It was a collection of 28, mostly private schools but still drew over 900 athletes to the campus at Northside Christian in Saint Petersburg. The team champions would ride a treacherous road. The Admiral Farragut girls only brought eight athletes to the meet, yet they were still able to just keep in front of host Northside 90-86.5. Calvary Christian girls took third with 78. It was pretty much AFA and NCS all day, culminating in the final event, the 4x400m where the BlueJackets won it in 4:11.18 with the Mustangs in second at 4:17.39.
"These girls love each other, they cheer each other on," AFA coach Arron Prather said. "Faith (Nelms) even had a calf cramp but rallied to run the 4x4."
Nelms racked up a lot of points for the BlueJackets combining in the sprints with Jazmine Alderman. The pair took first and second in the 100m, Alderman with a 12.37 and Nelms wth a 12.65. Teammate Sydni Bostick took fourth. Alderman won the 200m in 25.61 and the girls won both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. What really helped them push over the top were efforts from Jolie Caya and Sara Oi. The respective sophomore and freshman went 1-2 in the 300m hurdles, Caya winning it in 48.43. Caya also took fourth in the 100m hurdles and second in long jump.
"When the time comes to band together, these girls do it like a Farragut family," Prather said. "What's also exciting is they're all coming back, most are juniors and sophomores."
Northside and Calvary were never out of it. Madi Brandes took third in the 100m hurdles and sixth in the 300m hurdles but the big point draw came when Tytiana Wilson, a freshman, and Dyi-Mond Shields took first and second in the 400m, with Wilson running a 58.34. The Warriors scored a basketful of their 78 points behind the efforts of defending long jump 1A state champ Jordyn Showers. Showers won the long jump at 18-7(5.66m), took second in the 200m (26.16) and second in the triple jump Behind Keswick Christian's Abigail Leuthold at 36-2.25 and ran on a relay. The sophomore Showers is having a great season, looking on pace to make a run at defending her long jump title. Her 18-9 she jumped at states was eclipsed by a 19-4 she jumped at this season's Calvary Invite. She ranks second in the state with that mark and first in her class.
"Today wasn't my best effort but I think I can do better," Showers said. "I'm hoping to hit 20 (feet) at states."
Keeping on the girls side, St. Pete kicked off the running events on a high note, winning the 4x800m in school record 10:17.02. That mark out-paced the field by 25 seconds.
"They've run 10:24 three times this year," St. Pete coach Tim Russell said. "They're finally all close to healthy now and I think they can go sub-10."
Pole vault titans in defending state champ Morgan Brown of Calvary and rising star Katie Brantley faced wicked cross winds on Thursday. It made for diminished marks for the vaulters, Brown winning at 10-0 and Brantley taking second at 9-6 but they showed a heavy dose of courage.
"I had to move down in poles because the wind was messing up my steps," Brown said. "I wanted to move to a safer pole, especially for planting and just pray my pole goes into the box."
Both vaulters have marks over 11 feet.
Brown's teammate Callie Friske dominated the 1600m from start to finish, winning it in 5:34.76. In the 800m, it was Osceola's Taylor Stone breaking through for a win in 2:18.85, marking her first trip under 2:20 in an event that is not usually her primary focus. She would end up swamping the field by nine seconds. Warrior teammate Megan Gregoire won the 3200m in dominant fashion at 11:35.41, way in front of Tampa Prep's Josie Garba (11:51.15). Boca Ciega's Tori Roberts won the 100m hurdles in 16.11.
On the boys side, St. Pete had to endure a war of attrition. They shot out to an early lead but kept losing athletes along the way and held just a 10-point lead over Countryside into the 4x400m relay.
"We dropped the baton in the 4x1, our 3200m runner cramped up on the sixth lap, it was a rough day, I think the cold weather got to them," St. Pete coach Natalee Allen said. "We had to piece together a 4x4 relay and I told them, we just need one point, one point to hold on for the win."
The relay held on and grabbed the eighth spot, scoring that elusive point to not just hold off Countryside but a late surge from Northside, who won the relay in 3:29.42. The Green Devils got big help in the field events. Deshawn Brown, Matthias Boys and Des'men Harris all scored in the throws. Brown took fourth in disc, Boyd sixth and Harris seventh. Trezon Brown took second in high jump in a jump off with Victory Christian's Lavonte Vickers. Both hit 6-1.5. Vickers also won triple jump (42-0.5).
It would have been tough to overshadow the effort set down by AFA's Phillip Henderson. Henderson started off his day, helping the 4x800m relay take second behind Northside's 8:26.30. Next, he won the 1600m, pacing off St. Pete's Bryce Burt and taking him coming out of the final turn of the fourth lap.
"I'm not used to pacing myself and I know I have a good kick at the end to pass people," Henderson said. "I had a little doubt with 300 meters to go but with 100 to go, I felt I could get it."
The 4:31.4 is just off his PR from IMG (4:29.16) he ran just a week ago. Henderson followed that up with a 2:01.33 to win the open 800m. Northside's Damien Roberts gave him a good push and Northeast's Alexander Quillan was not far behind.
The Mustang hurdling tandem of Tyler Rhodes and Nicholas Roberts were dominant on Thursday night as they swept both top spots in the 110s and 300m hurdles. Rhodes won the 110s in 14.72 with Roberts in at 15.42. Rhodes cracked 40 seconds to win the 300s in 39.62 with Roberts on his heels at 40.70.
"It helps both of us competing against each other," Rhodes said. "We get better practicing together and through meets like this."
Largo sprinters made a statement on Thursday night. Kashief Edwards and Solomon Brown, both sophomores, went 1-2 in the 100m, Edwards at 11.07 and Brown at 11.08 in a photo finish. The pair weren't done at that. Brown would come back and run a 22.65 to hold off St. Pete's Anthony Johnson in the 200m. The boys combined with Smash Lopez (5th in the open 100m) and freshman Andre Bell to dominate the 4x100m relay in 43.17. Brown had a scorching anchor leg on the 4x1 that put them over the top.
"I don't pay attention to my surroundings, I just focus on getting out, running fast and holding that lead," Brown said.
Seminole senior Austin Henkel set a new PR in the long jump, hitting 22-8.5, more than a foot-and-a-half past the runner up mark.
"He's really starting to hit some stuff and this is a good time of the season to do those things," Seminole coach Sandra Miller said.
In the throws, it was all Bethal Miles of Northeast. Miles, after taking fifth at states as a sophomore in his first year competing in throws, is off to a fast start in 2018. He won both shot and disc on Thursday. His 151-8 topped the discus field by five feet and his shot throw of 44-11 was off what he would have liked but good enough to win the event.
"I still haven't had that big meet, yet," Miles said.
Seffner Christian devoured the opening laps of the 3200m as Paul and John McKenzie established control early. Countryside's Alec Latzke pushed into the lead peleton and wound up taking second behind Paul McKenzie's 10:07.17. Latzke went 10:08.57 and John McKenzie 10:11.52. The trio was 15 seconds up on the rest of the field at the finish. Northside's Adrian Harris almost cracked 50 seconds with a 50.81 to win the 400m.