Girls high school team, athletes in Clay County win state championships in 2022-23

Tony Salazar

As the 2022-23 school year officially comes to a close on Friday, Clay County had one of its most exciting athletic years in recent history.

Many athletes will play their sport at the next level across all divisions of athletics. Some will graduate and never play sports again and many athletes will return for their sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

Women’s sports in particular had a phenomenal year with four programs coming away with state championships. Listed below are the girls programs that ended the school year with an FHSAA State Championship.

Fleming Island Swimming/Diving

The Fleming Island Swimming and Diving team had two swimmers finish in first place in the state championship.

Junior Maryn McDade won the 2022 FHSAA 3A State Championship 50m freestyle with a 23.23 time. McDade is ranked on Swimcloud as the 31st-ranked swimmer in Florida and the 361st-best swimmer in the class of 2024. McDade won the 50m freestyle in her sophomore season and will look to add a third straight as she returns back to the pool in the fall for her senior year.

Sophomore Ava Brinkman scored 448.85 points to win the 2022 FHSAA 3A State Championship Diving Competition. Brinkman will have two more seasons to repeat as a state champion.

Middleburg Wrestling

Middleburg’s Cheyenne Cruce finished her season undefeated with a 39-0 record and as a state champion in individuals. Cruce capped off her undefeated sophomore season with a 2-0 decision over Key West’s Shannon Briggs for the 190-pound State Championship. Cruce is the first wrestler from Middleburg for both boys and girls ever to win a wrestling State Championship. Cruce is only a sophomore so she will have two more seasons to compete for another State Championship.

Clay High Weightlifting

Clay High is the lone Clay County girls team to win a state championship as a team. Clay High won back-to-back Traditional and Olympic 2A FHSAA State Championships, with two girls winning individual State Championships.

Under the leadership of head coach Rodney Keller, Clay High has continued its legacy as one of the top girls weightlifting programs in the state of Florida. Clay had six girls place, which gave Clay High a score of 25 points and a win by one point against New Smyrna Beach. In the 129-pound weight class, Emma Heck placed first with a 375-pound total. Anna Shepard placed seventh in the 139-pound weight class with a 315-pound total. Janiyah Stevens finished fourth in the 154-pound weight class with a 385-pound total. Annalee Harbison placed second in the 183-pound weight class with a 395-pound total. Ansley Lyda finished seventh in the 199 weight class with a 335-pound total. Kyleigh Lafary finished first in the unlimited with a 450-pound total. Kenya Tinajero finished fourth in the unlimited with a 400-pound total.

Heck and Lafary also won individual championships for Clay High. As a sophomore, Heck won the 129-pound 2A FHSAA Olympic and Traditional State Championship. She set a state record 170-pound snatch and was the overall highest lifter in 2A. Heck has two more years of high school to repeat as a State Champion. Lafary won the Olympic and Traditional 2A State Championship in the unlimited.

Fleming Island Weightlifting

Fleming Island Golden Eagles’ weightlifter Autumn Leviston won the FHSAA 2A State Championship in the 110-pound weight class with a total of 325 pounds. Leviston also broke the all-time FHSAA bench press record in her weight class with a 180-pound bench.

Fleming Island Flag Football (Honorable Mention)

Despite finishing as the FHSAA 2A Flag Football State Championship Runner-Up, the Golden Eagles flag football team earns an honorable mention in this article for their tremendous season that was just short of a state title. The Golden Eagles were undefeated until they suffered a 33-6 loss to the Alonso Ravens.

The Golden Eagles finished the season with a 16-1 record, with seven of those wins in the playoffs. Fleming Island dominated the local competition on offense and defense. The Golden Eagles' defense did not allow a single point until the second round of the playoffs in their week 11 win over the Mandarin Mustangs, 32-6.

The Golden Eagles' defense ended the season with 243 total tackles, 20 sacks and 29 interceptions. Gaby Musa led the team in tackles with 68, Ariana Pierce led the team in sacks with 10 and London Jenkins led the team in interceptions with eight.

Along with a stout defense, the Golden Eagles had the best offense in Clay County by a significant margin. In 17 games, Fleming Island scored 472 points, which is 27.76 points per game. Maddox was the focal point of the offense, with 1,903 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and four interceptions with 1,040 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Jenkins was the leading receiver for Fleming Island with 911 yards and 18 touchdowns on 54 receptions.

Fleming Island is a very young team with many returning starters that will push for the 2024 2A FHSAA State Championship. Some of those players include Maddox, Jenkins, Musa, Pierce, Emerson Tees, Megan Cobb, Devyn Dudones and Daisy Fletcher.
Photo byFHSAA's Twitter

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I am a graduate of the University of North Florida with a major in communication with a focus in journalism and a minor in sports management.

Green Cove Springs, FL

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