By Kyle LoJacono
The third annual Wiregrass Relays April 9 gave several area track and field teams the ability to prep for the Class 3A-District 6 meet in a relaxed setting.
“It gives them a chance to see the track before districts,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Don Howard, whose school hosts the 3A-6 event April 16. “We do it as a relay just to have some fun with it.”
All seven participating schools are in 3A-6 and competed in such relays as the 4×1,600-meter, 4×400 coed and the highly popular throwers 4×100, which only included those who did the shot put and/or discus throw at the meet.
The Bulls girls won their side of the throwers relays, while Land O’ Lakes claimed first for the boys (49 seconds).
Gators junior Shaheed Salmon, who ran the second leg of the throwers relay, said they were confident going in.
“This is the first time we’ve done it this year, but we were confident,” said Salmon with a big smile.
The Wiregrass Ranch girls ended up winning consecutive event titles with 69 points, besting second-place Land O’ Lakes by 11. The Gators boys also repeated as champs with 72 points, 15 more than the Bulls.
Howard said winning the event likely won’t have any bearing on his squad going for its fifth straight district crown, but it also doesn’t hurt.
“I like where we are,” Howard said. “We have some girls who are hurt who have to get healthy, because we have no wiggle room. … It’s us and Belleview; it came down to seven points last year, and it looks like it’s going to be that close again. If the girls perform and do what they’re capable of doing, unless Belleview surprises us with something, we should win, but there’s no room for any one girl to have a bad day.”
Wiregrass Ranch’s 4×800 relay team posted a 9:49, its best performance of the year.
“The 4×800 team running a 9:49 is where we want to be,” Howard said. “I told the girls I believe they still have another eight to 10 seconds to take off that. We just started the work to get their times to drop, and it dropped immediately. We’ve still got more workouts that we routinely do through the postseason. They’re ahead of the game right now.”
Senior Nikita Shah, the relay’s anchor, said she couldn’t be prouder of the 4×800 squad.
“Definite shout out to Elise (Cedre), Berlin (Waters) and Maddie (Conway),” Shah said. “We all had our best times of the year, and as a team by 20 seconds. You don’t ever see that in the 4×800. We’re ready to go to states and see if we can medal there.”
Waters led off the relay with a 2:29. The Saint Leo University signee, for both cross country and soccer, is in her first season running track.
“It’s been really fun to come out and do this for the first time, and my last time,” Waters said. “I’m really looking forward to districts.”
Waters passed the baton to Conway, a freshman who posted a 2:27.
“I was not expecting to go 2:27,” Conway said. “I was hoping just to break 2:30.”
Shah called Conway a “prodigy” for what she’s accomplished in her first season.
“(Conway) is very much talked about on our team,” Shah said. “She’s really talented and works really hard.”
Cedre, a junior, and Shah closed the relay with a 2:30 and 2:23, respectively.
Shah reached the 3A state meet last year in the 1,600 and 3,200, placing third in the latter.
“I feel really strong and confident going into the postseason,” said Shah, a Harvard University signee.
Bulls teammate Hannah Eder also had a breakout day at the relay by surpassing her own program record in the triple jump (35-feet, 5-inches). The senior, who won districts last year in the triple and long jumps, said she was unsure about her steps earlier in the season, which resulted in a lot of scratches.
“Early in the year I was just not running as fast as I can on the runway, and now I’m more confident and less tentative,” Eder said. “Putting the speed with the steps is coming together and it’s getting farther.”
Wiregrass Ranch freshman sprinter/jumper Gelisa Jenkins, who scored in four events at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet, said she will be prepared for districts with some late fine tuning.
“I think I can still improve my technique and how I pace myself,” Jenkins said. “My biggest thing is mind over matter, so when I feel like I can’t go anymore I have to remind myself that I can, and when I do I can go way farther than I think I can.”
The Bulls boys 4×800 relay also posted a season best time (8:28). A key member of the squad is senior Ermias Bireda, the defending district and regional champion in the 1,600.
“My workouts have shown me that I can definitely compete for that medal,” Bireda said. “I’m in the shape I need to be. I’ve just got to perform now.”
Bireda said he’s motivated by last year’s state meet when he was in third place rounding the final turn of the 1,600, only to be tripped with about 100 meters to go and dash his chance at a top eight finish and a medal.
“I keep what happened at states last year in mind during all of my races,” Bireda said. “It’s hard to forget. This is my last season, my last chance to get a medal.”
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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