Ralph's Recap: Looking Back At 4A Region 1

4A Region 1 Track & Field Championships

By Ralph Epifanio

On a local level, the state qualifying procedure is simple in principle, but harsh in reality; hundreds go in, but only dozens come out.

First come the four district meets, where (roughly) eight teams enter their best athletes, boys and girls. Here, 16 athletes in each of 17 events compete in head-to-head competition, first in preliminaries, then in the finals (although there are exceptions). At this level, there may still be great differences in athleticism, but the four who perform the best, advance. There are, of course, disappointments and heartbreaks; still, the winners’ season continues, and the losers’ does not.

Next is the regional meet, where as many as 32 teams might be represented. 16 athletes—four from each district—do their best, again with only the final four in each event going on to the State Meet. At this meet, however, the performance level is noticeably higher, but sometimes clear winners are (unsuccessfully) chased by one, two, or three others, these with seed times very similar to each others’. Here too, an unseen foe—the hand of fate--enters the picture. There are many reasons for its presence: the limits of individual ability might finally overtake season-long expectations; an impractical training schedule leads to fatigue and failure; just the right mix of talent and tenacity might combine to produce catastrophic results; and just plain dumb luck, both good and bad.

This regional meet was a veritable bottleneck of hopes and expectations, where 800 competitors went in, and—by my count--158 came out.

Masters of Time

Seconds seem longer for some. Take, for example, Boone’s Marvin Bracy. “Marvelous Marvin” entered this meet reputed to be “the best in the country.” Thus far he has proven himself to be nothing less. His 10.25 in the Region 1 hundred meter finals was—at the time of this writing--the fastest FHSAA 100 meter time, and perhaps in the country thus far—partly because Florida starts its season earlier than most states—but there is more to come for the senior. With a personal best of 10.05 (USATF Jr. Track and Field Championships on June 23, 2011), will he become the first high school runner to break 10-flat before he graduates this spring? (Another Floridian, then 18-year-old Jeff Demps, currently has the American junior record, 10.01, set on June 28, 2008.) Only time(s) will tell.

Because Bracy is a strong finisher, the 200—which he also won (in a 21.13 PR)—could offer him yet another opportunity for a national class performance in an upcoming meet. With the right level of competition, a 20-point something open 200 could be right around the next turn. (The current, 27 year old junior record, 20.13, was set by Roy Martin on June 16, 1985.)

Like Bracy, Colonial’s Andres Arroyo is testing the limits of human performance. However, just one of Arroyo’s individual races lasts—time wise—as long as Bracy’s entire season of races. And the distance star runs three of these every single meet. By this time of year, the junior walks a fine line between doing well, and being “well done.”

“I was dying,” he said after his third, and last, distance race of the meet. “I ran the 4 X 8, the mile, and now the 3200.  I guess today was not a good day.”

In the meet’s opening footrace, the 4 X 8, Andres ran his anchor against none other than Lake Brantley’s Otneil Teixeira, who, in the open 800 is at least as good as his times, thus far, have indicated. (Teixeira was the open 800 winner in 1:53.36.) But in a relay, there’s no toying with the competition; a runner has to go all-out, all the way. That’s something that Arroyo proved in the D-4 4 X 800 race a week earlier, where he ran an inspiring, but unofficial, 1:50.9 anchor to shut the door on WP’s chance of that team title. But despite competing on a fast, Flagler-Palm Coast track, there seemed to be a little less fuel in his heretofore seemingly limitless “reserve tank.”

“Today, at the very beginning, I felt tired. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.”

With the finish line in sight, a split second before Arroyo could start his kick, Teixeira was already gearing up. Andres tried to test him again with yards to go, but Teixeira successfully shrugged it off and Lake Brantley won by .07 seconds. (Lake Brantley was timed in 7:49, Colonial 7:49.07.)

Even with a good six hours of rest—the finals began at 6:30 PM--Arroyo seemed uncharacteristically sluggish in the 1600.

“I hung on to the leaders, and then kicked,” is how Andres summarized the race.

Arroyo won, barely, in 4:23.32. Billy was second in 4:24.53.

Then, with far less rest, and another fresh field of challengers, came the 3200. For most of that race, Arroyo seemed “lost in the crowd.”

“Before the two mile, I told my coach that I wasn’t feeling well. But I just followed his advice and pushed it to the point where I couldn’t (push) anymore.”

Initially Andres hung back from the leaders, whether by intent or necessity.

“In the beginning, the first two laps, I just didn’t feel right.  It was like I was running with someone else’s legs.

(Later) “In the sixth lap, I tried to stay focused, but didn’t have as much as I usually do. Some parts of my body bothered me, but I had to go past the pain, and speed up. Even though I had a few cramps, I pretty much had the thought that, ‘if I didn’t do well, I at least could try’.”

