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The Daily Sun

BEST OF THE BEST: The Sun Preps Athletes, Coach of the Year

By By Patrick Obley Sports Editor,


They are headed to opposite ends of the country.

One will play football but happens to be just as good at wrestling and throwing the javelin. The other will play volleyball, but if she so chose, there could have been a future in weightlifting or track and field.

Charlotte’s Cael Newton and Lemon Bay’s Presley Engelauf are the Sun Preps Boys and Girls Athletes of the Year for their well-rounded skill sets as much as the excellence they’ve displayed in the sports that carry them into college.

As they move on to the next phase of their lives, Brian Wheatley remains steadfast on his chosen path. The Venice volleyball coach heads into summer knowing the Indians squad that returns in the fall has every chance to add another state title to his personal coaching resume.

After Venice’s historic run to its sixth state championship this past fall, Wheatley is the Sun Preps Coach of the Year.

In addition to these three honors – the highest in the land of Sun Preps – we also honor the players of the year at each school. These awards don’t necessarily go to the athlete with the best stats, nor the one with the best Power-5 scholarship in hand. Some might not have even earned Sun Preps All-Area accolades in a given sport.

That said, in choosing the Sun Preps’ Athletes of the Year, an emphasis is placed on all-around excellence in multiple sports. In this era of sport specialization, it’s the multi-sport standouts that catch our eye.

The individual school players of the year are:

Charlotte: Brayan Augustin (boys), Adrianna Iorfida (girls)

DeSoto County: Lil’Dreco Tompkins (boys), Brooke Zolkos (girls)

Imagine: Angelo Blas (boys), Madison Atwood (girls)

Lemon Bay: Jace Huber (boys), Taylor Orris (girls)

North Port: Evan Crane (boys), Malia Hambrick (girls)

Port Charlotte: Caleb Campos (boys), Morgan Willis (girls)

Venice: Ben Tary (boys), Kyla Freddolino (girls)

Congratulations to all. Now, let’s turn our attention be to the Big Three.


Newton was an easy choice for the Third Annual Boys Athlete of the Year. Like the 2022 winner – Venice’s Jayshon Platt – the Charlotte graduate excelled at something in all three sports seasons.

During the fall, Newton anchored the Tarpons’ defensive line, leading the team with 112 tackles, 13 for loss, nine sacks, 27 quarterback hurries, an interception, two pass breakups, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, that sort of production earned him a spot on the Army football team.

Though he’ll be on the gridiron at the West Port, N.Y., service academy, Newton might also be found knocking around the wrestling room during the winter. In March, he became the area’s lone wrestling state champion, taking the title in the 220-pound weight class.

Thanks to his 6-foot-6 frame, Newton was a matchup nightmare. At regionals, he won all four matches via pins with only one of those matches lasting longer than 45 seconds. At the state meet, he roared through his competition to the finals, where he pinned Dylon York of New Smyrna Beach with 17 seconds remaining in the first period.

Not one to stay idle, Newton kept busy as the calendar turned to spring, competing in weightlifting and track, where he finished second in the region and ninth at state in the javelin competition.

During the 2022-23 season, Newton earned All-Area first team honors in football, wrestling and track, and was the Sun Preps 2023 Wrestler of the Year.

THEY SAID IT: “Cael has been a godsend. He’s just that student-athlete that any coach would love to have,” Mentzer said. “He was a great role model and leader for the young guys, and when you talk about setting the foundation, really, that’s what you’re going to see moving forward, is examples like Cael.” – Cory Mentzer, Charlotte football coach.

HE SAID IT: “I knew I was gonna go out there and get it done. So it was over when I stepped on the mat.” – Newton, after winning his state wrestling title.


With her all-around versatility and spirit of adventure, Engelauf could have played any sport, anywhere.

And so she is.

The Lemon Bay graduate will play volleyball at the far-flung University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Despite landing on the opposite side of the country from Newton, Engelauf’s decision shares a little of that U.S. Army DNA – Engelauf’s father saw his service time end before ever getting posted to Fort Wainwright, the well-regarded Fairbanks post on Alaska’s frontier.

