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Six Alonso Athletes to Watch

Today, the World of Westchase presents its annual Athletes to Watch at Alonso High School, more evidence that the Ravens continue to produce high-level competitors, some of whom already have committed to play college athletics.

They are some of the best and brightest students at Alonso — talented athletes, ambassadors for their school, points of pride, leaders, record-setters in the games and good examples in the classroom.

It’s a diverse group. But whether they deal in bats, balls, gloves, sticks, hoops, nets, clubs, rackets or spikes, they are unified by a sense of purpose, a tireless work ethic and a love for their school.

Here’s a closer look:

SKYLER GILLETT

Gillett said pacing herself is more fun than running a short distance or a lap around the track. She was drawn to distance running, both in track and field and cross country.

Now Gillett can’t imagine it any other way.

In cross country, Gillett placed second at districts while qualifying as an individual for regionals and the state meet. Along the way, she ran a 19:26, which was just 15 seconds behind Tabitha Suggs’ school record.

In track and field, she ran an 11:33 at regionals in the senior-dominated 3,200 (two-mile).

“Distance running is different, but it’s definitely my crowd of people,’’ Gillett said. “The sprinters are a totally different kind of runner. I think the distance crew is definitely closer and has more fun.’’

They might be bonded by the crazy workload.

“It’s normal for me to trainer twice a day sometimes,’’ Gillett said. “It’s sometimes hard to get out of bed at 7 a.m. for the morning run, but I somehow get going.

“There’s always someone training that’s faster than you. So you don’t want to be falling behind, and that motivates you to keep working.’’

Gillett has received some notoriety from the Alonso student body — and she appreciates the attention.

“Some people know what I do, but most have no idea,’’ Gillett said. “They’re like, ‘Oh hey, congrats on your … whatever.’ It’s not like football. No one really knows about cross country and track.’’

Gillett said the physical aspect of running is difficult, but that doesn’t compare to the mental challenges.

“Coach [Roger] Mills has helped me a lot with mental toughness,’’ Gillett said. “That mentality is one of the best things you can have on race day. And if you can train for a race and finish it, you can probably finish most things, so it helps you out everywhere.’’

COLE GINGELESKI

Gingeleski, now a 7-foot, 224-pound center for Alonso’s basketball team, has grown into his formidable body and feels comfortable in his own skin.

“I think it’s awesome,’’ said Gingeleski, who averaged 8.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game as a junior. “Oh, sometimes you’ll get questions or people staring at you or people saying, ‘Wow, how tall are you?’ But other than that, I think there are advantages to being 7-feet tall.’’

One of them is not shopping for voluminous clothing choices at the neighborhood store. Gingeleski wears a size-16 shoe and orders all of his pants online. He can never find jeans that fit properly. Doorways, sports cars and school desks aren’t his friends, either.

But in basketball? His future seems tantalizing.

“He can run the floor, he can catch the ball, he has a nice shot and he’s a great kid,’’ Alonso coach Todd Price said. “If he keeps improving, there’s no telling where Cole could go in basketball.’’

Gingeleski, who grew 6 inches during his seventh-grade year, has been haunted by injuries. He was out for the majority of his freshman year following knee surgery. He had a wrist injury as a junior. He was limited this summer by an ankle injury.

“I honestly don’t know if it’s bad luck or too much growing by my body at such a young age,’’ Gingeleski said. “Nothing happened when I was a sophomore. I hope I can have an injury-free season as a senior. I’m ready for it.’’

Gingeleski said basketball scholarship offers haven’t yet occurred, probably because of his injuries. But if he stays healthy, there will certainly be interest by Division I schools, just because of his potential.

“When I couldn’t play and could just watch, I’m still learning more about the game,’’ said Gingeleski, who has a 6-9 father, a 6-foot mother and a 6-6 brother. “I realize how much I can protect the basket just due to my size. I need to concentrate on the things I do well and not beat myself up over the things I don’t do as well.

“If teams are concentrating on stopping me, I can find my open teammates. I’m pretty athletic for my size, so that’s going to be an asset.’’

Some big men feel trapped in their body. Not Gingeleski. He sees the value and knows he could go far in basketball.

“When I first got to Alonso, I felt like all eyes were on me all the time,’’ said Gingeleski, who has a 3.75 grade point average. “I’d be walking through the hallway and some kid would yell, ‘Giant!’ Now everybody knows who I am. I have a lot of friends and it’s not a big deal. I’m pretty well-known and accepted, so I’m happy about that.

“I just want to put together a full, healthy basketball season. If everything goes well, I feel like our team can be unstoppable.’’

GAVIN HUGHES

Friday Night Lights is more than a cliche for Hughes, an outside linebacker for Alonso’s football team. It’s his way of life.

“There’s nothing like the atmosphere of game night,’’ Hughes said. “There’s such excitement in the air. You make a big-time play and the crowd roars, then everybody asks you about it all week. It gets your blood pumping.’’

Hughes was one of Alonso’s most productive players last season, ranking second in tackles (85) and first in interceptions (three), along with 15 tackles for a loss.

“Whatever it takes to help us win,’’ said Hughes, who began playing football in the fourth grade with the Westchase Colts. “Wins are the biggest statistic.’’

Hughes hopes to continue the upward trajectory of Alonso football, which reached 6-4 last season under second-year head coach Dylan Clark. But after the season, Clark stunned everyone by resigning for family reasons and the job went to assistant Hayden Cantrell, who became Alonso’s fifth head football coach in seven seasons.

Cantrell was assistant coach and offensive coordinator for the Ravens, who averaged 41.6 points per game in four of their final five contests.

