Miami-Dade High Schools

Miami-Dade’s most decorated wrestler among top honorees at athletic awards

Miami Herald’s Miami-Dade County Athletic Awards

The Miami Herald held its annual Miami-Dade County Athletic Awards at the Miami Airport Convention Center on Thursday, May 23, 2019.
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The Miami Herald held its annual Miami-Dade County Athletic Awards at the Miami Airport Convention Center on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

Brevin Balmeceda’s accolades during his high school wrestling career at South Dade tell the story. Six trips to the state championship, four individual state titles and some national titles along the way, a 343-18 career record and a scholarship to Oklahoma State to continue his career.

Balmeceda was one of four Miami-Dade student-athletes to win Athlete of the Year honors Thursday morning at the Miami Herald’s All-Dade County Athletic Awards at the Miami Airport Convention Center. In addition to Balmeceda, the 9A-6A Male Athlete of the Year, the other winners were Miami Country Day girls’ basketball standout Koi Love (5A-1A Female Athlete of the Year), Miami High’s Colleen Bucknor (9A-6A Female Athlete of the Year) and Champagnat’s Donald Georges (5A-1A Male Athlete of the Year).

“It’s overwhelming with all these great emotions,” Balmeceda said. “Seeing my dad [South Dade wrestling coach Vic Balmeceda] and my parents happy and my temamates cheering me on is an amazing feeling.”

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The event, sponsored by Miami Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Baptist Health South Florida, the Orange Bowl and Miami Super Bowl 2020 Host Committee, drew an audience of about 1,350 who watched the top athletes and coaches in 18 sports recognized for their achievements this season. It capped off a season in which area schools won 18 team state titles — a number that could grow depending on how the three baseball teams and two softball teams still competing fare at state.

Love has only been at Miami Country Day for the past two years, but her impact was immediately noticed on a team stacked with Division I talent. She was a focal point for her team this season, averaging 17.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game as the Spartans won their sixth consecutive state championship and once again competed in the Geico National Invitational. She’s off to continue her basketball career in the Southeastern Conference, playing for Vanderbilt.

Bucknor, a junior, came so close to state titles twice this year and had a heavy hand in the success of both of her teams. On the basketball court, she averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals per game for the only Miami-Dade big school to reach the state semifinals in girls’ basketball. In the spring, she had 957 all-purpose yards with nine touchdowns on offense and five interceptions and 85 flag pulls on defense for her team that reached the Class 2A state semis.

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Georges, a senior linebacker, made his presence felt on virtually every play this year for the Champagnat Lions. He tallied 154 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries while serving as a veteran presence on a team that once again made it back to the state championship for the third consecutive year.

Doral Academy won the Class 9A-7A All-Sports Award after winning a state title title in girls’ tennis, finishing as state runner-up in boys’ tennis, making the state semifinals in baseball and softball (where their seasons are still ongoing), making playoff runs in football, boys’ basketball and boys’ soccer, and posting top-10 finishes at state in girls’ golf and boys’ swimming and diving.

Columbus won the 9A-7A boys’ major sports award after defending its track and field state title, finishing as state runner-up in football and winning GMACs in both baseball and soccer. The 9A-7A girls’ major sports award will be decided once the softball state championships conclude Friday.

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Gulliver Prep won the 5A-1A All-Sports Award after winning four team state titles (boys’ water polo, girls’ swimming and diving, boys’ tennis and girls’ tennis) while also finishing as state runner-up in boys’ swimming and reaching the playoffs in softball and girls’ basketball. Miami Country Day won the 5A-1A girls’ major award after taking home a state championship in basketball and reaching the state semifinal in soccer. The 5A-1A boys’ award is being decided following the state baseball tournament.

Northwestern’s Max Edwards won the Male Sports Overall Coach of the Year after leading the Bulls to a second consecutive Class 6A football state championship, reeling off six consecutive wins after opening the year 4-5 to finish the storybook season.

Miami Country Day’s Ochiel Swaby won the Female Sports Overall Coach of the Year after leading the Spartans to their sixth consecutive girls’ basketball state championship in dominant fashion.

The Miami Herald also honored the Columbus football team and family of Ari Arteaga with the annual Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award. Arteaga died on July 28 in a single-car crash the night before the Explorers were set to begin football practice. The Columbus football team rallied around his memory, with players taking turns wearing his No. 30 jersey. They reached the Class 8A state final.

Joe Zaccheo, who has worked at Pace since 1988, served as head football coach from 1996 to 2006 and again for the past three years, and took over as athletic director in 1997, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.