Buchholz’s Chris Godwin is no stranger to Andres Arroyo’s famed exploits, as he has fallen victim to them in the past. In this final, Chris seemed to run an aggressive race, rather than a tactical race, and in the final stretch seemed to have the lead in hand. Arroyo, however, found something extra, and with a last-second kick--only yards from the finish line—won by .22 seconds; Andres was timed in 9:36.45, Chris in 9:36.67.

Thus Andres Arroyo moves on in three events, with his next challenge being an even more difficult one.

By comparison, Andres’ difficulties were overshadowed by that of the Dr. Phillips Girls’ first relay of the afternoon. Due to a missing member, they were forced to run as a 3 X 8, and are officially listed as “DNF.”  Although it was definitely disappointing, the three who ran--which included first runner Bridget Blake--showed their courage in doing so.

“I ran a little slow in the 800 (of the 4 X 8),” Blake told me later. “I just underestimate myself a little, but I don’t know why.”

Her best time in the 800 occurred at the Brian Jaeger Elite Classic (April 14, 2012), just missed winning that race, and would have won the open 800 in this meet.

“It was pretty good. I ran a 2:14, and was second by .05 second. They have a photo of me looking at my watch. I’ll learn not to do that again; that would have been the difference.”

Her specialty, of course, is the 1600/3200 double. In this regional, she had command of both races, winning the mile in 5:01.06, and the two mile in 11:15.46.

“It’s always good to race with yourself. The mile was right around my goal time,” she said after that race.

But doubling at the State Meet?

“I like to challenge myself, and I like competing,” she said.  “It will show me how much it will push me in that time span, and how much I can push myself.”

That seemed to be true of both her individual races, but will it be true in a week’s time in the state meet? She currently “sits” on PRs of 4:56.20 in the 1600 (fourth at the Florida Relays, on April 5th, 2012), and 10:42.50 in the 3200 (third at the FSU Relays on March 21, 2012). And “racing with yourself” might very well in context with what happens.

Hurdling through Space 

Between them, hurdlers Kimlon Dillon (Apopka), Oriel Anu (Colonial), and Rayeisha Lowe Chin have been re-writing their own record books.

In the 110s, Kimlon seems stuck, but in a good way. So far this season, he has run fourteen 14-second 110 hurdle races (prelims and finals), winning eight of ten meets. In the finals of the last two, the 4A District 3 and 4A Region 1 meets, his finish times were both personal bests; 14.14 and 14.13, respectively.

“I knew I had some competition here,” he said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I just watched the prelims, where I came in third overall, so I knew I had to ‘put on a show,’ just to make it (through the regional).”

In the 300s this year, he has dropped down to 37s twice, and won four of five meets. In this meet, although he didn’t eclipse his 37.52 best (March 22nd Metro Conference finals), his 37.75 was well ahead of FPC’s Kadeem Williams, second in 38.30.

“For the State Meet,” Dillon added, “I’m going to rest up, work on technique, and let God do the rest.”

Anu has set four consecutive 100 hurdles personal bests: 14.84 and 14.72 at the 4A District 4 Meet; then 14.63 and 14.60 here, winning the finals.

Splitting the hurdle titles with her was Rayeisha Lowe-Chin. Although finishing second to Anu in the 100 hurdles, she set a PR in the prelims (14.85), and again in the finals (14.65). Her 43.60 in the 300 finals (another PR) won. (Anu was second in 44.73.)

“She (Anu) pushes me really well,” explained Rayeisha. “I’m used to being out first, but today, I got out to a horrible start. I didn’t get out fast enough. I was second at the fourth hurdle, then made up the rest in the last 150. She (Oriel) pushed me to a PR today.”

Coming around the far turn in the 800 meter race, Oviedo’s Danielle Turk was in sixth place, and probably thinking of anything but hurdling. Unfortunately, fate placed a “Paige” in her “Way.” That aforementioned FPC runner was a step or two ahead of her when she suddenly went down and landed at Turk’s feet. Danielle somehow avoided joining Way in a DNF--by hurdling the fallen runner--but it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

The lead pack, which consisted of Tayler Johnson (Hagerty), Tori Ehrhardt (Spruce Creek), Danielle Swasay (Olympia), and Mikaela Paleis (University) went on as if nothing happened, because, to them, it didn’t. Tayler won in 2:18.08, which was her season’s best.  The rest—all in lifetime bests—finished in the aforementioned order, respectively, in 2:18.22 (a PR by three seconds), 2:18.69 (a PR by four seconds), and 2:19.05 (a PR by four seconds).

When told of Turk’s mishap, Johnson was surprised, that no doubt due to Spruce Creek’s Tori Ehrhardt, who had her full attention, until she finished .14 second behind Tayler.

