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Best of sports 2011

Rollins football club practices on Oct. 17.

Rollins football club practices on Oct. 17.

Isaac Babcock

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It was a big year for Winter Park High School, Rollins College and the University of Central Florida. All three achieved sporting milestones in the same year.

Gridiron resurrection

No one had worn a Rollins College football jersey for 62 years. Then freshman Jeff Hoblick changed that in a matter of months, pulling together an eclectic group of oddball athletes to create the Rollins College Football Club, with the founding help of his brother Greg, founding donor Bill Caldwell and two dozen players. Most of the squad hadn’t strapped on a jersey since high school. Some never had. Seven months later they played two games in their inaugural season, with a historic inaugural one on Oct. 24 against Webber International, and their first win on Nov. 5 against the football club at Clemson by a score of 30-14.

Back-to-back champions

In nearly 90 years, Winter Park High School had never had a state champion basketball team. Then in 2009-10 and 2010-2011, they won the state title back-to-back. Both times the boys played the same opponent, Dr. Phillips. The first championship came by a commanding 76-57 margin, bolstered by star Austin Rivers. The next year was a tougher fight on the court, but the Wildcats, with a stacked squad of seniors in their final year together on the court, emerged with an improbable second championship by a score of 52-44.

Star power

Winter Park’s Austin Rivers already had a famous name when he was born, but he went about making a name for himself anyway with calculating under-pressure performances on the court that earned him the nickname Sub-Zero. An immediate phenom with the Wildcats, he gained fame for a signature blurry crossover that made him impossible to predict, and even harder to stop. He would ascend as far as No. 1 in national high school player rankings, making good on that fame by leading his team to back-to-back state championships.

National champions

The Winter Park girls crew team defied the odds and shocked themselves with 27 medals at the national-level Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia after dominating at the state level all season. The girls got goose bumps as they rowed their boats to the special dock reserved for medal winners. For all of them it was their first time ever doing so. For many of them, it had been their last chance at national glory.

A tribute to a hero

When UCF’s football team faced off against Boston College on the weekend of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, few expected that the most memorable moment on the field would be about a lacrosse player. But when thousands of UCF fans stood to cheer in the third quarter, they pulled out red bandannas and waved them in tribute to Welles Crowther, a Boston College athlete who lost his life saving his co-workers in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. “That’s the classiest thing I’ve seen in sports,” Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo told the Orlando Sentinel after the game.

Knights bowl over Bulldogs

The fourth trip the UCF football team took to a bowl game broke many curses at once. In a defensive masterpiece, the Knights, led by defensive end Bruce Miller, held off the Georgia Bulldogs 10-6, snapping a series of losing streaks in the process. They’d never won a bowl game, beaten an SEC opponent, won as a ranked team or finished the season as a ranked team. On Dec. 31, 2010, they did all of that at once.