“For a second, when Coach Clark left, we thought we were in trouble,’’ Hughes said. “But we think the transition will be smooth. Coach Clark and Coach Cantrell, they’re like the same person. It’s the same style. So, I think we’re going to move forward just fine.’’

As for Hughes, he’s hoping for an opportunity at college football. First and foremost, though, it’s about having a great senior season.

“I want to be energetic and infectious to my teammates,’’ Hughes said. “I want to be the guy to help get the team started. Getting tackles, sacks and interceptions is great. But most of all, I want to win.’’

RYAN MARTIN

How important is Martin to Alonso volleyball? She has an opportunity to become the program’s first-ever four-time Most Valuable Player.

As in … every season she has played.

“I was really surprised to be MVP as a freshman,’’ Martin said. “It just kind of happened that way, I guess, even though I was a little nervous to start out playing in high school. I just played the way I always play.’’

And that has always been good enough.

“I try to be strategic and find the open spaces in the court,’’ said Martin, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter. “When it hits the floor [for a successful spike], there’s nothing like that. It feels absolutely amazing.’’

Last season was amazing in its own way. Alonso posted its first winning volleyball season in a decade. Martin said she hopes to build on that during her senior year.

“We only won one or two matches my freshman year, then slightly more as a sophomore … so having a winning record was great,’’ Martin said. “It’s going to take all of us pulling together, but I think we can do it.’’

Martin, who has a 5.4 weighted grade point average, doesn’t plan to play volleyball in college, so she’s eager to soak up every memorable moment as a senior.

“I will miss it when it’s time to move on,’’ Martin said. “It has taught me so much about discipline, being healthy and working in a group. Things I will be able to take with me.’’

CHRIS MORGAN

Morgan, heading into his fourth season as an Alonso varsity baseball player, has developed a reputation of being in the right place at the right time.

That was never more evident than two seasons ago when the Ravens were protecting a one-run lead at home against Plant. The Panthers had the go-ahead runner in scoring position and a batter hit what looked to be a screaming low liner into the left-field goal. But there was Morgan, from his shortstop position, running and leaping to grab it for the game-saving out.

“There are a lot of big moments people remember in baseball like the home runs and the strikeouts, but it’s really about the little things,’’ Morgan said.

And that’s where Morgan excels, whether it’s defensive positioning, moving the runners, doing what’s necessary to win. He batted .384 last season and struck out only five times in 90 plate appearances.

But Morgan said the best part of his Alonso baseball experience has been interacting with his teammates.

“My teammates have built a bond and a brotherhood,’’ Morgan said. “We have really become like a family. It’s crazy how tight we got. That has really been the enjoyment for me, playing and winning games with my friends.’’

Morgan said he considers himself an asset both offensively and defensively. Now he wants to step up his leadership and follow the example of a former teammate, Zen Hiatt, who now plays at the University of Montevallo.

“He talked to me when he left and said how important it was to keep things going, to keep being a good example for the younger players,’’ Morgan said. “I don’t know if I can be as good of a leader as Zen was, but I will try. I definitely feel like I need to be in more of a leadership role and I’m excited to do that.’’

Morgan also wants to lead Alonso back to prominence. The Ravens have largely been competitive but haven’t won a postseason game since 2016 — too long of a gap, according to Morgan.

Morgan is open to playing college baseball, but hasn’t yet received any scholarship offers. If this is his last season of baseball, he’d like to attend a Florida university. He has a 5.8 grade point average and made his first B last school year (AP Calculus).

“A great senior year would be winning the district and going as far as we can,’’ Morgan said. “I think we have the tools to do it.’’

MIEKE ROWE

In flag football, she wears No. 00.

“At first, the coaches gave it to me as a joke,’’ Rowe said. “As a freshman, I had no confidence. I’d say, ‘No way I can make this throw.’ So, it was zero for zero confidence.

“Then things got better as a sophomore. I had a bigger role. I went to double zero. And that’s where I still am. I love the number.’’

Rowe has even more distinctive numbers. As quarterback for the 19-2 Ravens, Rowe led the state in passing yards (5,091), touchdowns (91) and average yards per game (242.2).

Beyond the numbers, Alonso coach Matt Hernandez said Rowe is a remarkable Raven.

“Mieke is one of the most motivated and hard-working players we’ve ever had in the program,’’ Hernandez said. “Her freshman season was cut short due to Covid. During that time, she would tie a bucket to a tree so she had something to throw to. Her entire progress between her freshman and sophomore year was due to her desire to be better.

“She transformed into the most prolific quarterback in the state last year due to her work ethic and love of the sport. She is humble to a fault. She is always fighting to be better and never sits back and realizes how far she has come.’’

Rowe is a lifelong soccer player, a team captain and tenacious center back who led the Ravens in scoring with 12 goals. Ordinarily, that would be accomplishment enough. But Rowe’s flag football achievements have put her in the stratosphere.

“Playing flag football at Alonso has been really incredible and it’s honestly changed my life,’’ Rowe said. “It has taught me to be a better person. It’s where I’ve met my friends. The coaches are amazing. The expectations are super high, but I truly have become a better person just from being on this team.’’

Rowe, whose Dutch-based first name is pronounced Mee-kah (her father is from the Netherlands), said her receivers are excellent and “they make me look good,’’ while also crediting hours of practice for her passing precision. She also said she responds to Hernandez’s coaching method, which emphasizes communication.

Rowe, who currently ranks in the top 10 of her senior class (5.9 weighted grade point average) and serves as Student Government president, attends specialized training with former Alonso quarterback C.J. Bennett. Rowe, who was Bennett’s first female pupil, changed her form and throwing motion. It has made all the difference.

“I’d like to throw for more yardage, more touchdowns and win the state title, of course,’’ Rowe said.

By Joey Johnston; Photos by Pat Duffey
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