By Kyle LoJacono
Members of the Land O’ Lakes boys track and field team remained kings of Pasco County by claiming consecutive Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) titles March 21 at Fivay.
The Gators repeated as SAC champs despite graduating eight seniors who scored 80 points in individual events at conference last season.
“We not only lost a lot of seniors, but we’ve had some serious injuries,” said second-year Land O’ Lakes coach Bill Schmitz. “Ethan Weilant can’t throw the discus for us because of his shoulder. Dylan Mohammad had knee surgery in November. Isaac Cabrera had a serious ankle sprain. Travis Nichols isn’t even running for us because of his stress fracture, and he’s our only returning guy who made states last year. They’ve been very focused, they had a great preseason and they wanted to repeat.”
The Gators were in a battle with Wiregrass Ranch, which won the team crown two years ago, but they pulled through in the final events of the day. Land O’ Lakes finished with 131 points to the Bulls’ 115.3. Sunlake was third (65) and Wesley Chapel took 10th (12) in the 13-team event.
“This is a really good group of young men,” Schmitz said. “They aren’t kids; they’re young men. They have leadership qualities, and I’m really proud of them.”
Wiregrass Ranch led 101.3 to 98 with three events left, but Land O’ Lakes juniors Tyler Stahl (9 minutes, 55 seconds) and Jake Poore (10:03) gave their squad the lead for good by placing first and third, respectively, in the 3,200 meters with each setting new personal records (PRs).
“I knew we had to perform really well, both of us, to get some points for our team and get ahead of Wiregrass,” Poore said.
The Bulls had seniors Thor Alastre (fourth place, 10:13) and Patrick Hill (fifth place, 10:15) in the race, but Stahl said they didn’t focus on where the Wiregrass Ranch duo was.
“We were just trying to run our race,” Stahl said. “What they do, we really don’t want to be concerned about that because we don’t want to get that in our heads while we’re running.”
The 4×400-meter relay clinched the team title by finishing in 3:37, a new PR for the group.
“It feels good to really be able to help my team win this again,” said junior Jamel Clark, who ran the anchor leg of the relay. “We all really wanted this. We talked about it all week in meetings that we wanted to win conference again.”
The Gators other individual title was won by Stefan Zapata in the triple jump (43-feet, 0.5-inches). The junior also placed second in the long jump (19-09).
“Last year I finished second in the triple jump by just three inches, so I thought I had a good chance of winning,” Zapata said. “I PRed at the meet at Central on (March 19) and PRed in the long jump as well, so that gave me confidence going into day. I honestly just felt really relaxed.”
Sunlake senior Eddie Burgos won consecutive conference titles in the 100 by running an 11.08.
“I was just thinking win and take this home,” Burgos said. “I had to defend my championship. … I felt like I was at the top and people wanted to beat me. I knew I’d worked hard enough to get it done.”
Burgos also scored in the 200 (second place, 23.4) and long jump (eighth place, 18-09) while helping the 4×100 relay take fifth (45.16).
Fellow Seahawk senior Travis Manecke took runner-up honors in the shot put (45-07) and discus throw (137-10).
“We thought third place as a team was possible if we did well, and those two performing allowed us to reach that goal,” said Sunlake coach Nick Carroll.
The Gators girls came in third with 68.83 points, 82.17 behind the five-time reigning conference champs Wiregrass Ranch. Wesley Chapel took ninth (24) and Sunlake was 11th (19).
Land O’ Lakes junior Hallie Grimes won her second SAC title in as many years in the 400 (59.24).
“I was hoping to run under a minute and get a win, and I did, so I’m happy with that,” said Grimes, a two-time state qualifier in the 400. She added, “I am where I’d like to be. A couple days ago at USF I ran a 57, and the year before I was at 59, so I’m definitely feeling good.”
Grimes helped the Gators 4×400 relay place first (4:15) and took second in the 200 (26.26). She also set a new PR in the long jump by posting 16-03.5 to take fourth place.
“I’ve long jumped at almost every meet, but I’ve never done that well,” Grimes said. “I can never get my steps down, and then the last meet I finally got 15-07 and was getting my steps down every time, so I’m finally getting the hang of it, I think.”
The Bulls scored victories in the triple jump by Hannah Eder (34-03.5), pole vault from Alisha Henry (9-06), Nikita Shah in the 1,600 (5:14) and in the 4×800 relay (10:18).
Berlin Waters, who is in her first year with the squad, ran the anchor leg of the relay. She got the baton with a slim lead, which she stretched into a six-second win over Gulf.
“I knew I had to step it up at the end,” Waters said. “We had a small lead when I got it, and I could see the girl’s shadow. I just thought I can’t let her pass me, and I’ve got to finish this.”
Wesley Chapel’s lone conference title was won by senior Samford signee Courtney Prengaman in the high jump. The defending Class 2A state champ cleared 5-04 about a week after she set the school record at 5-08.
“We talked about how you can have one bad meet a year, so let’s make it this one and get back on track,” said Wildcats coach Brad Allen.
Wiregrass Ranch hosts the Class 3A-District 6 meet April 16, which will also include Land O’ Lakes and Sunlake. Wesley Chapel competes at the 2A-9 meet April 12 at Berkley Prep.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker