By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch’s Ermias Bireda finished the third of four laps in the 1,600-meter at the Class 3A regional track and field meet at Leto April 25 in fifth place.
Then he turned on the jets.
Bireda didn’t just qualify for states, nor did he only win the regional championship. The junior did both by finishing with a personal record (PR) 4 minutes 26.43 seconds.
“I’m so happy,” Bireda said. “This is my first region title in anything.”
Last year Bireda was recovering after injuring his left knee, which he hurt by smashing it into a metal bolt. The damage needed stitches, which kept him out of the postseason.
Bireda has a large scar to remind him of the injury but no lingering effects. He can go all out whenever needed.
“They were with me, but I told myself I can do it,” Bireda said. “I gave it everything I had.”
Bireda is the only Bulls boy who finished in the top four of an event to earn a spot at the 3A state meet May 4 at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville at 1 p.m.
The Bulls girls send pole vaulter Alisha Henry and distance runner Nikita Shah. Shah took second in the 3,200 (11:22.37) and third in the 1,600 (5:19.54).
“I just wanted to qualify,” Shah said. “Just one week until states, so didn’t want to do anything too crazy. … I feel pretty even. I don’t feel great, but I don’t feel bad either. I’m hoping to get a medal.”
Shah finished ninth at states last year in the 3,200, one spot from claiming a medal. She also wants to lower her PR in the event, which is 10:42.
Henry placed second in the pole vault after clearing 11 feet, just six inches off the championship performance. It is the junior’s first trip to states.
“I feel like I could have done better,” Henry said. She added, “When I think about it I’ve only been doing this for about a year and a half, and I’m already clearing 11 feet. That makes me happy.”
Henry said the problem was her vaulting.
“I can do it in practice, but sometimes when you get a bar up there you just think about getting over it,” Henry said. “You forget about everything it takes to clear 11-6. That’s why I got upset today. I know I can do 11-6 and have the potential to get even higher.”
Wharton girls dominate hurdles
Wharton junior hurdlers Taylor Watson and Mikayla Barber were the top 300-meter hurdlers at districts and showed the same skill at the Class 4A regional meet.
Barber won districts with Watson placing second. The top two were the same, but the order was reversed April 25 at Leto.
Watson finished in a personal record (PR) 44.25 seconds, while Barber also PRed (44.29).
“We can push each other in practice,” said Watson, who took fourth in the triple jump (34 feet 11.5 inches). “Every time before a race we pump each other up. It makes us each run better. I knew it would be the two of us at the end.”
The duo can now show the state what they can do.
“I’d rather it be my teammate than anyone else,” said Barber, who took second in the 100 hurdles (15.49).
Both hurdlers are on the 4×400 relay team that won regional gold (4:01.11).
The Wildcats girls will also be represented by 800-runner Erin Kocher (second place, 2:22.49), pole-vaulter Ashley Cahill (fourth place, 9-6), 1,600-runner Mariah Henderson (fourth place, 5:21.61) and 4×800 relay team, which finished as regional runner-up (9:30.99).
“It’s been a lot hard work to get to where we want to be,” said junior Taylor Griffith, who runs the 4×800 anchor. “It’s a good bond we have. Going together is less scary than going alone.”
Wharton placed third with 69 points, 25 behind champion Plant.
The Wildcats boys send Britton Lewis in the 300 hurdles (fourth place, 41.89) and the 4×800 relay team (second place, 8:10.81).
The 4A state meet is May 5 at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville at 1 p.m.