By Kyle LoJacono
Two Land O’ Lakes track and field athletes capped off their seasons on the medal stands at the Class 3A state meet at the University of North Florida May 4.
Senior pole vaulter Ian McKenzie earned his first spot on the podium by tying for fourth place after clearing 13 feet 6 inches.
Sophomore Hallie Grimes earned her second medal with a sixth-place performance in the 400-meter by finishing in 56.93 seconds, 2.67 off the championship pace set by Hallandale senior Kyri Tabor. She also set a new personal record (PR) in the prelims by running a 56.87, beating her previous best time of 57.43 set in the state prelims a year ago.
“I was so excited to see 56 in the prelims, but I think it kind of tired me out,” Grimes said.
Grimes placed one spot lower than she did as a freshman, but her time in the finals was 1.37 faster than a year ago. She said she felt pressure all year to live up to the standards she set in her first high school season, and that stress mounted in the hours leading up to states.
“I’ve been so nervous all day,” Grimes said. “I was probably more nervous than ever before. All of the times were so close. It was anybody’s race.”
Grimes had held back until the final 200 of races all season. She planned to turn on the speed earlier at states but couldn’t break from her normal routine.
“I tried going out faster, but my nerves always get me,” Grimes said. “I just can’t come out fast because I’m thinking I’ll tire out. For next year I’ll work on doing that.”
She also plans to run in AAU meets for the first time this summer to build her speed and endurance.
“I’m excited to see how far I can go,” Grimes said. “My time is 56 as a sophomore. Hopefully by senior year it’ll be a lot better than that.”
As for McKenzie, the journey to a state medal started four years ago when he failed to perform as a sprinter.
“It just wasn’t going to happen,” McKenzie said with a laugh. He added, “I was too slow for the 100, but I wanted to compete and get points for the team. I thought I could do it, and I just kept at it.”
A former coach suggested the pole vault, but things didn’t take off until he got a vaulting instructor this year. He began this season clearing 12-6 and now has the school record of 13-7.
“It’s been an incredible year,” McKenzie said. “I’ve been hoping to get to states. It’s my first year with coach Bob Leidel of the Florida Pole Vault Academy, and I added a foot to my PR. I got the school record, got to states; it’s just been a wild ride.
“It’s what I was hoping for,” McKenzie continued. “I could say I expected it, but in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d be on the medal stands, much less at states. There’s a lot of good vaulters in our class. This is easily the toughest class in all of Florida.”
McKenzie will continue vaulting in college after accepting a preferred walk-on spot with the United States Naval Academy
“I know I can get 14 or 14-6 with just another few months of work before I go up there,” McKenzie said. He added, “It’s so fun. You put in so much work, and to know that I get to continue to do it in college and get better is great. One day I want to get in the 16-foot club.”
McKenzie couldn’t stop smiling when talking about competing in college or about what this season has been like. The Gators boys have dominated the local track season, claiming eight meet Ws after going winless a year ago. They also won a Sunshine Athletic Conference championship for the first time and also earned only the third district title in program history.
“It’s been something to really be proud of,” McKenzie said. “We got a new coach this year (Bill Schmitz), and it’s the first year we’ve ever won districts and conference championship in the same season. We’ve had a lot of great athletes. We brought a lot of kids to regionals. We had a lot of sophomores really step up and have good showings. They’re going to be people to watch. Land O’ Lakes track is going to dominate for the next couple of years.”