South Florida High School Alums Set Great Example At Rio Olympics

Sharon BlockSFHSSports: Twitter | Facebook

Miami Northwestern alum Brianna Rollins, who grew up in Liberty City, has become a role model for young athletes.

Rollins is the first athlete from Miami to win a gold medal in an individual Olympic track and field event.

In front of her former high school coach, the legendary Carmen Jackson – attending her first Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with her husband Calvin – Rollins won the gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles. She led an unprecedented 1-2-3 U.S. sweep a day before her 25th birthday.

Rollins won in 12.48. She was followed by Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin. No three American teammates in any women’s event in the history of Olympic track and field, had ever swept the top three.

“She had nothing, and now she has the world,” Jackson told reporters after her race.

Rollins was emotional after her win giving all the glory to God and giving Miami a shout out during her post-race interview.

“I knew that I got the gold,” Rollins said. “But I just wanted to make sure that my other teammates medaled as well. We talked about it but it’s not something that we focused on. We just wanted to focus on being our best, and being our best would get us on the podium.”

Rollins, a 2009 Northwestern graduate, won the 300-meter hurdle crown her senior year and went on to earn a scholarship to Clemson.

Foluke Akinradewo, Indoor volleyball

One of the more satisfying moments for St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ volleyball coach Lisa Zielinski during the Olympics was watching one of her former athletes Foluke Akinradewo compete.

Zielinski and her current players watched the U.S. women’s volleyball team defeat the Netherlands in four sets for the bronze medal.

The world’s top-ranked U.S. team was favored to take gold and were undefeated until Serbia knocked them off in five sets in the semifinals. Akinradewo was forced to leave the game with a leg injury in the second set. She was the most dominant player on the court before she was injured.

With Akinradewo back on the court, the Americans beat the Dutch, 25-23, 25-27, 25-22, 25-19 in the bronze medal match.

“Foluke makes it personal for us,” Zielinski said. “All the girls feel like we are connected. We see the name of our school on the television screen.”

Before the Olympics, Akinradewo visited one of Zielinski’s club practices and practiced with the girls.

“The fact she went to St. Thomas and plays our sport, it just takes it to another level of connection,” Zielinski said. “We sent her a video and texted her. It means a lot for her, too. We were all cheering for her. She will always be a part of our program. We feel that special connection.”

Arman (Geno) Hall, Track and Field

The U.S. foursome of St. Thomas grad Arman Hall, Tony McQuay, a Riviera Beach Suncoast alum, Gil Roberts and LaShawn Merritt won the gold medal in the 4×400-meter relay in 2:57.30 to regain the top spot after finishing second to the Bahamas four years ago.

Sylvia Fowles, Basketball

The Miami native and Gulliver Prep alum was a part of history when the U.S. women’s basketball team won its sixth consecutive Olympic title. The U.S. defeated Spain, 101-72 in the gold medal game. She had six rebounds and three points in the final game. The U.S. has won 40 consecutive games in the Olympics. The 6-foot-6 Fowles, 30, has competed in three Olympics since 2008. Fowles led Edison to two state championships before transferring to Gulliver where she won another state title.

Ashleigh Johnson, Water Polo

The Ransom Everglades alum helped the U.S. team defend its title from four years ago.

The 6-foot-1 goalkeeper made nine saves, including a five-meter penalty shot, had a game-high four steals and one assist to lead the U.S. to a 12-5 rout of Italy in the gold medal game.

Johnson finished the tournament 6-0 in six starts. She finished with 51 saves off 77 shots on goal (.662 percentage) with 17 steals and 3 assists. Johnson was called the most dominant goalie in the history of women’s water polo.

Before returning to Princeton she plans on visiting her family in the Redlands for some home cooking. A large group of Ransom Everglades players, coaches, teachers, parents and former players got together at Spasso Italian Restaurant in Miami to watch the gold medal game. Johnson won four state titles while at Ransom Everglades.

University of Miami alum Sam Dorman and synchro partner Mike Hixon took a silver medal in the 3-meter springboard synchronized diving.

Homeschoolers Monica Puig of Miami won a gold medal in tennis for Puerto Rico and Danell Leyva of Hialeah two silver medals in men’s gymnastics in the high bar and parallel bars.

Other South Floridians may not have medaled but left a lasting impression. South Florida had 55 (30 men, 25 women) Olympians in Rio competing for various countries.

St. Thomas Aquinas alum Khalifa St. Fort of Trinidad and Tobago made her Olympic debut at age 18. She competed on the 4×100-meter relay that finished fifth in a season-best 42.12. It was Ato Boldon’s first Olympics in which he coached St. Fort and handled his track broadcasting duties for NBC. “It was amazing, this is the event I watched on TV all my life,” St. Fort said.

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