County championships don't always have the luster, fantastic finishes and jaw-dropping marks that big invitationals do. The 2018 Pinellas County Athletic Conference Championships at Clearwater High School did. It started with the girls 4x800m relay, the very first running event of the day.
It was a duel between East Lake and Saint Petersburg from the start. By the second leg, the Eagles held a three-second lead. Into the second exchange, the Eagles led by seven seconds. Before runners handed off to the anchor leg, the Green Devils closed the gap and Kara Robinson drew even with East Lake's Parker Valby. Both runners turned up the heat and neither could separate from the other. Stride-for-stride around the first turn, through the back stretch, all the way through the first lap. The second lap was more of the same, both runners striding out, trying to shake the other, neither able to. Finally, just before the final turn of the last lap, Robinson made a move to get around Valby.
"I planned to try her on the last turn," Robinson said. "I figured I had a burst of energy and felt like I needed to make a move there."
Robinson got around her but Valby came charging back on the home stretch.
"I looked it up on Flrunners and she (Robinson) had the exact same time as me in the open 800," Valby said. "Then Riley (Fitzpatrick) and their third leg were neck-and-neck. When she (Robinson) passed me I thought I was going to lose but I still had something left and started sprinting."
Valby sprinted and caught Robinson with just a few meters to go. It would be a photo finish with Valby just edging out Robinson for a team time of 10:09.8 to 10:09.9.
The triple jump was perhaps even a more exciting event with the top five competitors all leaping for personal records. Countryside's Donovan Bernitt set the early tone with a 13.25m jump that pushed him out to the lead. East Lake's Jake Walsh leapt out to a 13.45m on his third attempt. By then competitors coaches and teammates alike lined the runway, giving slow claps as jumpers lined up for the next attempts.
"We had some real competition there at the end," Lakewood's Khalid Davis said. "I had just finished the 400 and was expecting I would get third but the competition changed everything. The clapping helped."
Davis lined up for his final jump, tore down the runway and with a hop, skip and a jump sailed into the air and landed in the sand pit. Officials stretched out the tape and the mark of "13-9" was called out. More than one coach asked, "13-9 or 13-09?". Upon confirmation, the mark was set at 13.90m or 45-7.25, a huge PR for Davis and a big 10 points that the Spartans desperately needed to keep pace with East Lake.
It was a three-horse race all day with East Lake, Lakewood and St. Pete but the Spartans and Eagles pulled away late in the day. Davis' score was huge and teammate Alonzo Harris took fifth in the event but East Lake got theirs with a third-place finish from Walsh's 13.45m and fourth-place finish from Cameron Boykins (13.17m or 43-2.5).
The Eagles would carry a half-point lead into the final event of the day, the 4x400m relay. The Eagles and Spartans were favored to go 1-2 in the event but whichever one took first would win the team title. No pressure.
"I told them what was on the line," Lakewood coach Anthony Snead said.
East Lake's Walsh, who'd just finished triple jump, faced off with Lakewood's Armani Adams on the first leg and Adams was first to hand off to Davis, who's also just come from triple jump. Jake Castle of East Lake, passed Davis on the back stretch, stretched the lead slightly through the last turn but Davis opened it up on the home stretch and made the first hand off to the third leg. Paris Smith took the baton for Lakewood and opened up a lead on East Lake's James Hasell. Hasell, who had already come off winning the 1600, 800 and 3200, pulled even so that the handoffs to the anchor legs were simultaneous.
It would be East Lake's Micah Abraham, who'd won both the 100m and 200m against Lakewood's Mohammed Haitham, who took second in the 800m. They were stride-for-stride through the turn, through the back stretch and coming out of the last turn, Abraham turned up the heat and edged past Haitham. Haitham made a valiant attempt to close but Abraham just held him off to win it in 3:26.07. Lakewood came in at 3:26.54 and that was it, the final score locked in at 96-92.5.
