Raider News

Nova gets help from St. Thomas Aquinas - its bitter baseball rival - after Hurricane Irma

St. Thomas Aquinas baseball coach Troy Cameron was looking for a way his team could help out after Hurricane Irma.

Once he heard a nearby school needed a hand, Cameron rallied his kids together.

But he knew he couldn’t immediately tell them it was their fiercest rival - Nova.

"He just told us bring extra baseball gloves or gardening gloves to protect your hands," Aquinas senior outfielder Chris Ruckdeschel said. "Then he bought us breakfast at Chick-fil-A…and then he told us where we were going. We were shocked."

For a few hours Saturday morning, one of South Florida’s fiercest baseball rivalries was put on hold.

Players and coaches from Aquinas worked together with players and coaches from Nova to spruce up the Davie school’s home ballpark - Pat McQuaid Field - that was left with a damaged scoreboard and a mess of fallen trees in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Cameron took a group of roughly 35 players and coaches over and they assisted in the cleanup effort.

"When I pulled up in the morning, I was really shocked," said Nova junior third baseman Jordan Campbell. "I was like ‘Why are they here?’ But then I saw they were here to help. I figured maybe we can put the past behind and put everything aside.

"We started working together and everything clicked."


Former University School coach and Nova alum Dan Rovetto, who stepped down last October after guiding the Sharks to their first 25-win last year to become a pro scout for the Seattle Mariners, put the word out on Facebook to help his alma mater.

Athletic staff from nearby Nova Southeastern University including baseball coach Greg Brown also came to help as did staff from University School.

Cameron, who is friends with Rovetto, quickly reached out when he saw the post.

"Troy told me that St. Thomas luckily hadn’t taken much damage, but he felt he wanted his kids to give back to the community and do something better for others," Rovetto said. "Knowing the history of this rivalry, seeing the two groups of players come together was really a sight to see."


Since 1999, Nova and St. Thomas Aquinas have met in the regional playoffs seven times with the Titans holding a 4-3 lead in that series in addition to numerous other times in the regular season.

Nova beat St. Thomas 4-3 in the Class 8A regional finals this past May before losing in the state semifinals to Tallahassee Lincoln. The regional win was Nova’s first over Aquinas since 2005 the same year they won a state and national title.

St. Thomas had won 11 previous meetings against Nova including a controversial regional semifinal win in 2015 in which the Raiders prevailed despite the Titans rallying from a two-run deficit in the final inning. Officials suspended the game prior to beginning the bottom of the seventh due to heavy rain causing the field to be rendered unplayable. By rule it reverted the outcome of the game to the last complete inning where Aquinas led resulting in a Raiders’ win.

A court injunction was later filed on Nova’s behalf, but subsequently denied.


Cameron returned to Aquinas five years ago to coach his alma mater, and remembers vividly the intensity of the rivalry with Nova.

"When I used to play in these games, I remember how much we didn’t like each other," Cameron said. "It was different when I came back to coach. The schools would do activities together in the offseason. I remember thinking we’re not supposed to like those guys. They’re our rivals. We’re not supposed to be friends with them.

"But in this situation, you put that aside and do what’s right. I think the kids understood that and that’s what I wanted to see out of them."

Nova and St. Thomas are once again in neighboring districts in Class 8A heading into the 2018 season.

Both Ruckdeschel and Campbell think the intensity of the rivalry won’t change when the teams face each other despite Saturday’s cooperative effort.

But both agreed when the final out is recorded both sides have developed a measure of mutual respect for each other.

"It’s probably going to change the way we’ll play each other," Campbell said. "Before it was straight up hatred what we felt for [Aquinas]. I think now we earned some respect for them."

Courtesy of:

Fernandez, A. C. (2017, September 17). Nova gets help from St. Thomas Aquinas - its bitter baseball rival - after Hurricane Irma. Miami Herald. Retrieved from

Baseball STAte Champs!

Athletic Spotlights

The Raiders clinched their first state title since 2003 and first under Head Coach - Troy Cameron, in an 8-4 victory over Sarasota.

Seniors: Caleb Roberts (3B), Cade Fergus (CF), Andres Antonini (SS), Blake Hely (RHP), and Chris Ruckdeschel (1B); Juniors: Matt Archer (2B), Isaiah Hood (LHP), Gabriel Terry (RF), Nick Vera (C); and Sophomore: Nate Thomas (RHP) contributed to power plays in the State Semi-Final and State Final to solidify the Raiders third state title in program history.

