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Careers without closure: Tampa Bay seniors reflect on their final prep season

The pandemic prevented local seniors from Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties from crossing the finish line of their high school careers.
Hernando's Connor Morgan, left, Alonso's Stephanie Sandborn, center, and Boca Ciega's Carmen Perez are among the many Tampa Bay athletes whose final spring seasons ended abruptly.
Hernando's Connor Morgan, left, Alonso's Stephanie Sandborn, center, and Boca Ciega's Carmen Perez are among the many Tampa Bay athletes whose final spring seasons ended abruptly. [ Special to the Times; Photo by Scott Purks; Times files ]
Published May 29, 2020

Athletes tend to remember the end of their playing careers. That final workout in the home gym. The celebratory vibe of Senior Night. That last lap around the track.

For the class of 2020, the farewell memories will be more bittersweet. The coronavirus pandemic cut thousands of seniors’ spring seasons short — without advance notice, without a chance for any real sense of closure.

We caught up with about a dozen of these athletes from around Tampa Bay. Here are links to their stories:

Sitara Sriram went 10-1 at No. 1 singles as the Pasco girls tennis team mostly steamrolled its way to an 11-0 mark. But a final crack at the state tourney was not meant to be.

Connor Morgan and his Hernando baseball teammates were really starting to put together a special season. “My goodness, woulda, coulda, shoulda,” their coach says.

Stephanie Sandborn would have had a shot at a third straight state title with the Alonso flag football team. "I’ll definitely have these memories forever and I’ll always remember winning those games.”

Josh Abrams entered his senior year 20 wins from tying Wiregrass Ranch’s school record of 79 match wins. And if you know anything about the Bulls’ powerhouse tennis program through the years, that would have been quite the feat.

• Springstead’s Charlize Soares tied for fourth in the high jump and placed third in the triple jump in her final track and field meet. But she’s glad that she didn’t know at the time it was the end of her season; the extra emotion would have made it overwhelming.

East Lake's Parker Valby surges ahead for what would be a state record-setting 3,200-meter performance at last year's Class 3A meet at the University of North Florida.
East Lake's Parker Valby surges ahead for what would be a state record-setting 3,200-meter performance at last year's Class 3A meet at the University of North Florida. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times (2019) ]

Parker Valby may be luckier than most. She had at least tasted state gold as a junior at East Lake, also setting a state record in the 3,200 meters. “I’m definitely thankful I had the season I had last season.”

Ajay Vander Werf knows how hard it is to make the varsity baseball cut at Jesuit. So he proposed that he could be the bullpen catcher at practices and games for the state title-contending Tigers. “It’s really sad that we were not gonna be able to finish up what we started."

Carmen Perez and Alanah Rivera were the lone seniors on their Boca Ciega softball team. But they’re lucky: college careers await them. “I feel really bad for the seniors that aren’t going to continue playing in the future,” Rivera said.

• Sunlake’s Damian Riewold saw his weightlifting season wiped out, and could not even really enjoy fruits of a successful football career. His signing day ceremony — he will be a linebacker at Warner University — was streamed via Zoom.

Anthony Alexis had already showcased his speed in the fall as a Springstead running back. He was hoping an impressive spring running sprints might help him land a late scholarship offer.

• A torn labrum was already going to keep Bri Langlois off the mound for her final softball season. But she wasn’t expecting the pandemic to keep her Newsome teammates (“a sisterhood”) away from each other.

• Keswick Christian’s Carter Casko had a mental image of what his final Senior Night would be like — his whole family there, with plenty of time to mentally and emotionally prepare for the last home game he’d ever play. Instead, he had a half-hour to get himself ready.

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