"East Lake's a very good team, we were so close to a victory," Snead said. "Mohammed ran his fastest split of the season but it was just not enough but I'm very proud of these guys, very happy to be in this position."
It made it the third-straigh team title for the East Lake boys. To add a bit of context, the Eagles did it without their star sprinter in Josh Bowers. Bowers pulled a hamstring at the UF Relays and was on the shelf for PCAC. It was up to Abraham and the rest of the East Lake boys to band together. Abraham was a huge part of it, running an 11.15 to win the 100m and setting down Bowers' school record to win the 200m in 21.78.
"I don't know how I did it," Abraham said. "I've been sick all week with a stomach bug, throwing up. I always felt like me and Josh were team leaders. I look up to him being a senior and he's a role model to me. He does multiple events all the time, so I knew today was my time to come up for the team."
The East Lake girls left little to chance as they got big lifts from both Valby and Bailey. Valby won the 800m in 2:29.05 and took second in the 1600m (5:16.83). Bailey had a huge day, winning the long jump, the 100m hurdles and took second in the triple jump and 300m hurdles. They prevailed with 126 to Osceola's 79.
"My goal was to score 38 today, I scored 36," Bailey said.
The condensed schedule was particularly tough on multi-event athletes as many had to go straigh from one event to the other. Bailey had to compete in long jump, triple jump and the 100m hurdles all in the span of about an hour. She was on pace to win the 300m hurdles until fatigue and foot cramps slowed her on the last few hurdles, allowing Pinellas Park's Amaya Kier to take control and win it in 46.02.
"On the turn, I thought I had a chance," Kier said. "I didn't have a good day at FSU and I usually run in the 45s but it still felt good today."
The PCAC meet record fell at the pole vault pit on Thursday. Countryside's Rohan Kaushal was using a longer pole as he shed the other competitors. He tried for a meet record at 14-9 and missed on the first two attempts. He moved to a more familiar and shorter pole and got it on the third try. Kaushal went up to 15-1 and brought in a third pole and used it to clear the bar, set a new meet record and claim the PCAC title.
The St. Pete girls 4x400m relay had to battle with East Lake and Pinellas Park. East Lake took the lead on the second leg and Pinellas Park took it back on the home stretch. By the third leg, the Patriots had three seconds on East Lake with St. Pete in third. On the Green Devils' anchor leg by Aubreyone Hollowell, everything changed. Hollowell started to close on the back stretch and made her move on the last turn.
"I knew on the back stretch I couldn't give it my all just yet," Hollowell said. "But then on the turn I pushed it into gear."
The 4:14.21 set a new school record for Hollowell, Anno Vo, Makenna Myrick and Tahtrhea Brown. All ran under 1:05 and Hollowell capped with with a 60-second split. Hollowell also won the open 400m in 59.75.
The Lakewood 4x800m team of Michael Hancock, Lucas Sheridon, Jack Willett and Haithan ran a season best 8:20.60 to win the event. Northeast's Bethal Miles continues to improve and won both the shot (14.36m or 47-1.5) and disc (155-5.5).
Seminole's Austin Henkel won boys long jump at 6.45m (21-2). St. Pete's Trezon Brown won boys high jump at 1.93m(6-4). Lakewood's Jameesha Moorer, coming back from a hamstring tear almost a year ago to the day, swept the 100m (12.08) and 200m (25.20) and turned in a scorching anchor leg on the 4x100m relay that ate up the leading Largo relay.
"I'm still doing physical therapy, I'm not all the way back but three weeks ago I was staring to feel strong," Moorer said. "I ran an 11.93 at Florida Relays, that was my first time under 12 since the injury."
Palm Harbor University's Julianna Lazzari had a great day, winning both the 1600m and 3200m. She had to hold off East Lake's Valby to win the 1600m in 5:15.62 and she moved past Osceola's Megan Gregoire on the final lap to pull away for the win in 11:43.29.