The senior athletes at Alonso High School have been nothing but resilient.
Through two school years dominated by COVID-19, they have lost competitive opportunities, practiced while being masked up and wondered about the future. The senior athletes at Alonso High School have been nothing but resilient. Through two school years dominated by Covid-19, they have lost competitive opportunities, practiced while being masked up and wondered about the future.
But now it’s time for the class of 2022 to take their final jaunts around the fields, courts, mats and courses. By all accounts, some special seasons are ahead, mostly because of some special athletes—in many cases, some of the best to ever do it at Alonso.
“We strive for excellence in all things at Alonso and athletics are one of the big areas,’’ Alonso first-year principal James Harris said. “The athletic teams give us a connection with the community and it’s a real point of pride when we achieve. Our coaches and kids are truly dedicated.’’
As the Alonso school year begins with a full slate of sports, here is the WOW’s annual look at the Raven Athletes to Watch.
When she was younger, Anderson sampled voluminous sports and activities—golf, tennis, soccer, dance and gymnastics. They were nice. They were fun. But when Anderson discovered volleyball, she knew that was her favorite.
“It got my adrenaline flowing and I love that,’’ Anderson said. “It’s so fast-paced and interesting. There’s good energy. I just love it.’’
Anderson began volleyball in the fifth grade and has played for three different travel organizations, along with a spot on Davidsen Middle School’s team. She’s entering her fourth year as an Alonso varsity volleyball player.
At 5-foot-9—“actually 5-9 and a quarter, if that counts,’’ she said—Anderson has the size to be a factor at right-side hitter, outside hitter and middle blocker.
She’s known for playing with precision, usually hitting with few errors and serving flawlessly. She’s hoping for a winning season, a possibility that was boosted when the Ravens acquired a libero (defensive specialist) and setter through transfers.
“As long as we play as a team and are smart with the ball, I think we can be much improved,’’ Anderson said.
Anderson is accustomed to playing smart at Alonso. She has a 5.0 weighted grade-point average and would like to attend college in the state of Florida, possibly studying to work in sports medicine or to become a children’s physician.
Regardless of her path, Anderson will always be grateful for what volleyball has added to her life.
“I’ve had lots of fun and made lots of friends,’’ Anderson said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.’’
In Congolese, the native language of her father’s homeland, Bonga’s first name means “Sweetness.’’
Already, it seems like a sweet senior year is ahead.
Last February, Bonga received international notoriety when she narrated a Nike commercial that featured Alonso’s flag-football team.
We are not a number.
And we’re definitely not a stat.
We’re not here to break barriers anymore.
Today, we’re here to put up numbers.
“It had such a positive impact,’’ said Bonga, who plays wide receiver, middle linebacker and cornerback for the Ravens. “It exposed women’s sports in a new light. It was an amazing experience for me. My friends loved it. But it helped me develop a lot of new peers. It got me noticed, that’s for sure.’’
You can’t help but notice Bonga.
As a freshman, she contributed to Alonso’s Class 2A state-championship flag-football team in 2019. She’s a center midfielder on Alonso’s soccer team, where she was Rookie of the Year as a freshman and Most Valuable Player the past two seasons. She holds the school record for javelin on the track and field team.
But her most notable position is with Alonso’s Junior ROTC Raiders squad, where she was selected Battalion Commander. It’s a distinction given to a senior who shows leadership, gratitude and dedication to the program.
Bonga hopes to use her JROTC experience for a scholarship to USF or perhaps an appointment to a military academy, either through the Army or Air Force.
“It has been a crazy high-school career with Covid and everything,’’ Bonga said. “But it didn’t really slow me down. I’ve stayed active and been go, go, go all the time.
“Sports and the JROTC have given me a lot of confidence. There’s always room for growth and development, of course. But I’m ready to move forward in a positive direction. I have confidence that whatever I can shoot for is something I can accomplish.’’
Even though Harrison considers herself a basketball player who also performs in flag football, she’s using the latter sport as a potential platform to reach college. With the rise of flag football participation, scholarship offers are more prevalent, even with some NAIA university opportunities in Florida.
“It would be great if it happened,’’ Harrison said. “I think I can help a team and I could bring some skills.’’
Especially with one-handed catches.
She had two in one game, both against Jefferson, one on a pass reception, the other on an interception.
“Honestly, on the catch, I was just trying to stop an interception,’’ Harrison said. “I put my right hand out there and the ball stuck. We had to take a time out because everyone was so excited. On the interception, I put my hand out there and caught the ball. It was crazy.’’
Harrison brought that level of flair to flag football and basketball.
She’s a 5-6 point guard and one of the Ravens’ leaders, averaging eight points and four assists per game with a high of 24 points. In flag football, she scored 10 total touchdowns last season, catching 35 passes for 496 yards, while also nabbing six interceptions.
“I’m fast,’’ Harrison said. “I like to run and make things happen. Basketball was always my best sport. I like the bonding, the up-and-down action, making big plays and being there with your teammates.
“Flag has become kind of the same thing. It’s so much fun. And we have a great program at Alonso. I really want to win a lot of games in both sports for my senior year.’’
Hopkins already has established himself as one of the top runners in Alonso history. He’s a two-time state finalist in cross country. In track and field, he has school records for the 800 meters (1:58.1) and mile (4:27.34), while also competing in the two-mile run.