State Semi-Final Highlights vs. George Jenkins (Lakeland):

  • Blake Hely & Nate Thomas led the Raiders from the mound to a 6-3 win
  • Matt Archer - 3 hits
  • Nick Vera - Solo HR
  • Chris Ruckdeschel broke the 3-3 tie in the 8th inning with a 2 run, inside the park HR, to advance the Raiders to the State Final

State Final Highlights vs. Sarasota:

  • Nate Thomas pitched 4.2 innings to earn the win
  • Isaiah Hood pitched 2.1 innings to seal the win
  • Caleb Roberts - 3 hits with a bases clearing triple for 3 RBI's
  • Andres Antonini - 3 hits with 2 RBI's

"I am really happy for the Seniors this year. They lead this team from Day 1 and deserve to finish their STA career as a Champion. They have shown the young guys how to do it and set the culture of what STA baseball is an will be for a long time to come! So proud of these kids and all the coaches that work so hard with them!" - Coach Cameron

Next year's forecast looks promising for continued success with 19 of the 29-man roster returning: 14 seniors and 5 and juniors. Congratulations to our Boys of Summer!

Sailing into Nationals

Athletic Spotlights

Leading up to Districts, The STA Sailing Team raced in a seven-event qualifying series called South Points from early fall until March. The sailors easily qualified for Districts by placing consistently as one of the top seven teams at these events.

Since they consistently earned fourth and fifth place rankings, the sailing community expected STA to place similarly at Districts. One of the skippers, Charles (Chase) Sabadash, IV, said, " Because only the top three teams go on to Nationals, we added practice days and worked hard to prepare [for the weekend of March 24-25, 2018].

The team began the district regatta with a win in the first race and maintained its hold on first until the final race, where the team lost the Championship by one point. While mildly disappointing, the second place finish still qualified for Nationals.

Sabadash placed first in B-Division by a comfortable margin of 10 points while Conner Correll finished a close second in A-Division. Scored separately, the two divisions and their aggregate score determined the Championship. Sailors Kenna Reed, Elizabeth Redmond, and Robert Reilly crewed for this important weekend event.

Three events in May remain on the sailing team schedule, including national championship races. Stay tuned. The Raiders hope to make a run for the trophy!

Bella LaChance, '20

Athletic Spotlights

Athlete Bio:

Straight-shooter Bella LaChance wows on the court.

Named one the Sun Sentinel's "Fab Five" for the 2017-2018 preseason, sophomore Bella LaChance began playing basketball in the second grade in a Cooper City Optimist League. Bella said, "My earliest supporter was my mom. She has always been my number one fan and number one critic."

Maintaining a GPA of 4.7, Bella enrolled at STA because of the great environment, academics, athletics, and students. "My most surprising experience is how many amazing people I have met and become friends with who also play sports. Besides becoming very close with my team, I have also become close with many of the lacrosse girls as well."

Rating being a member of the Raider Basketball Team a 10 out of 10, Bella relies on one of her best friends, junior Alex Rizzi, for help on and off the court. "Whenever I have a bad game or am struggling with something, she always gives me the confidence to get through anything I need to." Bella trains with Randy Williams several times a week for strength, conditioning, shooting, dribbling, defense, rebounding, passing, and mental toughness. In addition to her Raider team, Bella plays for Team Larkins, an affiliate of the Miami Suns, a program in which she has participated since sixth grade.

In a hotly contested regional championship game against the Nova Titans, an eventual Class 8A State Finalist, Bella scored her 1,000 high school basketball point. Many of those points have come via free throws. This season, Bella has made 194 out of 224 attempts, an 87% percentage. Bella claims that "even though I am small, I am not afraid to drive in the paint and get fouled. I managed to become a high-percentage free-throw shooter from working on them in training and having confidence in my ability to shoot free throws." To make it more like a game situation, Williams has Bella shoot from the foul line when tired. Confidently, Bella maintains that "if you practice enough and believe it'll go in, it will."

Favoring the floater because defenders find it difficult to block, Bella "shoots this shot after someone sets me a screen up top, and then the lane is open. After the defender tries to step up, I just float the ball up in the air with a soft touch."

Anyone who has watched the varsity girls' team this year cannot help but wonder just how much more Bella LaChance can and will do on the court in two more years of playing the sport in high school. She owns an incredible work-ethic that serves her well as one of the elite players in Broward hoops.

