catches. Defensively, Cody Riggs, with eight interceptions, and Conor O'Neill, with 76 tackles, led the way.
Girls' Team of the Year: Fayetteville-Manlius (Manlius, N.Y.) Cross Country
Running under the name "Manlius Cross Country Club," Fayetteville-Manlius High has now won three straight national championships after its victory in December at the Nike National Cross Country meet. In that meet, coach Bill Aris' team went head-to-head against a Saugus (Calif.) High team that is considered to be the best team in the history of California girls' cross country. Saugus was no match for the New Yorkers, who won by 69 points.
Sophomore Courtney Chapman led the way in the victory, finishing seventh overall. Meaghan Anklin, Hannah Luber and Mackenzie Carter all finished in the top 25, while an ill Molly Malone rounded out their top 5 with a 63rd-place finish.
In all five years of the Nike national cross-country meet, a team from New York has captured the girls' championship despite bad weather that can limit their training compared to that of a team from California or another state with normally nicer weather. A fourth straight national championship next year may be in the cards for Fayetteville-Manlius, as they lose just Anklin to graduation, while likely returning one of their top runners, freshman Katie Sischo, who broke her foot and was unable to run in the national championship race.
Boys' Coach of the Year: Bill Vieth (Reitz Memorial, Evansville, Ind.) Soccer
After graduating six starters from an undefeated state title squad, Reitz Memorial was expected to take a step backward in 2008. That wasn't the case. Vieth guided this year's team to a second straight undefeated season, capped with a second consecutive state title -- a significant feat in Indiana, where all schools play for one state title. Reitz Memorial went 22-0-3 to run its undefeated streak to 50 matches. The team finished No. 9 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 fall boys' soccer rankings. Vieth has been leading the Tigers for 23 seasons, and this year marked his seventh state-championship season. He has an overall career record of 392-73-39.
Girls' Coach of the Year: Don Norford (Poly, Long Beach, Calif.) Track & Field
With solid contributions from a host of athletes, including a victory in the 4x100 relay and second-place finishes in the 4x400 relay, the 400-meter dash and the high jump, the Long Beach Poly girls' track team recently won its 10th state team title since 1992. No other school has won more than five. Spearheading all those titles, and an additional four state titles with the boys' track program at Poly, is Norford. He's not only the head coach for one of the most storied and talent-laden track programs in the country, but he is also well known as a mentor to Long Beach youth both on and off the fields of competition.
In fact, Norford might be the most well-known assistant football coach in the country, even winning Coach of the Year honors from the NFL in 1996 after a nomination from former Jackrabbits football standout Leonard Russell. Russell is just one of the more than 45 NFL players Norford has coached. Norford credits Crystal Irving as the head coach of Poly's 2008 girls' state title, but this year he once again accepted the team title at the victor's podium. Even without counting last year's title, Norford has still won more CIF state team titles (13 and counting) than any other coach in California state history in any sport.
Boys' School of the Year: Bolles (Jacksonville, Fla.)
A longtime power in numerous sports in the Sunshine State, the Bulldogs enjoyed a tremendously successful 2008-09 school year, especially on the boys' side. In the fall, coach Corky Rogers guided Bolles to its state-record ninth state title in football. The Bulldogs defeated Gulliver Prep of Miami, 49-20, in the Class 2A state final and finished 14-0. They finished the year No. 34 in the final ESPN RISE FAB 50 national rankings. Bolles more than doubled up on Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale) in the Class 2A state boys' swimming championship. The boys' golf team in the fall also shone with a fifth-place finish in the state tournament. In the winter, the highlight for Bolles was the boys' soccer team, which won the Class 3A state crown with a 2-1 victory in the final over Berkeley Prep of Tampa. The Bulldogs had to survive an overtime shootout against Lake Highland Prep of Orlando to avoid losing in the semis for the second straight year. Finally, in the spring, the baseball team compiled a 31-4 record and won the Class 2A state title. In the final, the Bulldogs blitzed defending champion American Heritage of Plantation, 14-4, in a game that was stopped after five innings. That win moved them up to No. 20 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50.
Girls' School of the Year: Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.)
This school has been at the top or near the top of girls' athletics in the nation for many years, and is the alma mater of Kerri Walsh and Brandi Chastain. This year, the Monarchs completed the rare feat of finishing No. 1 in the ESPN FAB 50 national rankings in two different sports. In the fall, with Stanford-bound junior Rachel Williams leading the way, Mitty's volleyball team won the CIF Division II state title with a 42-1 record. In the spring, with Oklahoma-bound senior Keilani Ricketts in the circle, the Monarchs' softball team was 32-0 and added a fifth straight CIF Central Coast Section title and a first-place finish at the Livermore Stampede tourney. But there was more to Mitty than just those two sports -- the girls rolled to a section title in swimming and did the same on the tennis courts. In soccer, the Mitty girls made it to the CCS finals, while in basketball the team finished No. 14 in the state rankings.
Boys' Super Achiever of the Year: Donavan Tate (Cartersville, Ga.)
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior was a baseball-football standout for the Hurricanes. The son of Lars Tate, a prep All-America running back and University of Georgia star who played three NFL seasons, was the No. 3 overall selection, and first high school player picked, in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft. The San Diego Padres' pick led the Hurricanes to a 30-5 record, a second straight state Class AAA title and a No. 30 ranking in the ESPN RISE FAB 50. The center fielder batted .525 with 10 home runs and struck out only eight times this season. He ended his prep career with 32 career homers.
In football, the University of North Carolina recruit was an all-state defensive back who also played quarterback and wide receiver for an 8-4 team. He passed for 17 touchdowns and 1,197 yards in the final six games of the season. Tate was ranked among ESPNU's Top 150 football prospects. Academically, Donavan was on the honor roll and compiled a 3.21 grade point average throughout his four years.
Girls' Super Achiever of the Year: Alev Kelter (Chugiak, Alaska)
There are a lot of two-sport athletes in high school, but Kelter does a little different combination than most: She scores goals on the soccer field and on the ice rink at a national-caliber level. Along with teammate Kelly Cobb, Kelter led Chugiak to the state tournament and was recently named the Alaska Gatorade Soccer Player of the Year for the second straight year. She and Cobb were forced to miss the state tournament, which saw the Cougars finish fifth, because they were at the U.S. Women's U-20 National Team Camp. Kelter was a member of last year's U-18 USA team.
On the ice, she was the captain for Team USA at the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation's World Women's U-18 Championship in Germany, in which the Americans defeated Canada for the title. In five games, she scored five goals, which led all defensemen and earned her best-defenseman honors. Kelter maintained a 3.4 GPA and played on the school's state champion flag-football team. In the fall, Kelter will head to the University of Wisconsin with her twin sister, Derya, where she'll play both soccer and hockey.
Mark Tennis is a deputy editor of ESPN RISE.
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