The East Lake Early Bird Invitational is in its seventh season. The last two meets have been on rubber tracks. The 2016 meet moved to Clearwater High while the rubber track was being installed at East Lake. For 2017, the Eagles got to host what would be many teams' first meet of the season, on their brand new rubber track.
The Eagles delivered the team sweep. The girls more than doubled up Countryside 102.5 to 49.5 on the back of great efforts from Jennifer Lima, Kaitlyn Kirby and Parker Valby.
The East Lake boys topped Countryside 104.5 to 61.5, with James Hassell and Joshua Bowers kicking in big contributions.
It was many teams' first meet of the season. It was Citrus Park Christian's first track meet in school history. Their 4x800m relay of Olivia D'Angelo, Avery, Jensen and Quincy Mayer became the first relay to run a high school race for the program. The program, coached by Athletic Director Ed Schenk and Ray Friedman, put together a solid team, many local transfers. Defending 2A state champ Trevor Foley won the 3200m in 9:46.25 with teammate Reed Legg in third behind Land O' Lakes' Alex Normandia.
Former Steinbrenner cross country runners Lydia Friedman, Alex Perri and Brooke Santiesteban had good nights, too. Friedman and Perri went 2-3 behind Natalie Abernathy's blistering 11:20.01 in the 3200m. Santiesteban took seventh in th 1600m and fifth in the 800m.
The middle distance races were the hottest of a cool and windy evening. The girls 800m went off first with Lima pushing the pace. Mitchell's Grace Phillips was not about to let Lima have it and moved into second by the end of the first lap. Phillips was within a few strides until the back stretch, where Lima began to separate. Phillips gave chase on the home stretch but couldn't catch up to Lima's 2:19.31 but it pulled Phillips to a personal record 2:21.72.
"I know she (Lima) has speed and edurnce, she just pulled me with her," Phillips said.
Local rivals but good friends Sean Heera of Clearwater and James Hassell of East Lake lined up against each other for the boys 800m. Lakewood's Mohammed Haitham got out in front first with Heera in second. Completing the first lap, Heera moved into first with Hassell in second. The pair hung close for most of the second lap until the end of the back stretch where Heera pushed the gas. Hassell gained some ground back on the home stretch but Heera took it in 1:59.58. Hassell took second in 2:01.60.
"Every race is different and I try to run my race but it's cool knowing he (Hassell) is there," Heera said. "I still think of him as a teammate."'
Abernathy knocked 24 seconds off her time from the 2016 state meet in the 3200m. She also took second behind Lima's meet record 5:10.10 in the 1600m. Abernathy has just recently re-joined her team after helping the Land O' Lakes soccer team make the regional finals. She said that she hopes to crack five minutes in the 1600m and 11 in the 3200m this season.
Ridgewood senior Brandon Schultz swept the hurdle events on Wednesday. Schultz, last year's Class 2A runner up in the 110m hurdles won it in 14.78. He won the 300m hurdles in 40.01. Schultz will want to get back down under 14 and into the 39's.
"I think I can do way better but I'm starting this season better than I started 2016," Schultz said.
The sprints were slightly marred by Lakewood stud Jamesha Moorer false starting in the 100m. Moorer was able to come back and take the 200m in 25.83. It opened the door for Countryside sophomore Dianisty Bolden. Bolden won the 100m in 12.43 and took second in the long jump (17-5.5) behind Kirby's 17-9.5. Bolden even kicked in a leg on the runner up 4x100m relay that Wesley Chapel won in 51.70. Bolden didn't even compete as a freshman with a severe hamstring injury but is a 727 Track Club veteran.
Pole vaulters Katie Brantley of Seminole and Stone Baker of River Ridge took home top honors with the sophomore Brantley clearing 10-7 for her win and Baker clearing 13-6 for his win. Baker cleared 14-9 at Gulf in his first meet of the 2017 season.
Bishop McLaughling sprinter Owen Clanahan had one of the better days, taking first in the 200m (22.66) and third in the 100m (11.30).
East Lake's Bowers won the 100m in 11.19 and Clearwater's Adarius Lemons was second in the 100m (11.27). Zephyrhills' Dewayne Robinson was second in the 200m (23.14) and won the boys 400m in 51.36.
"I was pretty surprised by the 200 win after my bad start in the 100m," Clanahan said. "I was expecting the worst."