Grant Aronoff, '18

Athletic Spotlights

Athlete Bio:

  • 2018 - Season record: 37-0; Career record: 189-6
  • 2018- #1 National rank at 138 pounds by Adidas NHS Wrestling Ranking
  • 2017 - State Champion, won 7-0
  • 2017 - Season record: 53-3
  • 2017 - NHSCA Academic All-American
  • 2016 - State Champion, won by techfall 16-1
  • 2016 - Season record: 55-2
  • 2016 - All-American and NHSCA National Champion
  • 2016 - Broward County Wrestler-of-the-Year (Sun-Sentinel)
  • 2015 - State Runnerup, lost 3-8
  • 2015 - Season record: 44-1
  • 2015 - All-American and NHSCA National Champion

3-time 1st Team All-Broward County (Sun-Sentinel)

4-time County (BCAA) Champion, 1 of 3 to do so in the 51-year history of the tournament. Other 2 were STA wrestlers Guy Gibson and Alex Uhre.

Looking to tie STA record 3 state titles held by Guy Gibson in 2000, 2001, 2002

Attempting to become the first 4-time state finalist in school history.

Led team to 3 District Titles, 2 Region Titles, and 2 Third-place finishes at the State Tournament.

3.7 GPA; 1320 SAT
Committed to the University of Pennsylvania

Tradition of success on the court

Athletic Spotlights

When Coach Lisa Zielinski appeared on the volleyball scene at STA 30 years ago, the team usually won about half of its games and had not seen many play-off seasons. By engaging in a culture of discipline and expectation, the Lady Raiders have evolved into a powerhouse, winning three consecutive state championships and appearing in a state semifinal in the past four years.

Coach Zielinski said, "Players are expected to perform in the classroom as well as on the court. The level of competitiveness in our gym is contagious. All our players hold each other to a higher standard." Adding spinning to their training regimen helps with endurance and overall fitness and complements their grueling practice schedule.

Over 40 players have left volleyball at STA to play at the college level, many in premiere schools such as Pepperdine and Wake Forest. Class of 2005 graduate Foluke Akinradewo has remained on the national team since her career at Stanford, winning silver and bronze in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and World Championship gold in 2014 as a member of the USA team.

Throughout the years, STA has viewed Venice as its state rival, losing in the 2012 state championship and the 2017 semifinal after beating the Indians in the 2004 state game. Locally, the Lady Raiders can count on Cardinal Gibbons to give them a good game where both teams always play to their potential.

Going out-of-state tournaments in venues such as Chicago and Arizona "allows us to play the strongest competition. It puts us in a different environment and prepares us for our post season on the road," Coach Zielinski said.

Several leaders on the 2017 team reflect the camaraderie on their team. Paula Cerame, headed to the University of Florida, said, "Even though we did not end our season the way we wanted, the team chemistry was the best we've ever had." Boston College commit Derry Costigan said, "I am beyond proud to be a part of such an amazing groups of girls.... We have left the legacy that is STA Volleyball, and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world." And Valeria Santeusanio echoed similar sentiments: "The team definitely acts as a backbone of support for me, and that's what I loved about my volleyball career at STA."

Congratulations to Coach Zielinski and her fantastic team for another great season and many more to come.

  • 7 consecutive state tournament appearances since 2011
  • 14 state appearances since 1988 under Coach Zielinski
  • 27 district tournament wins since 1991
  • Coach Zielinski's record: 769-156

Valentina House, '18

Athletic Spotlights

Athlete Bio:

"Balancing running and school makes it hard to stay awake during class," Valentina House admitted, as she added another first to her cross country high school career, 2017 District Champion.

Running since sophomore year, Valentina inspired herself to take up the sport, with the support of her dad and coaches. Her teammates provide great competition among each other, making STA's team stronger and faster than any team in the area. She usually finds Bridget Alex, Ashley Williams, Alexis Rosa, and Nicohl Torres-Santos hot on her heels and in that order.

Valentina's most satisfying win came in track at the state-qualifying, regional race, where the top four runners make it. "I was expecting to qualify in the mile, as I entered the race ranked fourth. I separated from the top four in the first lap and watched the chance of going to States slip from my fingers. I was completely devastated. I missed my PR by two seconds while the top four all PR'd by about five. I didn't even check what I was ranked in the 3200m, as I didn't expect to qualify. I put all my devastated energy into that race and was amazed to go from fifth to second in the last 100 meters. Pure joy overcame me!"

This senior has selected the University of Michigan as her first college choice, a strong academic school. Getting back to the grueling routine of a long-distance runner, Valentina finds herself weary after practice and only self-discipline makes it possible to complete her homework.

The one to watch in Regionals and States, Valentina has everyone at St. Thomas in her corner, rooting for her.

Back-to-Back State Champions

Athletic Spotlights

In the words of the players themselves, "swaggy," "saucy," "relentless," "stalwart," "strong" describe the 2017 Boys' Lacrosse Team. With just one loss during the regular season, and that to Massapequa in New York, the boys went out and convincingly bested Lake Highland Prep for the Florida State Championship, 12-7.

Other teams that challenged the Raiders during the season included Jupiter, Lake Mary, and Benjamin.

