By Kyle LoJacono
Wharton seniors Mikayla Barber and Tyler Watson continued their dominance of the hurdle events during the Class 4A regional track and field meet at Leto April 24.
The Wildcats duo split the regional titles, with Barber taking the 100 in 14.98 seconds, while Watson captured the 300 in 44.44. Watson finished second in the 100 (15.13), and Barber was runner-up in the 300 (44.49).
“We never know which is going to win, but we know it’s going to be one of them, and the other is going to be second,” said Wharton coach Wes Newton. “They’re really competitive, and they’re really great kids. Those kinds of kids don’t come around that often.”
The regional title is Barber’s first. She said it is tough competing against her teammate, but added she and Watson don’t let that drive a wedge between them.
“We don’t look at it as competition,” Barber said. “We just look at it as pushing each other to be better.”
Watson added, “We tell each other we’re not racing each other; we’re racing the clock. It’s not one of us losing to each other. We just don’t want someone else to come up and lose to them.”
Watson repeated as regional champion in the 300. She said she felt like she had to make up for not capturing the 100 after having a lead with only three hurdles remaining.
“I was a little upset in my 100 hurdles,” Watson said. “I had a good race going, and then I knocked over my eighth hurdle and stumbled, but I could have fallen. I could have fallen and not gotten second and not finished, so I’m thankful to make it.”
The duo met while running with the same AAU team in fifth grade, but Watson didn’t start hurdling until high school.
“We converted her to a hurdler her junior year, and that really helped Mikayla to have someone pushing her to get better where before it was just her against the clock in practice,” Newton said. “It’s been a really good combination, and I hope we can get them to compete in college at the same place.”
Barber said she feels stronger than last year when she medaled in both hurdle events at states, placing fourth in the 300.
Watson, who took eighth in the 300 at states last year, also advanced in the triple jump (35-feet, 1.5-inches).
Barber and Watson also competed with the winning 4×400 relay that finished in 4:00.37. Anchoring that relay is junior Kiana Outen.
Outen, who joined the Wildcats track squad this season, started running the final leg about a month ago
“I like running the anchor, but it is scary,” Outen said. “It’s a fun kind of scary.”
The relay runners entered the meet as the No. 1 seed and bettered their time put up at districts by nearly two seconds.
Senior pole vaulter Britainy Smith (10-06, second place), senior 400-runner Stevondria Hardy (58.96, third) and junior 1,600-runner Mariah Henderson (5:19.75, fourth) also earned state berths.
Wharton scored 72 points to place third at the 22-team meet. Plant took first (106) and Freedom was second (80.5).
The Wildcats boys mustered 18 points to place 15th, led by junior Aerion Caldwell scoring 10 by winning the discus throw (143-08.50).
The 4A state meet is May 4 at the University of North Florida.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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