ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The crack of the bats. The whiz of the ball. Spring sports are officially on the clock.
All around the area, teams in baseball, lacrosse and softball took to the fields to get started with practices.
Lacrosse opens its regular season on Feb. 14. Baseball and softball both begin a week after that. Other spring team sports like flag football and beach volleyball don’t begin until next month.
Monday was a day a long time in the making.
“For me, it definitely has been like that,” said Bartram Trail softball player Ryan Trowell. “I’m super excited for the season to start. I’m excited to have the new freshmen come up and I’m excited for us to all grow as team and get better.”
At Bartram Trail, all of those spring sports were off and running. The open athletic field between the baseball and softball diamonds were buzzing with lacrosse athletes. On the softball field, first-year head coach Tony Sowers was running through drills trying to get acclimated to a change in sports.
The longtime baseball coach won 414 career games and led the Bears to the state title game in 2015 stepped down the following year. With Jennifer Harman, the program’s coach since the school opened in 2000, leaving for the athletic director job at Beachside High, Sowers jumped at the opportunity to get back in coaching a major team sport.
“I couldn’t wait to get out here. You know, I had made my practice plans up and you know, the energy was easy,” Sowers said. “The energy was easy once I got out here. When I started doing drills I was like, ‘oh man,’ this is old hat, ride a bike, whatever you want to call it. It was truly fun.”
In Clay County, that excitement was easy to spot.
The St. Johns Country Day baseball team reached the Class 2A state championship game last May before running aground in a 5-3 loss to Out-of-Door Academy. The Spartans are back, loaded once again for another shot at bringing home a title. They’re one of the top programs in the country as evidenced by a lineup fronted by FSU commit Jordan Taylor and Bradley Hodges (Virginia) and an invitation to the 16-team National High School Invitational in early April.
“We don’t really dwell on that too much [the 2021 finish], each year is its own year. There’s nothing we can change about last year, and it was an unreal experience. But it was a great experience for those guys to give them a chance to go down there to Fort Myers to see what that environment’s like,” Lucas said.
“But this year’s a different year. We can’t take any of those wins with us. We start 0-0 just like that. Other than probably we’ve got a little bit bigger of a target on our backs right now.”
Taylor, the area’s top draft prospect this year, said Monday was a day that had been circled on the calendar for quite some time.
“We’ve been talking about it for months. We’ve been getting after it in the weight room, classroom, everything. Just coming to this day and getting out here gives me chills. Everybody was pumped, everybody was excited to get out there.”
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