By Kyle LoJacono
Tyler Watson captured two individual medals and another in the 4×400-meter relay during the Class 4A state track and field meet May 4 at the University of North Florida.
The Wharton senior started her day taking seventh in the 100 hurdles (15.02 seconds) and added the other with a fourth-place finish in the 300 hurdles (45.26).
“It was a really good day,” Watson said. “Wish I could have done a little better in the 100 hurdles, but I’m really happy.”
Meet organizers opted to go with timed finals run with two heats in every event instead of prelims leading to finals because of bad weather projected for the evening.
Athletes had to quickly change mentality from simply advancing out of the prelims to running for a state title, with the 100 hurdles as the first track event.
“I just told myself to push as hard as I could because there’s no prelims,” Watson said. “I came here wanting to get three medals, and I had to win this one first to do that.”
Watson took seventh running out of the slow heat while dealing with steady wind and rain.
“I couldn’t really think about the weather because it was right to the finals, so I just had to go, go, go,” Watson said. “I just had to stay focused. I had to race against the clock because I was in the slow heat. I had to get out fast.”
Fellow Wildcat Mikayla Barber, a senior, took third in the 300 hurdles (44.35).
Barber and Watson have been near the top of every hurdles race they’ve competed in this year, including splitting the regional titles with Barber taking the 100 and Watson claiming the 300.
“This has been a great season,” Barber said. “It taught me a lot about competition with my own teammate, and that really made me better. Hopefully I’ll keep using those techniques as I go into college and better myself.”
Barber said she is usually stronger in the 100 hurdles, but she was unable to medal in the event after stumbling near the start. She said she came out “with a better mindset” in the 300 hurdles.
“It was hard to come right out and do timed finals, and then when I slipped coming out of the blocks and not being focused really hurt me,” Barber said. “I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Barber and Watson teamed with senior Stevondria Hardy and junior Kiana Outen to take sixth in the 4×400 (4:00.36), the meet’s final event.
Wharton’s other state medalist was Britainy Smith.
The senior pole vaulter earned her first state medal in her second state appearance with a fifth-place performance by clearing 11-feet, matching her personal record (PR).
“I’m really happy, especially considering the weather conditions,” Smith said. “I wanted to PR, but it didn’t happen. … Fifth place is definitely good today considering the number of attempts I took. It was a rough day, but I’m happy with the outcome.”
Pole vaulters began warming up around 12:30 p.m., but worsening weather forced the pit to be shut down for about three hours.
“I had warmed up a few times, and it was really hectic,” Smith said. “I’ve just been trying to relax and focusing on what I need to do. I think I did fairly well.”
Smith, who plans to walk on at the University of Alabama, won Western Conference, Hillsborough County and district titles and placed second at regionals this year.
“I had a really good season, and I couldn’t do it without coach (Wes) Newton helping me every step of the way,” Smith said. “I’ve only progressed since the beginning of this year and since my freshman year. I’m really excited for what will happen in college.”
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