“The last time I raced against her, I didn’t have my best race,” Tayler told me. “So this time I ran a lot harder. It was the fastest first lap I’ve ever run for a split…I want to say 63.

“I was in fourth coming in, and it’s fourth I knew I had to get. At first, I just wanted to qualify. But we all knew the times were so close, in the 2:20 range.

“In the second lap I tried to maintain. At 300 (meters left), I took off. But she”—second place finisher, Tori Ehrhardt—“was really close. My legs were like Jell-O. At that point I just wanted to finish. I kicked really hard, and had nothing left at the end.”

A feeling no doubt shared by Olympia’s Kevin Knox. With a personal best of 13’ 1” (at the April 20th 4A District 3 meet), he was one of the last two competitors in the pole vault. Colonial’s Erick Knott finished with 13’ 6”, and won. But while Knox was attempting to clear that same height, his pole broke in half.  Among the pole vault photos, you will find a perfectly centered photo of where he would have been, had his pole not folded in half with a resounding “snap!” (You might also make out the jagged edge of one half.)

“I really thought I was going to get 13’ 6”,” Kevin told me. “With the power I used, I thought I’d go up that high.”

But not with a broken pole. Instead of risking further injury with a borrowed pole…

“I just stopped jumping,” Kevin explained.  “My shoulders are killing me. It got me right across the back, near the scapula area.”

While the sound of breaking fiberglass was scary, the landing was something out of Hitchcock’s Vertigo...

“I’ve never broken a pole before. When I hit the mat, I thought, ‘Something went wrong! I shouldn’t have hit the mat so soon.’”

Luckily, he did hit the mat, and didn’t end up as a human shish-kabob.

“I was watching the Olympians break poles last night on You Tube. I thought, ‘I sure hope that doesn’t happen to me.’ Now, here we are.”

So that’s the problem; the power of suggestion is quite formidable, especially when you compete for Olympia High School. This team pitched its tent waaaaaay up at the tippy-top of the stands. (I had to send a fleet-footed messenger to summon Knox, since I’m well past that stage of life when I still climb mountains, especially Olympus.)

“I got second place,” Kevin continued, seeing that my mind was finally back to the interview. “13’. And I’m going to states.”

“But with what pole,” I asked?

“I’ve been going to “Pole Vault City,” and Bobby Haeck has plenty of poles to use. I’ll probably go a length longer, whatever Bobby thinks.”

But what about PTS, I asked?

“It’s nice that we have all the way to next Saturday; lots of time to gather it up. I’ll probably rest this weekend, and let my shoulder rest…probably start on Monday.”

But first comes Friday, JP that is. This particular jumper doesn’t need a pole to leap great heights in a single bound. And he does it both vertically, and horizontally.

“I PR’d in the high jump (which he won with 6’ 8”) and the triple (ditto, with 49’),” he said after finishing up. “My goal for the triple jump today was 50 feet, but I got 49. So next week (at the State Meet) I have a goal of 50.

“In the State Meet I want to have fun, and do my best. The reason I didn’t do well in Districts”-- he won, but jumped 47’ 9-3/4” in the TJ, finished second (with 6’ 2”) in the HJ, and third (21’10-1/2”) in the LJ—“is because I didn’t clear my mind and was stressed. I know I have a lot more in me. I have to focus on my landing.

“The triple jump is my favorite. Honestly, I love it; the hop, skip and jump, back in the day. And I just started last year in the Metros. It was my first time ever doing it. Now, this year, I’m one of the best. It feels good.”

Whenever JP is working his jumps, whether it is the aforementioned TJ, or the long jump (where he landed fourth—22’5-3/4”—behind Freedom’s Jeff Badet’s  23’9”), he draws eyes like the captain of a pirate ship.

“It feels great to know that you’re one of the best in the state, and one of the best in the country. It opens up a window. Coaches look at you because you’re elite.”

With this being his senior year, the coaches he is referring to are college coaches.

“I’m visiting FSU this Sunday.”

But before any decisions are made, he has an appointment in Jacksonville--in fact, three of them.

Joining our man Friday in the high jump will be Spruce Creek’s Allison Lampert. Lampert has, on occasions of importance, cleared 5’ 6”, but in this meet, 5-4 was plenty good enough to win.

“My season PR,” she said to me. To her mom, and her mom’s mom, she added, “I’m going to States!”

Each meet, and each jumping area, presents its own problems to jumpers. In this meet, it was a strong head wind, which she countered with optimism.

“I think the wind encourages you to run faster, because it holds you back. So you have to push against it.”

Later, she confessed, “I was concerned about today, so this past week we had two hard practices, and then took a day off, a recovery day.”

Ultimately, she hopes to find a way to jump at least four inches higher than in her most recent success.

