By Kyle LoJacono
The Wharton girls held off cross-town rival Freedom for runner-up honors at the Hillsborough County track championships April 2 at Jefferson.
The Wildcats totaled 84 points, eight off Plant’s championship pace. The Patriots took third (75) at the 27-team meet.
Freedom led Wharton by one going into the 4×400-meter relay, the day’s last race. The Wildcats left nothing to chance by winning the event in 3 minutes, 55.71 seconds, besting Hillsborough by 0.04.
“That race came from the rivalry between our 4×400 and Hillsborough’s 4×400,” said Wildcats coach Wes Newton. “Hillsborough has been the top of the mountain all year, so I’m happy my girls were able to win this.”
The Terriers beat Wharton by 0.6 at the Western Conference National Division meet the week before by passing Kiana Outen in the final meters.
It appeared Hillsborough would pull off the same late-race comeback at the county meet when Marilyn Hawkins got around Outen at the final turn, but the Wharton junior jumped to the outside and overtook her competitor steps before the finish line.
“That was the same girl who passed me with 10 meters left last week, so I had to beat her this time,” said Outen, who is in her first season running track. “I had to pick it up and not die at the end.”
It was the last of four county championships won by the Wildcats at the meet, including seniors Mikayla Barber and Tyler Watson sweeping the top two spots in both hurdle events.
Barber captured the 100 hurdles (14.87), besting Watson by 0.05. She had a single message as she was preparing to win her first county title.
“When I was lining up I was just thinking use everything your coaches have told you,” Barber said. “Think about my technique and staying focused.”
Watson followed up by claiming the 300 hurdles with a personal record (PR) 43.37, 0.65 faster than Barber.
“My best time before today was 45.1 at regionals last year, and now I’ve broken that with about a month before regionals, and that’s really exciting,” Watson said. “I had confidence today. Sometimes I tend to focus on (Barber) than I do my own race, so today I was just in my zone.”
The Wildcats duo shares a message before their events.
“We go into every race and tell each other one/two,” Barber said. “Let’s finish first and second no matter who is first. In the end we are racing against each other, so let’s finish one/two instead of having someone else up there.”
Watson added, “We love each other and try to push each other. We’re going to win sometimes and we’re going to lose sometimes, but we want to both be there finishing first/second.”
Pole vaulter Britainy Smith repeated as county champ by clearing 10-feet, 6-inches. The Wharton senior said she was looking to better her PR of 11, but was pleased with her performance.
“I think I’m improving each week, and as long as I keep working hard and keep my speed good and get stronger I feel like I’m on the road to going to states,” Smith said.
Freedom captured a pair of county championships, with Sandra Akachukwu taking the long jump (18-10) and Faith Woodard winning the high jump (5-09) with a new school record.
“I just wanted to come out here and do my best,” Woodard said. “My coach and my parents were telling me that I’m capable of doing anything, so I wanted to go out there and do just that. … This is county and everybody is here, so I was excited to do my best.”
It’s the third county title in the event for Woodard, who also won as a freshman and sophomore but was beat by Akachukwu last season. Woodard also scored in the 400 (third place, 1:00.08) and the 200 (eighth place, 26.21).
Akachukwu bested Alonso’s Quatasia Fantroy (18-07), the defending long jump champion, on her final jump.
“I always go in with a positive mindset, and I’m always trying to PR,” Akachukwu said. “I don’t try and worry about what other people are doing because anything can happen, and I’m just looking at what I can do. … I knew what she’d jumped and I know I’ve jumped farther, so I just focused on what my coach always says to me about picking up my feet and hold it for as long as I can.”
Akachukwu also took second in the high jump (5-06), 100 (11.86) and 200 (24.75) to score 34 points for her squad.
Wharton and Freedom compete at Tampa Bay Tech in the Class 4A-District 6 meet April 16.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker