When Academy at the Lakes coaxed coach Jerry English out of retirement before the 2012 season, the Pasco County softball veteran wasn’t sure what to think.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” English said.
What he got into was a growing athletic department that has had a breakout school year.
AATL’s baseball team had its best season with nine wins. Its boys basketball team made it back to the playoffs.
And less than three months after its girls basketball team advanced to its second consecutive final four, English has taken the Wildcats’ softball team to an 11-5 record and its inaugural state semifinal appearance. AATL faces Canterbury (19-12) at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Vero Beach.
“It just keeps happening,” senior Andrea Mauger said.
Mauger has been a part of the biggest success stories at the 132-student school in Land O’Lakes. She starred at forward on the basketball team, averaging 18 points as a senior under coach Karim Nohra and ranks among the team’s leaders with 11 RBIs.
Interest on campus is high, as shown by the number of students (and administrators) who drove to new Tampa on Monday afternoon to cheer on the softball team during school hours.
“It’s growing,” AATL senior Sydney Boynton said of the Wildcats’ athletic department. “Every year we keep getting better and better. We’re all just trying to get better and move on, get farther than we did the year before.”
So far, so good.
After reaching the Class 2A state semifinal in girls basketball in 2012, AATL took a step farther this winter, advancing to the championship game.
That the softball team followed suit, moving from the region final last year to state after Monday’s 9-4 win over Quincy Munroe, shouldn’t be a major surprise. The Wildcats returned the bulk of last year’s team, including USF commit Lauren Evans.
The reigning North Suncoast player of the year, Evans continued to dominate as a junior, batting .600 with 19 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits in 40 at-bats. On Thursday, the Florida Athletic Coaches Association announced she was the player of the year in Class 2A, District 10.
Evans has had plenty of help. Boynton was named an FACA all-star after posting a 2.46 ERA with 108 strikeouts and driving in 20 runs. Her younger sister, Skyler, has a .481 average and delivered a walkoff hit for a 3-2 region semifinal win over Deltona Trinity Christian.
“We’re developing,” Skyler Boynton said. “Hopefully people will see that and know it and appreciate it.”
English said the athletic department has followed the lead of boys basketball coach/athletic director Tom Haslam, who has a sign in his office reminding everyone that cultures don’t change overnight.
The Wildcats tested themselves by scheduling tougher opponents, dipping into Hillsborough County for nondistrict games against Tampa Catholic and Academy of the Holy Names. And they’re taking pride in little changes, like growing from 11 players last spring to 14 this year.
“The program’s building,” English said. “Next year we’ll have 15, maybe.”
Where: Vero Beach Sports Village
Admission: $9 per session
Parking: $5 for cars, $25 for buses
Class 2A: Academy at the Lakes vs. Canterbury, 10:30 a.m.; Orlando Pine Castle Christian vs. Princeton Christian, 11:30 a.m.
At stake: Winners meet in Saturday’s 11:05 a.m. title game, which will air on BHSN.