A look at this area’s 2018 Winged Foot finalists

Greg Hardwig
Marco Eagle

A look at the three area finalists for the 2018 Winged Scholar-Athlete Award. The ceremony is Thursday night.

Olivia Watt, Marco Island Academy

Like many successful student-athletes or people in general, Olivia Watt has to stay organized and manage her time correctly.

But Watt doesn't look at that as a burden.

Olivia Watt, Marco Island Academy. Winged Foot Portraits.

"I think that all of those clubs and sports and academics is what organizes my life," said Watt, Marco Island Academy's 2018 Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award finalist. "It makes it so that I have to follow a schedule -- homework by this time, dinner by this time, in bed by this time, up at this time to do more homework.

"I think that's keeping so focused and so able to stay on track."

Watt has done exactly that -- literally and figuratively. She's one of the top distance runners -- competing in cross country and the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in track -- and one of the top students in the school.

Not only did Watt compete in cross country, soccer, and track and field, she was the team captain in all three -- for all four years.

Watt has had the most success in cross country and track, competing and doing well at the state meet in both and being a Daily News All-Area finalist in cross country. But soccer has been a different, but still rewarding experience. When Watt came in as a freshman, it was only the second year of the soccer program.

"We slowly improved as a team," she said. "We slowly improved with players -- that went from sophomore year to junior year, and junior year to senior year. We don't have a club team or we don't have girls who have been playing their whole lives. I think a lot of it is just the connection that all of us have. We were all just one huge family, which was really fun."

Watt had a huge impact on that family, assistant coach Darrin Palumbo wrote in a recommendation letter, by letting other players step to the forefront this year. Watt, the top goal-scorer as a junior, was needed at midfield, and moved there.

"She quietly became the team-leading assist maker," he wrote. "Instead of scoring goals and getting all the glory that comes along with that, she now assists others in their glory -- all while making her team a legitimate contender for the district title."

Watt has other reasons for her approach. Two of them.

"I want to really set a good example for my younger brothers," she said.

Alejandro Castaneda, Lely High

Alejandro Castaneda has tried almost everything in high school. Seriously. Even when one didn't necessarily seem to make sense with another choice.

Like playing tennis, then wrestling. Or swimming. And chess. Or the marching band.

Castaneda feels like he has to keep going until he has nothing left whether it's in the athletic arena or the classroom.

Alejandro Castaneda, Lely. Winged Foot Portraits.

"Balancing sports and extra-curriculars and school, it just drained me," he said.

But that's what Lely High School's Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award finalist was looking for.

Still, there's nothing like getting your arm raised after winning a wrestling match for Castaneda.

"The adrenaline that you have before you go out to a match, and then your hard work pays off, you do your thing and you get your hand raised, that's the best feeling I've ever had," said Castaneda, who wrestled at 160 pounds this year after doing so at 138 as a junior.

In swimming, coach Adam Peterson wasn't sure what he was going to get when Castaneda came out for the sport as a sophomore.

"I wasn't sure if he would make it to the other end of the pool," Peterson wrote in a recommendation letter. "Through hard work and dedication Alejandro improved greatly each year and eventually became a leader on the team. I believe Alejandro had a similar result when he started to wrestle and in his senior year he became a regional qualifier and the team captain."

And he had a similar one in chess. He and a friend started playing and the next thing he knew, Castaneda was in the county tournament and made the final.

"Chess was just one of those mental exercises," he said. "It started as a pastime. A lot of teachers said we were pretty good so we went to the county meet and did pretty well."

Castaneda did have to stop one thing this year, however.

"I had to give up marching band," he said.

Castaneda has a National ROTC scholarship and plans to go to Stetson and study political science with an eye on a military career.

"He wants to become a role model for young boys who are from single-parent and immigrant homes," Lely teacher Whitney Gaskell wrote in a recommendation letter. "He wants to affect the lives of those who need to see someone who looks like them succeed. His goals are so noble that I am in awe."

Ashlyn Goff, Everglades City

Hurricane Irma affected everyone in Southwest Florida to some degree, but perhaps nowhere more than Everglades City.

Dealing with that and the aftermath was just another challenge for Ashlyn Goff, Everglades City School's Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award finalist.

Ashlyn Goff, Everglades City. Winged Foot Portraits.

Goff played four varsity sports -- two of them in the same seasons -- and was unrelenting, whether that meant doing a cross country meet or practice, going to school and then doing the same for volleyball, for example.

Or after Irma, when that meant she had to go to Golden Gate High School to train with its cross country team because Everglades City School was still closed due to the damage, then drive to Manatee Middle School, where the students were going, go to school and then do volleyball.

"It started to overlap real bad," she said.

On top of that, Goff was a dual enrollment student at Florida SouthWestern State College, and she'd drive there too.

"Ashlyn is a rare student-athlete, one that only comes along once in a while if the school is fortunate enough," wrote Rebecca Welch, the volleyball, boys basketball and baseball coach at Everglades.

"Ashlyn is the apotheosis of a scholar-athlete: striving for personal perfection but never forgetting she is part of a team," social studies teacher Carey Walker wrote in a recommendation letter.

"You learn to manage your time wisely," Goff, an eighth generation native, said in an understatement.

Goff kept doing it wisely, enough where she's already put in the required time to get her captain's license and is planning to enter the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Once she makes the commitment, she will be the first female (to the best of my knowledge) to join any military pursuit in the 39 years that I have taught and coached at Everglades City School," Welch wrote.

Goff is hoping to make a career out of the Coast Guard, but not her only one.

"I want to do 20 years in the Coast Guard, retire, and then I want to start a second career," she said.

Goff will leave for two months of training in July in Cape May, New Jersey. When she officially gets in, Goff plans on attending college so she can become an officer.

Goff seems to have it all planned out but for one thing -- the second career.

"I'm not sure yet," she said.