He’s following the path of his mentor, former Alonso runner Yonas Sauers, who moved to Seattle before his senior year and now competes for Wingate University in North Carolina.
Sauers still holds the Alonso boys 5K cross-country record of 16:19, although Hopkins ran a 16:23 last season.
“Raekwon is determined to take Yonas’ name off the record board,’’ Alonso cross country/track and field coach Roger Mills said.
Hopkins said he’s mostly determined to have a great senior year.
“I don’t think I’m the best—yet,’’ Hopkins said. “I still have lots to prove.
“I started running because of my mom. She wanted me to do it, but I never really liked it that much. I enjoyed the team and all.
“But when I decided I wanted to get good at it, everything changed. I want to go somewhere in life. I think running takes me there.’’
Hopkins said he feels he’s capable of winning state championships in cross country and the 800 meters in track and field.
“Raekwon is as naturally gifted a runner as we have had at Alonso,’’ Mills said. “But what has made the difference is his commitment to the process. Successful distance runners have to trust their mileage. He’s committed to that mileage and it’s paying off.
“To be that good, you have to be prepared to run 50 miles a week. That doesn’t change when your knee hurts or your back hurts. You still have to do it.’’
Hopkins keeps doing it, while maintaining a stoic, reserved nature.
“Raekwon can be playful, but he’s mostly quiet,’’ Mills said. “He’s the most quiet athlete I’ve had at Alonso. That doesn’t mean he’s not listening. But mostly, he wants to let his running do the talking.’’
So far, it has shouted volumes.
Wrestling and baseball.
It’s not a combination you see very often in high-school sports. But it works for Keesee, who’s on track to become the best wrestler in Alonso program history (if he isn’t already), while also contributing to Alonso’s perennially powerful baseball team.
Keesee became Alonso’s first regional wrestling champion last season while winning the Class 3A-Region 2 title in the 220-pound division, defeating Riverview’s Philippe Langelier 10-5 in the final after getting past Bartow’s Azarious Williams in a difficult semifinal.
“It felt amazing to do all that work and finish up the regionals like that,’’ Keesee said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.’’
But there’s still something ahead.
Keesee, who dropped two of his three matches at the state meet, would love to become Alonso’s first state wrestling champion. It’s within his reach. It will require hard work—but Keesee is accustomed to that.
He once played football for the Westchase Colts. He has played baseball at every level, from Little League to travel ball to Alonso, where he serves as a pitcher and outfielder.
But wrestling is his niche.
“My most dominant sport,’’ Keesee said.
He was directed into it by his father, Matt, a Nebraska native who wrestled collegiately at the Colorado School of Mines.
Wrestling isn’t for everyone. It’s a sport of enormous physical conditioning and sacrifice, but the results can be great. Keesee’s Alonso career record is 97-16 and he’s chasing the school’s all-time wins mark of 130.
The overlapping of wrestling and baseball seasons can cause some logistical problems. Sometimes, there are double practices. Sometimes, Keesee hustles over from the wrestling room to throw a baseball bullpen session.
He appreciates the teamwork and fellowship of baseball. But he also loves the individual nature of wrestling.
“It’s all about you and the effort you put in,’’ Keesee said. “I got to win something for the team and for myself. I think the baseball players think it’s cool what I’m doing in another sport. I’m the wrestling guy and it would be really cool if I can get a state championship.’’
Keesee hasn’t completely given up on the thought of college wrestling, although the sport has shrunk over the last few decades and doesn’t exist in Florida. More likely, he’s setting his sights on USF to study mechanical engineering and he’s also intrigued by a career in real estate.
Scott began playing basketball with the kid games at the Northwest Family YMCA. But at age 9, the counselors moved Scott into an older age group.
“They said I was too good,’’ Scott said.
That progression of improvement has held true. Scott is poised to become the best boys basketball player in Alonso history. It’s likely he’ll be the first player in program history to achieve a Division I basketball scholarship (in August, he scheduled visits to Morehead State, Mercer and Jacksonville University).
Scott, a 6-foot-3, 160-pound guard, led the Ravens to a district title and the region semifinals last season. He was also selected player of the year in the Western Conference’s American Division. He averaged 16.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists, while shooting 48.8 percent overall from the field, 43.4 percent from 3-point range and 75.9 percent from the free-throw line. In one of last season’s biggest games, he had 30 points against Sickles.
“Trent has off the charts character,’’ Ravens coach Todd Price said. “He’s a coach’s dream. He’s very loyal. So many kids jump ship when things don’t go their way. He trusts the process.
“He truly can do it all on the court. He contributes in so many ways and can affect the game without scoring. But when the chips are down, you want the ball in his hands. He really gets in the paint and he makes winning decisions once he’s there.’’
Scott said he was about 5-8 when he entered Alonso, so growing about 7 inches has boosted his confidence. He’s taller and more athletic.
Asked about his career highlight, Scott named the district championship and said his biggest goal this season is to reach the state Final Four and pursue a state title. In the classroom, he carries a 4.7 grade-point average and has interest in a criminal justice major in college, a reflection of his favorite class at Alonso so far, Forensic Science.
“Basketball is a great game and I think it can help me achieve my goals,’’ Scott said.
By Joey Johnston; Photos by Arielle Bader