By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch girls and Land O’ Lakes boys have dominated the area track and field scene this year and both kept winning at the Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) meet on March 29.
It is the fourth straight title for the Bulls in their six-year history, while the Gators picked up their first SAC crown ever.
“We have great athletes,” said first-year Land O’ Lakes boys track coach Bill Schmitz. “All year we had strength across the board. Most of the time we were able to score in all 17 events, and we did that again today.”
The Gators ran away with the team title with 159.5 points, besting second place Anclote by 52.5. The defending SAC champs Wiregrass Ranch finished third and Sunlake took fifth.
Schmitz, an assistant on the Land O’ Lakes football team, talked several athletes into joining track this year including Shadow Williams, Jackson Cannon and Nico Watts from football and Josh Davis from soccer.
Cannon won the discus with a throw of 141 feet 10.50 inches. The Gators also got conference titles from pole vaulter Ian McKenzie, the 4×400-meter relay and a pair of titles from senior Darin Patmon in the 110 (15.49 seconds) and 300 (41.94) hurdles.
Patmon has run track since his freshman year, but these are his first conference titles.
“In the 100 the kid was right with me the whole way, so I knew I had to keep pushing,” Patmon said. “I wanted this.”
There was tough competition in the sprint events between Sunlake’s Eddie Burgos and Wiregrass Ranch’s Jamel Nuñez.
Burgos beat Nuñez in the 100. The two rematched as the anchors of their squads’ 4×100 relays, where Burgos crossed in 44.34; one hundredth of a second faster than Nuñez.
“I seen Jamel right behind, and he’s been up there with me this whole year,” Burgos said. “I’ve just been hoping to get him one time.”
Nuñez came back and bested Burgos in the 200 by posting a 23.07.
“I felt like I had to give it my all,” Nuñez said. “Eddie Burgos beat me in the 100 and the 4×100, so I had to get my revenge.”
Sunlake’s Travis Manecke won his second straight shot put conference title (45-09.50). The junior, who attended Wiregrass Ranch last year, scratched on his first and third attempts, but his one good throw was enough.
“During practice I was throwing really bad, so I tried to just put that out of my mind,” Manecke said. “I didn’t throw very well today. I want to throw in the 50s.”
The Bulls girls also had a comfortable winning margin, scoring 137 to beat Mitchell by 39.5. Wesley Chapel placed fourth, while Land O’ Lakes and Sunlake finished ninth and 10th, respectively.
Don Howard has been Wiregrass Ranch’s girls coach the last three years. His squads have known nothing but conference gold, but Howard didn’t sleep easy the night before.
“I woke up this morning at 5 with a nervous stomach,” Howard said.
The Bulls lost six seniors from last year’s team. Howard said it meant a lot to win a conference crown after losing a number of top athletes.
“I think we’ve created a program that good athletes want to be a part of,” Howard said. “Then it becomes easy as a coach.”
Wiregrass Ranch’s first individual title came from Hannah Eder, who set a personal best with a triple jump of 34-10.75.
“Last year at conference I didn’t do very well,” Eder said. “I think the nerves got to me, but this year I just felt really positive. … In practice I’d hit 34, so that’s what I was expecting but I was able to completely shatter that.”
Eder gave credit to first-year jumping coach Adorius Payne for getting her into top form.
The Bulls also got field championships from Patricia Magwood (36-00) in the shot put and Alisha Henry (10-06) in the pole vault.
Wiregrass Ranch scored big in the distance events thanks in large part to Nikita Shah wining the 1,600 (5:15.80) and 3,200 (11:17.06). Shah said her goal is to medal at states in both.
“I’m really grateful for the success this season I’m having,” Shah said. “I’m happy to be staying healthy. All I can do is try my hardest. I’m confident in my training, and this just backs that up.”
Elise Cedre won the 800 for the Bulls in 2:29.07. The squad also won the 4×400 and 4×100 in 4:16.92 and 50.90, respectively.
A.J. Blount ran the final leg of the 4×100 less than eight months after suffering a torn ACL in her right knee while playing soccer.
“I’m pretty tired working to get back in shape,” Blount said. “Coming here and winning this race with my teammates feels pretty good, but I’m exhausted.
“The fact that I got my speed back is a plus because I was really scared that it wasn’t going to happen,” Blount continued. “I give all my props to our athletic trainer Jen Stollery. Without her I wouldn’t have gotten back.”
Wesley Chapel won three conference titles, one from high jumper Courtney Prengaman (5-06) and two from Ravin Gilbert in the 100 (12.22) and 200 (25.90).
“Now I can say I’m conference champ in the 100 for the first time,” Gilbert said. “This is something I’ve never experienced before. Finally I got this title.”
Gilbert also placed second in the 400 behind Land O’ Lakes’ Hallie Grimes (59.60).
“I just pushed as hard as I could on the last 100 because I could hear footsteps right behind me,” Grimes said. She then added, “I had to get prepared mentally before the race because I know who I’m going up against.”
Freshman Jhade Hayes captured the only title for Sunlake in the discus throw (105-08.75).
“I was just trying to throw at least 100,” Hayes said. “I have a bad blister. I thought that would hurt me more, but I got through it.”
The next challenges for area track and field athletes are the district meets.
The Bulls girls will attempt to claim their fourth straight district championship at the Class 3A-District 6 meet on April 20 starting at noon. The Gators boys are looking for their first district title since 2007 and third overall at the same meet.
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