Paris Thompson and Brennan Van Hoecke were among the best in the state at their respective sports this season, perhaps among the best in the country.
For their excellence on the court and on the mat, the two took home the top prizes at the Southwest Florida High School Sports Awards on Monday night. Thompson, a senior volleyball player at Fort Myers High, was named the Female Athlete of the Year. Van Hoecke, a junior wrestler and football player from Palmetto Ridge, won Male Athlete of the Year.
The Sports Awards are the annual ceremony where The News-Press and Naples Daily News announce their 2020-21 players of the year in all high school sports. The two USA Today Network newspapers also announced the winners of their premium awards, such as athletes and coach of the year.
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The virtual ceremony streamed on the newspapers’ websites. The awards were announced by famous professional athletes and coaches such as Aaron Rodgers, Kevin Garnett and Katie Ledecky. Video of the awards show can still be viewed at news-press.com, naplesnews.com or on sportsawards.usatoday.com/swflorida/.
Being named the area’s top female athlete is the latest in a string of distinguished accolades Thompson has earned in recent months. She was voted Florida Dairy Farmers’ Miss Volleyball by statewide media this year and also won Gatorade Florida Volleyball Player of the Year. She was an Under Armour second-team All-American. On Monday night, the Notre Dame commit also won her third consecutive SWFL Volleyball Player of the Year award.
A 6-foot-1 outside hitter, Thompson led Fort Myers to district and regional championships this season. She had 413 kills and 228 as a senior and graduates as the Green Wave’s all-time lead in kills (1,334).
“It’s just such a big honor being named Athlete of the Year,” Thompson said. “It shows all the hard work I’ve put in is paying off.”
The Female Athlete of the Year award was presented by Sue Bird, the WNBA’s all-time assist leader and 11-time all-star. The three other finalists for the award were Canterbury runner Jessica Edwards, St. John Neumann runner Leah Martin-Gonazalez, and Dunbar runner Lucheyona Weaver.
Thompson said winning the award is felt extra special because of the caliber of athletes in Lee and Collier County she was up against. She credited her volleyball coach at Fort Myers, Steph Martin, for helping her to reach her goals in the sport.
“She’s been with me since I started playing volleyball,” Thompson said. “She’s like a second mom to me.”
Van Hoecke, the top male winner, made the Daily News’ All-Area first team in both his sports, but he was most dominant on the wrestling mat. The Palmetto Ridge junior went 49-0 this season and won the Class 2A title at 132 pounds. He finished state runner-up his first two seasons with the Bears and has a 164-7 varsity record.
Despite being 5-foot-7 and wrestling at 132 pounds, Van Hoecke made the Daily News Football All-Area team as a defensive lineman. He had 13 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, returning one for a touchdown for Palmetto Ridge’s 9-1 playoff team.
It was Van Hoecke’s first varsity football season after playing JV as a sophomore.
“I wasn’t supposed to play that much, but I ended up being good at it,” Van Hoecke said. “It was a really fun year. Then when wrestling started I switched my mindset. I didn’t want (to finish runner-up again). Whoever stepped in front of me I was going to do my best to kick their (butt).”
The Male Athlete of the Year Award was a presented by NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. After announcing Van Hoeck as the winner, O’Neal said. “Congrats, Brennan. Love that last name.”
“Hearing Shaq say that was really cool and amazing,” Van Hoeck said. “Just to hear someone of his background and athletic ability say that about me, it felt really cool.”
Also on Monday’s awards show, Dunbar track and cross country coach Guy Thomas earned the Jeff Sommer Memorial Coach of the Year Award. This spring Dunbar’s boys track team finished third at the Class 3A finals, while the girls took sixth in the state. Thomas has coached the Tigers for eight years. The past three he has taken the cross country team to the state finals.
The Fort Myers High softball squad was named the Team of the Year. The Green Wave won the Class 5A state title in dramatic fashion, erasing a three-run deficit and winning with a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was the program’s second state title in four years.
The Green Wave won Team of the Year over the Gulf Coast and Canterbury boys soccer teams, the only other programs in Southwest Florida to win state titles during the 2020-21 school year.
Barron Collier swimmer Emery Muller was named Scholar-Athlete of the Year. In addition to being a finalist for Girls Swimmer of the Year, Muller had a 4.82 weighted grade-point average. She was a member of the National Honors Society, the Rho Kappa honor society, the Spanish Honors Society and even served as president of the pottery club.
Riverdale wrestler Dominic Rodriguez won the Courage Award after coming back from a torn ACL to win a state championship this season. Rodriguez missed his sophomore year with the injury but went 38-1 this year as a junior, winning district, regional and Class 3A titles at 160 pounds.
The I AM SPORT Award, which recognizes an athlete committed to community service, went to Eric Feichthaler of Oasis Charter. Feichthaler, a tennis player, has logged more than 400 volunteer hours with the Kiwanis Thrift Store and the Cape Coral Caring Center Mobile Food Handouts in the past two years. He participates in even more service projects as the vice president of Oasis’s Key Club.
T.J. Johnson of North Fort Myers High School won the Special Olympics Award. Johnson competed on the varsity bowling team at North and played four sports with Lee County’s Special Olympics chapter – bowling, swimming, tennis and stand-up paddleboard.
St. John Neumann’s baseball team won the Fan Favorite Team of the Year, an award voted on by the public.
The News-Press reporter Dustin Levy contributed to this article
Southwest Florida Sports Awards 2021 WinnersFemale Athlete of the Year: Paris Thompson, Fort Myers
Male Athlete of the Year: Brennan Van Hoecke, Palmetto Ridge
Jeff Sommer Coach of the Year: Guy Thomas, Dunbar
Scholar-Athlete: Emery Muller, Barron Collier
Team of the Year: Fort Myers softball
Fan Favorite Team of the Year: St. John Neumann baseball
Courage Award: Dominic Rodriguez, Riverdale
I AM SPORT Award: Eric Feichthaler, Oasis
Special Olympics: Terry (TJ) Johnson, North Fort Myers
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Baseball: Jacob Marlowe, Barron Collier
Boys Basketball: Tony Green, Naples
Girls Basketball: Reese Tremitiere, Gulf Coast
Boys Bowling: Brandon Rucker, North Fort Myers
Girls Bowling: Dakota Kirk, Fort Myers
Boys Cross Country: Kolton Pickard, Estero
Girls Cross Country: Amy Meng, Fort Myers
Football Offense: Malik Curtis, Bishop Verot
Football Defense: Chris Thomas, Dunbar
Boys Golf: Sam Kodak, Naples
Girls Golf: Talia Rodino, Bishop Verot
Boys Lacrosse: Trace Davidson, Gulf Coast
Girls Lacrosse: Prentice Atterbury, Community School of Naples
Boys Soccer: Chase Johnson, Canterbury
Girls Soccer: Jasmine Perez-Acosta, Canterbury
Softball: Julia Knowler, Fort Myers
Boys Swimming: Andrew Garner, Barron Collier
Girls Swimming: Olivia McMurray, Fort Myers
Boys Tennis: Davide Procacci, Gulf Coast
Girls Tennis: Kaitlin Quevedo, Community School of Naples
Boys Track and Field: Leonard Mustari, Dunbar
Girls Track and Field: Jessica Edwards, Canterbury
Volleyball: Paris Thompson, Fort Myers
Boys Weightlifting: Tyson Eveque, Cypress Lake
Girls Weightlifting: Jenna McClain, LaBelle
Wrestling: Brennan Van Hoecke, Palmetto Ridge