The race is on in track and field.
Region meets in Class 1A and 2A take center stage today in Jacksonville, and Maclay (1A) and Florida High (2A) could contend for team titles.
Both programs (girls and boys) swept through district competition last week.
Of course, that’s not a surprise at Maclay, which has captured district titles in both divisions 15 of the past 17 years and is a five-time state champion (girls).
The Marauders, coached by veteran Gary Droze, are paced by multiple state champion Stefani Kurgatt, a Georgetown signee, in the 800 meters and mile run.
Maclay also features impressive strength in the relays, and the boys team has benefited from the influx of football players competing in field events. Marauders football coach Kyler Hall was an accomplished decathlete at Lake City High back in the day.
Florida High’s tradition-rich program, meanwhile, is being rebuilt under coach Tyronne McGriff, a Seminole alum who played football and was a versatile track and field performer.
The Seminoles’ boys captured their first district title since 2003, while the girls captured the 2006 state title. McGriff’s teams are known for their talent and quality depth, capable of scoring points in multiple events.
“We are trying to get back to the top,” McGriff said.
“For the most part this season, we’ve come along slowly, really wanting to make sure we are ready for (postseason) and positioning the kids to do their best. Some people might think we’ve come out of nowhere, but we’ve been practicing to make sure we are peaking at the right time.”
Josh Davis (long jump, 100 meters, 200 meters, relay), Tevin Floyd (field events), and Cecil Robinson (400, relays) have been key performers, among others, for the boys.
Mar’Rhea Everheart (long jump, 400, 200), Nekera Williams (shot put), Aeon West (shot put) and eighth-grader Karyelle Farmer (high jump) help headline a talented girls team.
Youth also is in at Maclay. Freshman sprinter Tamani Wilson, ranked among the top region performers in the 200 and 400 meters, recently smashed one of the school’s most memorable school records.
Wilson clocked a 57.5 in the 400, eclipsing All-American Jamie Ostrov’s mark of 57.9, set in 1999.
Wednesday represented a special day for Florida High basketball standouts Landus Anderson and Ieshia Small.
The seniors each signed basketball scholarships in front of family, friends and classmates in the Seminoles’ crowded gymnasium – Anderson with Brevard Community College in Melbourne and Small with powerhouse Baylor.
It was an emotional celebration of talent and perseverance.
Anderson averaged more than 18 points and 9 rebounds for two consecutive years despite playing without the use of his right arm or hand.
Anderson attracted interest from a number of small colleges but felt at home at Brevard, which lost in the JUCO state championship game this past season.
“It feels great because this is what I worked for after all this time, so this is what it comes down to,” Anderson said. “I am one step closer of accomplishing my dream of playing Division I basketball.”
Small played one season at Florida High after moving to Tallahassee with her younger brother from Miami following the death of their mother. The siblings were adopted by a Tallahassee family after being placed in foster care in Miami.
Small averaged 23.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.2 steals, 5.0 assists and 1.4 blocks per game this past season, leading the Seminoles (23-7) to the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
She was named a McDonald’s All-American and fifth-team All-American by Max Preps. Small selected Baylor over South Carolina.
“It was very emotional for me, knowing my mom wasn’t here for me,” Small said.
“It was a hard decision, but it wasn’t a basketball thing with me. … It came down to where I knew I would fit in at a family atmosphere and where I felt more comfortable with because throughout the years I’ve been moving back and forth.
“I just felt like that was the best place for me.”
Finding their groove
Chiles High softball coach Adam Rich didn’t really know what to expect from his team heading into the season.
Rich had to replace seven starters – six of whom signed college scholarships – from last year’s Final Four team.
But he also had established returnees in junior shortstop Katie Baker, a Florida State commitment, and senior pitcher Samantha Martin, in addition to an influx of young talent such as catcher Hannah Hilaman, third baseman Allison Vanatta and slap hitter Jenny Ross.
“I told everyone we could be right back in the Final Four or we could not make the playoffs,” Rich said. “It’s one of those teams that has the talent, it’s just the matter of putting it together to be right back where we were last year.”
The Timberwolves won their 20th game in impressive fashion on Tuesday, beating Gainesville Buchholz 3-2 on a game-winning hit from catcher Hilaman in the bottom of the seventh inning in the District 1-7A semifinals.
Chiles, which qualified for the postseason with the victory, meets rival Lincoln tonight for the district title.
Rich likes his team’s progress over the course of the season. The pieces seem to be coming together.
Martin is one of the top pitchers in the state, the Timberwolves are hitting .319 as a team, and their defense has improved.
“I still don’t think we’ve put at-bats together, in my opinion, but I thought (Tuesday night) we started to hit the ball harder and with more consistency,” Rich said. “It has been just a matter of getting our young talent on the same page.”
Coach Randall Estelle has built a competitive baseball program at East Gadsden High over the past seven years.
Yet, the Jaguars (8-12 overall) still face an uphill climb in District 2-4A against established programs such as Florida High, Taylor County, Godby and Madison County.
“It’s a really tough baseball district, and it seems like we are always trying to play catchup,” Estelle said. “But we are competing and have been in every game.”
East Gadsden features one of the Big Bend’s most versatile players in senior shortstop Jarrell Reynolds, also an established football player for the Jags who signed a scholarship with Southeastern University in Lakeland. (The program will play its inaugural season in 2014).
Reynolds also pitches, catches and can play outfield. He’s hitting a team-high .535 with 22 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. Fellow senior Justin Tinsley (.427) has provided welcomed leadership to a team that will return 10 players next season.
“Jarell has been our backbone, he’s the one who drives us,” Estelle said. “I don’t know where we would be without him.”