By Kyle LoJacono
Land O’ Lakes boys and girls track and field swept their home quad meet Feb. 27 in dominating fashion.
The victory is the boys third this year and 10th straight regular season meet stretching back to last season. They totaled 109 points, besting second-place Sunlake by 46 while taking first in 11 of 17 events.
“Our depth and our numbers have really been key to our success, as has our work ethic,” said Gators coach Bill Schmitz. “We have to improve our technique in our starts and handoffs, but overall I’m happy with where we’re at.”
One of Land O’ Lakes’ most dominating efforts came in the long jump, where the squad took all four scoring positions. Senior Harrison Wood led the way by posting a personal record 20-feet, 6.5-inches.
“I was sick early,” Wood said. “I had to leave school because of it. I went home, took a nap and I felt better, so I came out. I could only jump today. I usually do the 100 and 4×100 too.”
Wood took second in the triple jump (39) behind Sunlake’s Joe Jean-Baptiste’s 40-08.
The Gators also got first-place field event finishes from Kyle Forchoin’s high jump (6) and Colin Defant’s pole vault (12-06).
Land O’ Lakes controlled the distance events, winning the 3,200, 1,600 and 800 meters, along with the 4×800 relay.
Jake Poore took first in the 1,600 (4 minutes, 42 seconds) and the 3,200 (10:10). The junior generally doesn’t do the 3,200, but filled in for injured teammates Travis Nichols and Tyler Stahl.
“I’m trying to help the team with the points because Travis and Tyler are out,” Poore said. “I feel like I have a little bit of a weight on my shoulders, but I can handle it.”
Steven Barnabei took third in the 3,200 (11:13) and fourth in the 1,600 (5:07) despite being less than two months removed from cancer treatment to remove a brain tumor.
Ethan Weilant captured the 800 (2:11) and was part of the winning 4×800 (9:02) and 4×400 (3:46) relays.
The sophomore tore the labrum in his right shoulder while playing quarterback in football, which prevented him from running without a sling until about a month ago.
“When I started running again I felt awful,” Weilant said. “I tried running the 800 and got maybe a 2:30, and I was dead because I couldn’t do anything. … I could not wait to compete again.”
Jamel Clark gave the Gators victories in the 400 (54.93) and 110 hurdles (16.67). The junior was last in his heat coming around the last turn of the 400, but kicked in for the final 150 meters for the W.
“That’s how I try to run my race,” Clark said. “Coach has us put an emphasis on the last half of the 400, and it’s been working for me.”
Sunlake’s biggest scorer was sprinter Eddie Burgos, who captured gold in the 100 (11.04), 200 (23.3) and with the 4×100 (45.07) relay.
“My senior year, I’m coming out stronger and harder,” Burgos said. “Last year I missed states by 0.1 seconds in the 100. I’m making it this year.”
Burgos is the only returner from the relay squad. He said they’re still working on the handoff but has no question about the speed.
“I’m actually impressed because I think we’re faster than last year,” Burgos said.
Burgos scratched on his three attempts at the long jump, his first event of the day.
“I haven’t scratched out in a long time,” Burgos said. “I’ve been working a lot on where I start, and I haven’t found a spot where I’m comfortable yet.”
Seahawks thrower Travis Manecke took first in the shot put (43-01) and discus (140-02). The senior made the Class 3A state meet in both events last year.
“I’ve been throwing the college ball, and then after that it’s about form, especially with trying to keep the disc flat,” Manecke said. “I’m trying to get back to where I was throwing before, like around 50 in the shot and 150 in the disc before districts.”
The win is the first in about a year for the Land O’ Lakes girls who racked up 97 points, 49 better than the Seahawks. The Gators took third at East Lake’s Early Bird Invitational in their season opener and second at Gulf’s Chasco Invitational the week before.
Land O’ Lakes won 14 of the 17 events, which coach Rock Ridgeway credits to getting young talent and renewed excitement.
“We’ve got some new girls who are really making a difference,” Ridgeway said. “I’m covering more events than I have in the past years. … Last year the girls team was decently successful. Seeing the boys do what they did probably added some excitement.”
Hallie Grimes placed first for the Gators in the 100 (12:07) and 200 (26:74) and ran the final leg of the victorious 4×400 (4:27). The junior has qualified for states the last two years in the 400, but she and Ridgeway kept her out of the event.
“My coaches wanted to switch things up to see how I’d do in the 100 and 200 because it’s the first time I’ve run them this year,” Grimes said. “I felt pretty good. I felt kind of slow coming out of the blocks in the 100. I guess I’m not used to it yet. I thought I had a good start in the 200.”
Hannah Stigleman swept the hurdles by finishing the 100 in 18.85 and 300 in 54:21. The sophomore last competed in track while in eighth grade and is a newcomer to the hurdles.
“These are my first wins of the year, so that’s really exciting for me” Stigleman said. “I know I need to work on my technique, but I’m really liking it.”
Some of the Gators’ other victories came from Sotiria Tsilionis in the 1,600 (6:10), Presley Plummer in the 800 (2:47) and Lacy Nasello in the long jump (15-10). Plummer and Nasello also helped take first in the 4×800 (11:26).
Land O’ Lakes competes in the Anclote Relays Feb. 8 at 3 p.m.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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