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State Championship Track Wrap-Up

Jay Wallace, May 11, 2017

Before launching into a report on the State meet, I must first note a couple items of sad news that hit close to home. Katina Hamilton, mother of Godby sprinter Khris Cauley, had died in an accident on I-75 while driving down to watch her son at State.  Then on the ride home Sunday, Alex learned that Mississippi State teammate Kaelin Kersh, a senior 400 and 800 runner who had just received her degree in kinesiology, had died in a traffic accident in Starkville the previous day.  My thoughts and sincere condolences to  family and close friends of these two individuals.  It was yet another reminder of how precious and fragile life is.

Brian Miller wrote a couple of terrific reviews of local athletes' accomplishments at State. I encourage you to find the articles on the Democrat web site for a comprehensive review of area competitors' performances. Brian is a former Flotrack writer who has done a great job reporting on the local track/cross country scene.

Since this is a mostly distance running oriented club, my focus will be mostly on the 800 through 3200 distances.  The distance races have a loyal following by those that love it, but there is a distinct difference in crowd noise level between them and the spring races.  That difference is accentuated  when you have one of the nation's top prep sprinters, Tyrese Cooper from Miami Norland, in the mix. For illustration: With State a two day meet, Friday's events were mostly preliminaries of the sprinting/hurdling events with two finals, the 800 earlier in the afternoon and 3200 as the nightcap.  The 200 meter prelims immediately preceded the 3200.  Alex and I went to get some snacks and water from the car as the 200's were finishing.  When we returned - after the 200 heats had just finished - we were swimming against the current of a mass exodus from IMG track stadium. That's OK, much more space to roam and watch the long races unfold. 

There were some strong winds accompanying a rare May cool front in south Florida.  But, by and large this is a reasonable trade off compared with energy sapping heat and humidity, especially when you consider how many multi-event athletes were in the distance group. 

Local sensation and Gulf Winds member Alyson Churchill was back on her game at state.  As per her custom, Churchill took no prisoners at the start of the 3A 3200 Friday night.  Churchill ran alone the entire race, never looking back.  Only Kristlin Gear, who was double winner at 1600/3200 last year, could mount a challenge and edged out Churchill in the final few meters.  Alyson finished 2nd with a 10:42.82, less than 2 seconds behind the senior (see more on Gear below).  Churchill returned Saturday to contribute to Lincoln's 8th place 4 x 800 relay.  On Saturday evening, we saw one of the more exciting finishes of the meet.  Churchill led most of the way, though not by as sizable of a gap. Gear caught her on the final curve.  Niceville's Abbie Harrelson also passed her going down the straightaway, but Churchill summoned the strength to fight back and take the silver by 0.03 second lean.   Ana Wallace, another Gulf Winder you may know, placed 5th in the 3200 in 11:06.66 and 6th in the 1600 in 5:07.44.  It was a great experience and increased her resolve to address some areas heading into her senior year.  Chiles girls 4 x 800 relay finished 5th, with anchor Emily Culley chasing down Gear and forcing her to lean for the 4th place spot.

In boys 3A, Chiles junior Michael Phillips closed out an outstanding year with medals in the 1600 (4th in 4:22.09) and 3200 (2nd in 9:24.99).  Matthew Newland finished with an 8th place 3200 and 9th 1600.  Lincoln boys scored a 3rd place 4 x 800 in just under 8 minutes with a 7:59.

In girls 1A, Maclay senior Caroline Willis, another GWTC adopted daughter (it seems like yesterday I remember her running barefoot on summer track races) competed in 4 events for the Marauders.  She took home 6th place in 800 (2:19.93), 6th in the 1600 (5:19.04), and anchored a 3rd place 4 x 800 and 8th place 4 x 400.  She will continue her running career at Davidson.  Another Maclay senior, Molly McCann, ran a big PR to place 7th in the 3200 in 11:23.  McCann signed to run at UNC-Pembroke in the fall.  On the boys 1A side, GWTC member and senior Jake Mazziotta ran a strong 2nd leg of their 5th place 4 x 800 relay as well as a 13th place in 1600, just behind teammate Clay Milford.  Jake will run at VMI next fall.

Leon senior Leander Forbes finished a great HS career with a 3rd place  in 3A 400 (46.60 behind Cooper's 45.51) and anchoring Leon's 3rd place 4 x 400 (3:16.91).  Lincoln's Marquel Pittman ran a strong 2nd in the 200, in 21.47, behind Cooper's 21.13.  And the 4 x 400 on Saturday night was worth waiting for.  Miami Northwestern boys went in trying to challenge the national record of 9:07.  They had already run a 9:10 earlier this year.  Lincoln stayed close through the whole race, ultimately coming in 2nd with a strong 3:15.27 to Northwestern's 3:12.31.  There were several other local notables in sprints and field events that Brian Miller aptly discussed in his articles. 

There are a couple non-local athletes deserving of mention.  Jacksonville Bolles junior Caitlin Collier, one of the nation's top 800 meter runners (2:04 PR), took home 4 golds in 2A competition. She won the 800 (2:10.65) and 3200 (10:30.39) on Friday, then anchored their winning 4 x 800 relay (9:12.01) mid-day Saturday and finished off the field in the 1600 Saturday evening with a 4:50.48.  If there was an athlete of the meet award, she gets my vote... even over Tyrese.   Another was Fort Myers senior Kristlin Gear (3A division), who performed a similar feat.  The only thing keeping her from 4 golds was a less strong supporting cast in the 4 x 800.  Gear, an all-around athlete who previously competed in pole vault and can do a one-handed handstand, took home wins in the 800 (2:10.29), 3200 (10:40.50), and 1600 (4:56.04).  Her 4 x 800 team took 4th.  Gear will add to an already strong, young Furman distance team next fall.  Niceville senior Abbie Harrelson, a two event winner at our Region 1-3A meet, challenged Gear in the 800, missing the win by 0.4 seconds with a 2:10.71.  She took 3rd in the 1600 in 4:57.81, led off Niceville's winning 4 x 800 (9:20.97) to beat a heavily favored Miami Northwestern team (who wore the disappointment on their sleeves at the podium - an antithesis of being gracious in defeat), and anchoring their 7th place 4 x 400 team.  She will be running for the University of Florida next fall.  One more note on that 4 x 800; it provided some vindication for Hannah Schneidewind, who just missed qualifying out of Regions in 1600 and 3200.  She anchored that relay.  And last but not least non-local notable, one must make a nod another rising Gator, Creekside's Matthew Clark.  Clark had been behind Chiles' junior Michael Phillips at last fall's Cross Country State meet and a few notable mid-season track events including FSU Relays this spring.  But on this State weekend, Clark unleashed powerful finishes in both 1600 and 3200, winning both (4:17.16 and 9:21.34, respectably).

Last note is an odd one for a distance column, but one interesting event was the "boys" 3A discus.  Chiles' Jordan Poole (rising Troy thrower) took 3rd with a 50.91m throw (167').  Niceville's Edwin Shelikoff, another future UF athlete, took 2nd with 61.17 meters (200' 8").    Jarez Parks of Sebastian River (who will likely be mowing down quarterbacks in coming years playing football for, yes, the Gators) did pick up the win with a remarkable 64.17 meters (210' 5"), but many in the audience including myself witnessed fouls on his best throws that weren't called by officials.  There is no official camera to review.  Perhaps there will be in the future.

Well, that's enough for now.  Cross country training begins in a couple weeks. May all these kids have bright futures and continue to enjoy the sport.