By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch girls track and field team maintained its area dominance by claiming its fifth straight district championship at home April 16.
The Bulls totaled 143 points, besting Belleview by 24.5. Land O’ Lakes took third (67.5) at the 11-team meet.
Fourth-year Wiregrass Ranch coach Don Howard thought his team was the favorite entering the meet, but expected the margin to be much closer with the Rattlers.
“We picked up some points in the sprints and actually outperformed what we thought we’d score in the field events, so we had a little more of a cushion going into the finals,” Howard said. “(Sprinter) Alyssa Woodard scored in two events after being ranked out of the top eight in both of them. Joie Feathersten scored in both hurdles after being out of the top eight. That’s where those cushion points were. Those kids stepped up and got those points that we weren’t expecting.”
The Bulls entered the finals leading Belleview 50 to 46.5.
The Rattlers scored 28 in the 100-meter hurdles to Wiregrass Ranch’s five, but the seventh-year program chipped away throughout the finals and regained the lead 93 to 90.5 after sophomore Kayla Thornton’s fifth-place finish in the 400 (1 minute, 4.41 seconds).
The Bulls stretched their lead in the 300 hurdles, the meet’s next event, thanks to first-, fourth- and sixth-place finishes from Blake Cornwell (49.24), Marissa Ginn-Davis (50.65) and Feathersten (52.85), respectively. The trio scored 18 points, while Belleview mustered nine.
“We felt some pressure coming in,” said senior distance runner Nikita Shah. “Coach told us that we all had to go out there and race our hardest. I’m very proud of my team. They really showed up.”
Shah captured a pair of individual district titles in the 1,600 (5:05.31) and 3,200 (10:59.82). The University of Harvard signee reached states in both events last season and placed third in the 3,200.
“I’m feeling good about my (1,600) and (3,200),” Shah said. “I’m definitely going to do both at regionals, and then I’ll see what happens at states.”
Shah started the day by running the anchor leg of 4×800 relay (9:40.99), which not only captured a district title, but also broke the program record. The time was also nine seconds better than the groups’ personal record (PR) set just a week earlier.
“It was just amazing to drop 25 seconds in the last two weeks in the 4×800,” Shah said. “We’ve looked at virtual meets, and we can be up there at states. When we started we didn’t know if we’d even match up at regionals, so it’s a big confidence boost.”
Junior Elise Cedre moved the Bulls from second to first as the relay’s third runner.
“I heard people yelling out that she was going to catch me, and every time I heard that I just thought no,” Cedre said. “I knew I needed to give Nikita the space to go on her leg. … When Nikita has the lead I didn’t think they could catch her. That’s not going to happen.”
Howard said he was even surprised to see the relay cut another nine seconds in a week.
“I don’t want to overstate it, but I think they can run under 9:30 now,” Howard said. “I really think they have that in them.”
Freshman Maddie Conway, who ran the second leg of the relay, earned a regional berth by placing fourth in the 1,600 (5:33.82).
“I didn’t think this was going to happen,” Conway said. “I came in seeded fifth, and I knew I had some really tough girls I was racing against. I just tried my best, and got a spot in regionals.”
Senior pole vaulter Alisha Henry earned her first district championship by clearing 9-feet, 6-inches, while sophomore Casey Chitty took second (9).
The Bulls girls long jump record was broken twice at the meet, first by freshman Gelisa Jenkins with a 18-00.75 and then about two minutes later by senior Hannah Eder with an 18-03.75. The duo finished second and third in the event. Eder also took third in the triple jump (35-03).
Jenkins scored in three other events and advanced to regionals in the 100 (12.87, fourth place) and with the 4×100 relay (51.65, second) to go along with her berth in the long jump.
The Wiregrass Ranch boys scored 111 points to finish as district runner-up for the second straight year to Land O’ Lakes (125.5).
The Bulls lone district title was claimed by senior discus thrower Elijah Boston (146-09).
“That wasn’t really what I was looking for,” Boston said. “I want to get to states, but my real goal is to break the school record (149).”
It is Boston’s second straight regional berth.
“Last year I was scared and nervous at districts and regionals because it was my first time,” Boston said. “This year I’m calmed down. … I feel good about my form and everything. Been trying to stand tall. Sometimes I slump over too much, but I’ve been staying tall, and that’s helped.”
Boston’s teammate John Coyne, a senior, also advanced by finishing third (137-08.5) in the discus.
“We really wanted to finish up there and get some points for our team,” Boston said.
Junior Devin Duckette took second in the 300 hurdles (41.96), as did the 4×800 relay (8:20.15).
The distance program scored big for Wiregrass Ranch.
Senior Ermias Bireda was the district runner-up in the 1,600 (4:31.65) and 800 (2:00.97). Seniors Thor Alastre (10:16.64, second) and Patrick Hill (10:23.00, third) also advanced in the 3,200.
Wiregrass Ranch sophomore Jaye Miner earned a regional berth in high jump (5-08, fourth) in just his second time competing in the event.
The regional meet is April 24 at Leto.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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