By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch girls track and field has established itself as the class of Pasco County, winning Sunshine Athletic Conference and district titles the last four years.
The Bulls bring back most of their top scorers, including distance runner Nikita Shah, jumper/sprinter Hannah Eder, pole vaulter Alisha Henry and hurdler Marissa Ginn-Davis, all of whom are seniors.
Fourth-year Wiregrass Ranch track coach Don Howard said those athletes should compete for conference and district titles again this year, but added that there are a lot of questions after that.
“Teamwise, it’s so hard to tell,” Howard said. “I’m pessimistic because I look at the events where we don’t have anything or don’t have much. I’ve got nothing in the throws and nothing in the high jump yet. I see the three holes, but if I’m realistic with myself, we should be able to score in all events if things work out.”
The Bulls lost all three of their throwers from last year, including the reigning conference and districts champion in the shot put in Patricia Magwood.
Howard said it’s too early to tell if any of the new throwers can replace some of what his squad lost. He also isn’t sure if they will be able to add any points in the high jump, an event they left vacant all last season.
“Last year was the first year when I had a track team and didn’t enter someone in an event,” Howard said. “I just decided if they don’t have a chance to score then I’m not going to waste my time and their time. This year I’ve got some who are going to try it. Taysha (Kuhn) is the only one who’s done it before. The rest of them are raw at it, but if I can get one or two of them to score one or two points, that’s more than we had last year.”
Howard, who is also Wiregrass Ranch’s girls cross country coach, is far more confident in his distance athletes.
“I think Nikita and Chelsea (Ginn-Davis) and Addie (Cornwell) are all girls who can score at the conference and district meet in the mile (1,600 meters) and two mile (3,200),” Howard said. “Then Elise (Cedre) is the returning 800 meter champion in the conference, so having her and Savannah Goode is a big help.”
Howard has also added senior Berlin Waters, a Saint Leo University signee for cross country and soccer.
Waters placed 24th at the Class 3A cross country state final in November. Howard said she will likely run the 800 for track.
The leader of the distance runners is Shah, a Harvard University signee.
Shah won conference titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters last year and placed third in the latter at the 2012 Class 3A state meet by completing the two-mile race in 10 minutes 49.62 seconds. She also won conference, district and regional crowns during the cross country season and was named The Laker/Lutz News Girls Runner of the Year following the season.
Shah had what she called a “disappointing” end to her cross country year when she took 15th at states after entering the race as one with a legitimate chance of winning the individual title.
“I’m ready to get back and show what I can do,” Shah said. “I had several factors that made me run the time I did that day, but that doesn’t bring me down. I’m just looking to work as hard as I can so I can do as well as I can.”
Eder returns after claiming district championships in both the long and triple jumps while helping the 4×100 relay squad win titles at conference and districts. The relay brings back senior A.J. Blount, who will also run the 100 this year after sitting out of the event during the postseason last year while working back from a torn ACL in her right knee.
Add in Wesley Chapel transfer Alyssa Woodard and freshmen like Gelisa Jenkins, Camille King and Kuhn, and Howard sees a lot of potential points from the speed athletes.
“We might be deeper in sprints than we’ve ever been,” Howard said. “A.J. and Hannah have senior leadership, and then these freshmen and Alyssa is a sophomore, those are four young girls who are going to be terrific for our sprint program.”
Hurdles appear to be equally loaded.
The Bulls have the reigning district champion in the 300 hurdles and runner-up in the 100 hurdles in Marissa, but the depth doesn’t stop there.
“We do have a lot of surprisingly fast new girls,” Marissa said. “I think we’re going to be pretty stacked up in the hurdles. We’ve got four in the 100, and then I think we’ll have four in the 300 too. It’s pretty scary.”
There are questions, but the athletes have confidence in Howard to find the right answers.
“Coach Howard really knows everything about running and track,” Marissa said. “He’s the god of track.”
Wiregrass Ranch has opened its season with victories in its first three meets. The Bulls host the Class 3A-District 6 meet April 16, followed by regionals at Leto April 24 and states May 3 at the University of North Florida.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
Bulls boys out to regain championship form
By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch boys track and field team was unable to win consecutive Sunshine Athletic Conference and district titles last year by placing second to Land O’ Lakes at both meets.
The Bulls will have to replace several big scorers, including 200 meters conference and district champion Jamel Nuñez, while getting used to a new coach.
Mike Lawrence took over the program, replacing Phil Kerr, who moved with his wife to Michigan to be closer to the rest of their family, after leading the squad for two seasons.
Lawrence said he has coached track for several years and also competed in the long jump and sprint events while at Kansas State University.
“This is my first year out here, and everything is a little bit different for me and for them,” Lawrence said. “I’m learning the kids and what they can actually do.”
Lawrence was also named Wiregrass Ranch’s football coach in December and has gotten many of his gridiron athletes to join the spring sport.
“One of the big thing is we have a lot of our football players out here, our skill athletes, and that’s going to make a big difference,” Lawrence said. “That gives us a lot of depth, but we lost some good seniors. We’re trying to boost those guys up, because we’ve got a lot of talent. If we develop that talent we’ll be a good team.”
Lawrence said he hasn’t placed most of the sprint and field athletes in their events yet, but said the distance runners will be led by seniors Ermias Bireda, Ben Hall and Thor Alastre.
Bireda won district and regional titles last year in the 1,600 and appeared to be on track for the third- or fourth-place finish at the Class 3A final before being tripped on the final turn. The fall robbed him of his first state medal, which has motivated him in his preparation.
“I want to redeem myself,” Bireda said. He added, “On those hard workouts when I don’t want to push myself, I think of that and it helps me get through. … I want to keep my district and regional titles and finish top five at states.”
Bireda is also excited about what he sees from athletes in the other disciplines.
“We’ve got a bunch of new guys, so we’ve got to see what the first couple of meets are like,” Bireda said. “Land O’ Lakes is going to be tough to beat, but I think we can compete with them.”
Wiregrass Ranch hosts the Class 3A-District 6 meet April 16, followed by regionals at Leto April 24 and states May 3 at the University of North Florida.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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