The event everyone will be talking about at the water cooler this weekend is the sprint showdown between Gainesville freshman Tamari Davis and Northeast sophomore Briana Williams. Davis is US#1 in the 200m dash with her 23.06 from Bob Hayes and is US#2 in the 100m. Williams is just the opposite with a US#1 11.13 in the 100m from Bob Hayes and US#2 mark in the 200m dash. We had hoped these two would go head to head then in Jacksonville, but it didn't happen. Luckily for fans everywhere they have no choice but to settle it Saturday at UNF.
Williams has the acceleration out of the blocks, is a beast in the weight room and a true student of the sport. She was the Carifta Games U17 champion in both events and was second at the state meet last year in the 100m dash. Her 11.13 surpassed an age group record set by Marion Jones and is US#4 all-time When she's not running she's eating pancakes or taking naps. No wonder she is well rested and ready to go when it's time.
On the contrary, Davis is just a freshman, but she's been running with older girls since she was in elementary school. Her 200m time of 23.06s at Bob Hayes tied Bianca Knight's freshman class record. While her success on the track is important to her, enjoying her youth is equally important.
Their coaches are no joke either. Davis is coached by Gary Evans, who trains professional athletes in Central Florida and has coached some of the best athletes in the state and names like Xavier Carter, Marvin Bracy, Tony McQuay and others. Williams trains under Trinidad & Tobago Olympian and NBC Analyst Ato Boldon who also coaches former Florida standout and current pro Khalifa St. Fort.
William's start is the key in the 100m, while Tamari's top end speed hopes to carry her to victory in the 200m. Our Twitter poll thinks they will split the races and I do as well. However they do Saturday, the meet is just the start of what should be a busy summer season. Davis is scheduled to compete at the Flo Golden South Classic while Williams will head to Boston for the Adidas Boost Games.
One athlete who could play spoiler in the 200 is the only athlete in the field besides these two to have run under 24 seconds and that is Williams' teammate JanTaijah Ford or T1 as they call her. Ford was third last year and ran a personal best of 23.62 in last year's prelims. She was second in 2016. She doesn't slow down there though, her 400m time of 52.82 is ranked third in the country and will be hard to topple on Saturday.
Mater Academy Charter can make their move in the meet standings with crucial points in the distance events. Jinah Mickens Malik ran 2:10.96 to win her regional and was third last year. She won the event as a sixth grader in 2016. Teammate Valerie Lastra has had a brilliant season including a 4:57.85 1,600m and 10:45.70 3,200m at regionals. Chiles will counter in those events with 3A Cross Country Finals champion Ana Wallace and teammate Emily Culley. Others to watch include Claire Moritz of Ponte Vedra and Parker Valby of East Lake.
The hurdles field is competitive and one can argue Markalah Hart's sophomore campaign may not have been as successful as her freshman year, but Coach Carmen Jackson is a legend and knows how to get the most out of her girls when it matters the most. Hart ran a personal best 13.74 at regionals and still has a sour taste in her mouth after failing to advance to last year's final due to a false start in the prelims. She bounced back and won the 300m hurdles. Auburndale's Cathrina Morris and Tyra Thomas, Northeast's Carshaylah Harrison and Hillsborough's Kaliece Harris are among those who will try to spoil the party.
Northwestern won yet another title last year and did it in commanding fashion, by 86 points over runner-up Northeast. The Bulls are the favorite once again to win their 9th title in 11 years, but their neighbors from Broward County won't make it easy.
Northeast has the best time in the 4x1 in all of 3A while Northwestern is the top ranked squad in the 4x4 and 4x800m relay.
Field event athletes to watch include Northeast's Carshaylah Harrison (high jump), Armwood's Makayla Williams (long jump), Arielle Boone in the triple jump, and throwers Chanel Dawson and Alyssa Richard of Northwestern.
It's hard to envision a boys state meet preview without Tyrese Cooper. However, due to some off the track issues, the Norland sprinter will not be in Jacksonville to defend his 200 and 400m titles which he has won the last two years. Cooper was second in the 100 both years and was looking to finally complete the trifecta. So the question becomes who steps up in his absence?
Miami Northwestern's Jacquez Stuart has posted a wind legal time of 10.49 this season and is the fastest qualifier heading into the meet. He will also line up in the 200m dash along side fellow South Floridian Cameron Leiba of Dillard. Leiba has made our Athlete of the Week poll on several occasions this year and is having a very impressive year. He's never made it to state as an individual so how will the pressure of the state's top stage impact him. Other sprinters who could have a shot in the 1 and the 2 include Isaiah Bolden of Wesley Chapel and Julius Norman of Lincoln.
The most anticipated of Cooper's three races to me was the showdown in the 400m with Thomas Burns of Miami Northwestern. Burns beat Cooper at regionals and showed off his versatility with a personal best of 46.78. The senior and University of Miami signee has competed at state in the 200, 110m hurdles, 300m hurdles, as well as multiple relays in his time as a Bull and this weekend he will add 400m to his resume. If he can win as expected, it will be his second individual title to go with his 300m hurdles championship from 2017. He told me last month, the open 400m was always something he wanted to do and why not give it a shot in his senior year.
The boys event that may be the best? The 800m run which features four athletes in the top 20 nationally. Estero junior Brittenham ran US#6 1:51.92 to win FSU Relays in March, but Vanguard's Alex Kay made the argument that he was a legitimate contender for this race after winning 3A-2 in 1:52.24. Jacob Miley of Matanzas just received an invitation to Brooks PR in Seattle and you know he's stoked to show out. His 1:52.54 is US#10. Don't count out the likes of James Hasell who has raced these guys several times and just committed to the University of Miami on Monday as well as Northeast's Tyree Simeon.
Brittenham and Chiles senior and Syracuse signee Michael Phillips will square off in the 1,600m where the two bring nearly identical personal bests of 4:12.02 and 4:12.56 to the table. Brittenham bested Phillips at the FSU Relays a little over one month ago. He won't have to worry about him though in the 3,200 and maybe not much of the rest of the competition as well. Friday night, he will bring his 8:54.62 to the table and is the only one in the field under 9 minutes. He also ran sub 9 at Arcadia and hopes to avenge his runner-up finish from last year.
Northwestern will score a large chunk of points in the relays. Their 4x1 and 4x4 currently hold state bests of 41.04 and 3:12.23. The 4x800 which will most likely have Burns on the anchor, will get their chance at a rematch with Lincoln who beat them in a thrilling finish at Florida Relays, 7:47.23 to 7:47.34. Vanguard and Chiles have also run sub 8 in the relay this season.
In the field events, Donald Chaney of Belen Jesuit is on the verge of 7 feet in the high jump. He cleared 6'11 at the 2A Region 4 Championship. He won state last year in this event as a freshman. Demarcus Adams of Mainland wants more than just a championship in the hurdles, he is also entered in the long jump, but in order to win, he will have to get past last year's champion Queshun Watson Riggins who also was victorious in the triple jump
Other field event athletes to watch include Stone Baker of River Ridge who has cleared 5.0 meters this season and was third last year in the pole vault.
Much like the girls the Northwestern boys have a slight edge over Northeast, but don't count out the likes of Lincoln, Chiles, and Mainland who will try to sneak in that runner-up spot.