They are among the best and brightest athletes at Alonso High School.
They have learned about the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and the necessary grind of preparation, almost from their days as pre-schoolers. Now it’s time to celebrate their successes as seniors.
But regardless of the sport—or whether those competitions are on a field, diamond, court or pool—they are confronting the most formidable opponent of all.
The coronavirus continues to run up the score against young athletes, who might be facing a normal season, a shortened season, a delayed season or possibly no season at all.
No one knows—yet.
But for these six Alonso senior athletes, some things are certain. They will play for fun, for camaraderie with friends, for their school’s honor. Most of them will pursue athletic opportunities in college. They hope to make some unforgettable memories while leaving a lasting mark.
They are the Alonso Athletes to Watch for the 2020-21 school year.
Here’s a closer look:
Basketball brings a special joy to Barnes, a 5-foot-11 senior who describes the sports as her “release.’’
“Game nights are the best,’’ said Barnes, who scores in double figures while averaging about eight rebounds per game. “The excitement and energy you feel are some of the really special moments. But I just like being in the gym, even for practices. It’s a good way to get out your stress and frustrations.
“It’s two hours away where you can do something physical. I give my complete focus to basketball then because I’ve got to focus on academics the rest of the time.’’
Both of Barnes’ parents are doctors. One sister is in medical school and another will be there after undergraduate studies.
Barnes, who has made all A’s during her high-school career with honors and advanced placement courses, is more inclined to study business.
“Going to medical school was never forced on me,’’ Barnes said. “My parents just want me to find something I enjoy, something I’m good at.
“I am motivated to do well. I hold myself to a high standard. There’s no reason for me not to do it (earn A’s). Getting the work done and studying can be a lot, but I do like learning. It’s important to me.’’
That’s why academics—not basketball—will drive her decision to attend college.
“The idea of a Division III school—where you are a student first, then an athlete—has a lot of appeal,’’ said Barnes, who also competes as a triple-jumper and high-jumper for the track and field team. “But there aren’t a lot of Division III schools in Florida and there’s the factor of Bright Future, which gives very good scholarships to Florida schools.
“Basketball is a big part of who I am, but it’s just part of the picture. I think I’ll have my goals and focus in order.’’
Before then, Barnes said she’s looking forward to helping the Ravens back into the postseason. She has fond memories of her freshman season, when the Ravens reached the region semifinals, and would love a repeat.
With Alonso losing valuable perimeter shooters to graduation, Barnes said she expects an enhanced role. She’s an athletic forward who loves driving to the basket and flaunting her Euro-step moves.
“I just hope we can have a normal senior year with a full season and all the extra-curricular activities,’’ Barnes said. “But there’s only so much you can control. I’m trying not to get stressed about it.’’
Bitman, entering his third baseball season as Alonso’s starting catcher, is one of the most valuable Ravens. He does all the little things, while getting plenty of big hits, and maintains stability through a team-first approach.
“I try not to get caught up in the stats because they can get in your head,’’ Bitman said. “You can contribute to a victory in a lot of ways. Sometimes, you play your best game even when you don’t get hits.’’
Bitman led the Ravens in batting last season at .333, although it was a small sample size of just eight games before Alonso’s season was halted by the coronavirus. In 2019 as a sophomore, Bitman batted .296 and earned the team’s Most Improved Player award.
“I was honestly surprised and didn’t even know there was such an award, but it meant a lot to me,’’ Bitman said. “When I self-reflected, I got to thinking that I really had come a long way.’’
The award was a reflection of Bitman’s maturation as a catcher, a position he had occasionally played in Little League and travel ball. When there was a need for a catcher at Alonso, Bitman volunteered. He has since made it his identity.
“Some days, catching isn’t that fun,’’ Bitman said. “There’s always a part of your body that’s hurt. You just have to be tough and not complain.
“I do enjoy being in the middle of things and working with all the pitchers. You have to know how to talk to them and motivate them. We don’t have anyone we call captain, but I feel a responsibility to be a leader. I want to be the guy who sets a good example.’’
Bitman said it seems like his high-school career has “flown by’’ and he’s anticipating a memorable senior year. He still can’t believe last season was cut short by the virus and he’s hoping for an unencumbered 2021 baseball season with the Ravens.
“I remember being in the batting cage with the guys last season and we were saying we couldn’t wait until the games started again,’’ Bitman said. “They never did. I hope we can play from start to finish with any interruptions.
“I hope to play college baseball. That’s my dream. But before then, I want us to have a great record and go on a long playoff run. That would be the perfect way to go out.’’
At nearly 6-9, 300-pounds-and-change, Burdgess doesn’t sneak up on anyone. He’s a menacing, intimidating-looking presence while competing in his beloved basketball and his newfound sport, football. But looks don’t tell the whole story.
“My personality is I’m actually a nice guy, one who will actually become your friend,’’ Burdgess said. “Sometimes I hear it from coaches. ‘Tripp, you’ve got to be more tough. You’ve got to be mean.’ When I need to be that way, I am.
“But I come across in different ways in real life. I can be friends with anybody.’’
Burdgess began playing basketball in the sixth grade and quickly realized the advantages of a big body.
“When Tripp gets the ball down low, it’s a problem (for the other team),’’ Alonso boys basketball coach Todd Price said. “He has good feet and agility. He’s improving every single minute.’’
Burdgess has had several double-doubles (double-figure games in scoring and rebounding) with a career high of 25 points and 13 rebounds. His basketball contributions are easy to quantify.
He began playing football last season for the Ravens, lining up at left tackle and nose guard. By all accounts, even with his inexperience, he’s a big-time prospect there, too.
