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Orlando Sentinel

Top Latino Athletes Fill Rosters

By Bill Buchalter | Orlando Sentinel

August 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Check out Carlos Rodríguez, the rising junior football tackle at Osceola High School. At 6 feet 5 and at least 325, he's as big as they come on Central Florida's football fields.

Boone's Ed Medrano is nearly as large, reaching out to 6 feet 4 and 300 pounds. And Colonial's Steven Rivera is 6 feet 2 and hanging around the 300 mark.

Now, look at Eric Zapata, all 129 pounds of him. The University High senior is a three-time Metro Conference weightlifting champion.

Big or small, athletes of Hispanic descent are making names for themselves in Central Florida, a high school barometer for demonstrating the growth of the region and the growth of Hispanic influence.

And they are everywhere, and in every sport.

Especially football. Rivera, a three-year starter and good student, impressed coach Ed Koschewa.

"We made a highlight film for him and the films don't lie. He . . . will block you and knock you down," Koschewa said.

Chris Orcasitas, of Mexican descent, started every football game at West Orange a year ago. "He's one of the top five strongest kids we've ever had," West Orange football coach Tim Smith said of his 6-1, 265-pound lineman.

Sonia Bernal, originally from Colombia, played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for Dr. Phillips' powerful girls tennis team last year, one that advanced to the state championships. She expects to move up to the No. 1 singles role this spring.

And Arturo Rivera is a three-sport standout for Timber Creek who also finds time to be an outstanding student and a student government leader.

"What a great kid," Timber Creek football coach Jim Buckridge said. He's also a starter in Timber Creek's secondary and a basketball player. University High also has wrestler Melvin Pérez.

Pérez was a Metro Conference and regional champion and state qualifier. Like Rivera, Cypress Creek's Zara Prades is an all-around athlete, super student and a three-year starter in volleyball who earned first team all-Metro Conference as a sophomore.

Other top Creek athletes include varsity lacrosse captain and Junior of the Year Award winner Martha Najera, baseball star and three-year starter Julio "Quique" Negrón and cross-country captain Philipe Araujo, who was a key member of last year's 6th place team at the Class 4A state meet.

Dinelia Concepción moved to Deltona from Puerto Rico and has become one of Central Florida's best defensive specialists playing volleyball for Pine Ridge. With football practice around the corner, coaches have identified more Hispanic athletes participating and making names for themselves than in previous years.

One of the football captains at Dr. Phillips will be three-year offensive and defensive lineman Guillermo ("Call me Gil") Pichardo, a 6-3, 245-pounder. Another projected starter is Rencel Gutiérrez, a 240-pound nose guard.

Buddi Andrade plays receiver and defensive back for Lake Howell where he also started in baseball. Steve Manana participates in three sports for the Silver Hawks. John Alonso, Alex Quezeda and Phillip Sánchez are standouts at Bishop Moore.

Alonso will be one of the top pitchers and infielders for one of Central Florida's top programs. Quezeda is a starting linebacker in football and Sánchez, also a football player, is one of the area's top soccer players.

Iramar Hernández is one of the best all-around athletes at Oviedo's strong program. She reached the state final four both in softball and girls basketball. Alicia Pérez was a softball teammate.

Dan Rivera, a sophomore wrestler at Winter Springs, competed in the Asics Cadet Nationals and senior Eric Escudero was a conference and district runner-up for Coach Rick Tribit.

And Osceola track star Vanity Vásquez, a school record-holder, finished third in the state at 800 meters last spring.

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