Now, he’ll have the opportunity to at least visit his daughter as she continues her volleyball career after finishing off a senior season that saw her record 197 kills and 35 blocks.

While volleyball is what will pay her way in the Great White North, Engelauf could just as easily turned her focus elsewhere. During the winter season, she excelled as a member of the Manta Rays’ weightlifting squad, where she finished second in the Tradition and Olympic competitions at the Class 1A state meet.

As soon as the weights were put away, Engelauf headed outdoors with track and field. There, she closed out her high school career with a bang, showing out at the Region 2A-3 meet. She took second in the high jump, seventh in the shot put and third in the javelin, qualifying for state in the high jump and javelin. She was one of just two area athletes to qualify for state in two individual events.

For her efforts, Engelauf was a Player of the Year finalist in volleyball, Athlete of the Year finalist in track and field as well as a first-team All-Area weightlifter.

THEY SAID IT: “She said she was thinking about going up to Alaska. I was, like, okaaay.” – Lemon Bay volleyball coach Pat Auer

SHE SAID IT: “I had been to a lot of colleges that were close. I had seen Nova (Southeastern), I had seen FGCU, I visited their programs, but out of all the programs I had been to, regardless of the distance, Alaska was the one that felt closest to home. It was just weird that something so far and so out of the ordinary felt so perfect. The whole situation was just odd … but it was perfectly odd.” – Engelauf on choosing UA-Fairbanks.


As mentioned earlier, Wheatley had already won five state titles and his place among the pantheon of great Florida volleyball coaches was secure by the time his Venice Indians hit the court against Hagerty for the Class 7A state championship this past fall.

In a unique twist that spoke to just how influential the long-time Indians mentor has been, Wheatley found himself staring across the court at one of his former players. Hagerty coach Juanita Hitt was one of Wheatley’s first players as a 25-year-old summer club volleyball coach.

Sentimentality and nostalgia quickly dissipated when Hagerty punched Venice in the nose and took the first game of the best-of-five match. Wheatley reset his troops and they responded like the finely tuned machine they had been throughout the postseason. Venice took the next three games and celebrated Wheatley’s sixth state crown.

So that’s the accomplishment that speaks to the resume. Here’s the bit that sells Wheatley as the 2022-23 Sun Preps Coach of the Year: Venice would not have had the opportunity to win the title had it not pulled off one of the most probable comebacks in the program’s recent memory.

A week earlier, Venice found itself down 24-20 in the fourth set of the regional final against Plant, facing match point. In that moment, Wheatley placed his faith in server Carli Waggoner and the rest of the Indians. Waggoner delivered a string of well-placed serves as Venice stormed back to steal the set, 26-24, on the way to a stunning five-set comeback win (10-25, 25-22, 16-25, 26-24, 15-9).

In addition to the sixth state title, Venice picked up its 14th region championship and 21st consecutive district crown (26 overall) with Wheatley at the helm. His players know Wheatley to be a demanding coach who is serious about summer conditioning and focused practices.

He is also given over to the occasional gimmick. Prior to the Region 7A-3 semifinal win over Winter Haven, Wheatley drove home the point of “eating the competition alive” by grabbing a shrimp out of a jar of water and chewing it up.

THEY SAID IT: “There’s so much that makes him this legend, and this dynasty that he’s created, but he has an incredible ability to recognize a player’s potential. He can also figure out how to best maximize that potential. I think that’s such a unique quality of any human, much less a coach. The qualities he has transcend beyond the volleyball court.” – Dr. Misti Neutzling, former Venice player (1994-98)

HE SAID IT: “You never know when you’re going to get back. For me it’s about opportunity. It’s been five years, and I’m thinking, ‘Maybe we’re never gonna get back. Who knows?’ … If you do get this chance, you have to seize the moment. That’s what we wanted to get through to them. No opportunity wasted.” – Wheatley following Venice’s 6th state title and first since 2017.

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