“The (football) coaches were always asking me, ‘Why don’t you play football?’ ‘’ Burdgess said. “I think I was so into basketball. I didn’t want to get an injury that kept me out of basketball.
“I started giving it some thought. With my parents behind me, I decided I would give it a try and see how I liked it.’’
Although basketball remains his favorite sport, Burdgess said he’s fascinated with the possibilities of football. His father, Derrick, was a defensive back at the University of Florida and a basketball/football standout at Brandon High School.
“My father never pressured me to play,’’ Burdgess said. “It was always up to me. I want to play sports in college and I always thought it would be basketball, but I guess I have a chance to do it in football as well.
“I’m just trying to roll with it. My education is the biggest thing. Sports are just a way to get that done. I do enjoy it and I love being out there.’’
Klaus, who plays attack for Alonso’s boys lacrosse team, was understandably disappointed when the Ravens’ promising 8-1 season was halted by the coronavirus in March.
The team had done well. So had Klaus.
But further examination of statistics showed that he did even better than imagined.
Klaus had 38 assists in nine games. Upon examination of MaxPreps, the nation’s foremost source for high-school sports information, that figure was tops in the state of Florida. In fact, it led the nation.
Granted, it was something of an apples-to-oranges comparison because some teams played fewer games. But it was still impressive—especially for a player from a non-traditional lacrosse background.
Klaus once told his father he was tired of Little League baseball. He wanted to try lacrosse. Something clicked. Klaus enjoyed the sport and had a knack for it.
Now he’s one of the top lacrosse performers in the class of 2021.
“Lacrosse is more of a fast-paced sport and you can build up a lot of individual skills,’’ said Klaus, who also had 26 goals last season for a total of 64 points. “It has suited me very well. I never care about goals and assists as long as I’m playing as best as I can.
“But it has been great to win. It used to be that playing against Alonso lacrosse meant a shoe-in win. Now we’re very competitive and capable of going up against anyone. It has been very satisfying. As a program, we have come a long way.’’
Two of Klaus’ teammates from last season—Tyler Wagner (Colorado State University-Pueblo) and Dante Mendez (Florida Southern College)—earned lacrosse scholarships. Klaus wants to pursue the sport in college, but also might play for a club team if he finds a non-lacrosse school that best suits his academic interests.
“The biggest thing is knowing how to work and how to prepare,’’ Klaus said. “We’d always say going into a game that you can’t decide you want to win halfway through it. You decide you’re going to win when you prepare and work hard in practice. That’s how you learn to compete. I love the games, but I also love the preparation.’’
What might have been?
Last season, Lanyon batted .579 for Alonso’s softball team. She had 13 RBIs in six games. The Ravens were riding an unbeaten streak (until dropping their final game against Wharton, surrendering a two-run lead and losing on a walk-off).
“It looked like we had a really special team that was capable of doing big things,’’ Lanyon said. “Unfortunately, we’ll never know.’’
The coronavirus made sure of that.
“It was very abrupt and it hurt a lot,’’ Lanyon said. “When we get back, I know everyone is going to be so excited and eager. We’ll play so hard. One thing that happened, having the season taken away from us made us pretty determined. We’re not going to take it for granted ever again.’’
Lanyon began playing softball at age 7 in Little League, then picked up travel ball three years later. Life on the softball diamond is what she knows best. She’s hoping to continue that passion in college.
“I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity to play for a Division I school, but I just want to get my name known and show people that I can play at that level,’’ Lanyon said. “Covid has made (looking for a college softball scholarship) a little bit harder, but I think I’ll get a chance at it.
“The biggest thing is having a senior year to remember. I understand it’s not going to be normal. It’s probably never going to be completely normal again. I’m prepared for whatever happens. I am counting my blessings because other people have it way worse than we do.’’
Lanyon is considering a psychology major. She’s interested in crime shows and forensics, while sometimes pondering that area as a possible career.
“Whether it’s softball or whatever I do with my life, I want to give it my all and be the best I can,’’ Lanyon said. “I always love to have a big goal to shoot for.’’
Montiegel said she no longer has to justify playing flag football.
“It used to be where people thought we were just a bunch of girls out there running around,’’ Montiegel said. “I’d say, ‘I play flag football at Alonso’ and somebody would say, ‘Oh, like powder puff?’
“No, it’s not like that at all. It has gotten a lot more athletic and it can be very physical. I think the sport is being better understood and accepted now.’’
Montiegel, a safety and slot receiver, is one of Alonso’s captains. She was part of Alonso’s two-time state champion teams in 2018 and 2019, although she dislocated her finger just before regional play in the latter year.
Last season was like a dream—then it became more of a nightmare.
It began with Alonso seeking a state title three-peat, getting outfitted by Nike, then participating in a high-exposure tournament at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ indoor facility.
Things were going great. Then the coronavirus hit.
“I didn’t believe it at first,’’ Montiegel said. “I thought it would be over in a few weeks. We stuck together as a team, but it was really frustrating.
“We did group workouts (online). We had (board) game night every week. We did a drive-by salute for the seniors. We were still a united team, but we couldn’t play the games. So when we finally get back, we will be more than ready.’’
Montiegel, who carries a 5.2 grade-point average, has dreams of working for Disney, hoping to build upon her knowledge of computer coding and special effects.
“I’m pretty tech savvy,’’ she said.
Until then, she’s just hoping for a memorable senior year.
“I’m a hard worker who wants to do the best job possible,’’ Montiegel said. “I hope the year goes well because it’s supposed to be your most fun year. There are a lot of things to look forward to. It has gone by so fast. I thought I’d have more time. I want to take it all in this year and hope it goes by nice and slow.’’
By Joey Johnston; Photos by James Broome Photography