A number of the players actually began their lacrosse careers way back in elementary school, as did Kyle Engel who said, "I started playing lacrosse in the second grade for the Davie Broncos because my parents took me there." Also providing opportunities for second and third graders, the Weston Warriors and Parkland Redhawks developed interest and skill in the game, early on.

Ryan Leahy's father, who played for The Ohio State University, and James Harrington's brother Burke, a Raider standout, definitely influenced their decisions to stick with the sport. Additionally, players admitted being inspired by some of their own teammates: Luke Fraser, Michael Costello, Nicholas Yovino, and David Madril, to name a few.

Lacrosse posed some unique challenges for the players. Luke Fraser identified the fast pace of the game and put it this way: "Substitutions are made on the fly, and transitions from offense to defense happen very quickly, so it is necessary to maintain a powerful mental focus." Bennett Braun cited "working on your off hand" as the hardest skill he had to acquire.

Kudos go to Coach Andrew Leddy whose strength and conditioning program contributed to the team's high level in competition, especially when the players had to play tired. Christian Borodiak said, "Coach Leddy played a big role in our success this season as he kept us in great shape and maintained our strength."

"Coach Crowley always finds a way to motivate us to be better people along with being better lacrosse players. He focuses on keeping the integrity of the game and building character," according to James Harrington.

As the team won its second state championship, Ryan Leahy said, "All the hours we spent in the weight room, on the field, and in the classroom were worth the glory!" With back-to-back state titles, the team has truly earned all that glory.

Jump High, Dream Big

Zatoria Thompson celebrated two stellar days at the Florida State Track and Field Meet on May 5 and May 6.

"I wanted this . . . the state championship," she said. Not only did she win gold in the High Jump but also in the 4x100 Relay, achieving her goal, two-fold.

Zatoria's father had encouraged her to train for track when, as a seven or eight-year old, she said, "I like to run." Her dad still trains with her on Saturdays at the gym, but Coach Dottin Henderson works with her on the track team at STA. "I found Coach Dottin online, and he has been coaching me even before I came to STA from American Heritage."

Participating in three events, Zatoria literally ran from the high jump to the 100m dash to the 4x100. She took seventh place in the 100m, earning valuable points along with her two first place finishes for the Raider Girls' Team that placed second in Class 4A Track and Field.

What makes Zatoria's performance even more impressive lies in the fact that she has been nursing a stress fracture while training for the state meet. "I have to rest, now, for six weeks," she said. Despite taking it easy for a while, Zatoria still maintains a track athlete's diet: "I eat lots of salad and choose chicken or fish instead of beef."

STA's Head Track and Field Coach, Alex Armenteros, boasts of the strong cadre of freshman girls on the team. Since three freshmen won championship medals along with Zatoria--Emelia Chatfield, Zahria Liburd Allers, and Thalia Dyer--the future of girls' track at STA looks mighty bright!

Photo Credit: Charles Trainor Jr. Miami Herald

Alexandra Beekhuizen, '17

Athletic Spotlights

Athlete Bio:

"I fell in love with lacrosse . . . in the third grade," she said, "when a recreational program, the Weston Warriors, started up a girls' team in my area." Her older brother had played lacrosse, and he inspired her to join. Although Alexandra (Ali) Beekhuizen tried other sports, she stuck with lacrosse; and the lacrosse program at STA feels very good about her decision.

In addition to playing on STA's varsity team, Ali plays for a club team, LaxManiax, a year-round club that includes girls from all over the state of Florida.

Ali has committed to The Ohio State University because of its status as a very competitive Division 1 team in the Big 10 Conference, ranked in the top 10 not only in football but in women's lacrosse as well.

Thinking about her career as a Raider, Ali said, "My most memorable moment was this year when we made it to states. We beat our rival, American Heritage-Delray, in overtime in the regional finals. They had ended our season the previous year, and we had lost to them during the regular season so it was really a big win."

When asked about the state-final loss this year, Ali said, "I learned how to see the positive in bad situations. Of course I am devastated about the loss, but I can still reflect on all the amazing things we accomplished this season even though we didn't get the outcome we all wanted. We beat a nationally ranked team, became a nationally ranked team, and made it farther than we ever have before. Though losing in the state finals is not how I wanted to end my senior season, I know my teammates will use it as motivation to be unstoppable next year."

Ali has genuine respect and affection for STA Coach Samantha McCurdy who commented positively about her role with Ali and the rest of the team. "My two years at STA have been very eventful and exciting. I couldn't be more proud to lead such an incredible group of girls."

Summing things up, Ali said, "I wouldn't change the memories I've made with STA lacrosse for the world."