“My goal this year was to break the school record; 5’ 8”.  That was it coming into the season. I don’t know who it was that jumped it for Spruce Creek, but it was a long, long time ago. I still have States, the Golden South, and then the Nationals, in North Carolina, left.”

And her good luck umbrella.

The other winning jumpers were Lake Mary’s Erica Sergeant in the Girls’ pole vault (12’ 6”), West Orange’s DeRenae Freeman in the long jump (19’ 5-3/4”), and Olympia’s Ionna Mckenzie in the triple jump (36’ 10-3/4”). All, no doubt, felt the effects of FPC’s recently resurfaced track.

“I think this is the best runway I’ve been on,” commented Mckenzie. “There was a lot of extra bounce, and it was smooth. It was great weather, too. The warmer weather helps you warm up, and get warmer, quicker.”

But warm-ups don’t count, and Ionna points to her coaches as her most significant advantage at this meet.

“At practice, they make us work hard, and tweak our technique, so I keep improving every week.”

By the end of this week, it resulted in a personal best by nearly 11”.

“I think it was my coaches’ encouragement. Every time I jumped, they came over to encourage me, and motivate me for the next one. I had to change my steps. My coach, Janel Greer, changed them a couple of times. I just listened to her.”


Throwing their Weight(s) Around

In the shot and discus, two names keep “popping up”; Apopka’s Jamal Whittaker, and Lake Brantley’s Nathan Milch.

Milch, a junior, has been marching inexorably toward the head of his “class.” 2011 was his first season of track, and he began 2012 with bests of 45’ 5-3/4” in the shot put, and 139’ 11” in the discus. Thus far he has improved (roughly) ten feet in the shot and 24 in the discus.

In this 4A Region 1 meet, his 55’ 6” throw won the shot put, and his 163’ 10” was second in the discus. Both are personal bests. Those throws place him #6 in the state for the shot, and #10 in the discus.

Jamal, also in his second year of track, is a sophomore. His bests, 49’ 5” in the shot (March 22, 2012 Metros) and 173’ 9” in the discus, place him, overall in Florida, sixth in the shot and third in the discus. As far as class rank, Jamal shoots up to sixth in the shot, and first in the discus.

So far, conditions have not been ideal for either thrower, and this competition was no exception. FPC is only a few miles inland from the ocean, and the discus—which is held in a wide-open field—is thrown directly into a head wind.

“The wind was coming against us,” confirmed Whittaker. “It stopped it (the discus). I think, otherwise, I could have gotten a good, solid 180.”

But Jamal offers this as an observation, rather than an excuse.

“I just knew I had to come out and win. I knew I had competition from Brantley (Milch) and Spruce Creek (Rodney Mack, third with a 141’ 9” effort). I just had to do my best.”

Based upon his numbers, I asked Whittaker what he sees by the end of the season.

“I’m hoping to get fifty in the shot, and finally get my 180 in the discus. It’s close. I’m there in practice. I just have to get my technique down;  more speed and acceleration through my steps. Progression, in other words.

The winners in the Girls’ competition were Tetisheri Menna (Hagerty) in the shot put (35’ 2”), and Bryanna Slay (Winter Park) in the discus (111’ 5”). Runner-up to Slay was Charnelle Michel of Gatewood (104’ 1”).

Charnelle came into the meet with a lifetime best of 114’ 4” (4A District 4 on April 21, 2011), but the best she could do here was ten feet shy of that.

“In my case (it was not the wind); it was mostly a balance problem, and getting my front foot pointed forwards. So, it was mostly a technique problem. I hope to get that straightened out by the State Meet. There, I’d be happy to get a 120.”

Sprint City

By this time of year, virtually any meet produces some very competitive sprint races. In fact, the prelims in this one would have rivaled a final two weeks prior.

In the Boys’ events, as previously mentioned, the Marvin Bracy show took center stage. However, he was only one of six sub-11s. The only two finishers whose times missed ran an 11-flat and 11.05.

 In second place, Antonio James (Buchholz) was timed in 10.56..  James came back to help seal his team’s (Williams-Tillman-James-Smith) 4 X 1 victory in a 41.49, third best 4A time in Florida. Antonio also finished behind Bracy—you can guess how much he hates that--in the 200; 22.04.

Teahna Daniels (Dr. Phillips) won the 100 in 12.21, edging West Orange’s DeRenae Freeman (12.28). Later in the meet, Freeman won by an even closer margin over Colonial’s Kristina “KK” Knott, 24.64 to 24.65. (Good thing they had cameras.) Katurah Smith snatched the 400 (57.35), but just to show you how deep Colonial is, they didn’t need her to win the 4 X 1 (Oriel Anu-Katrina Knott – Brya Greene – Courtney Johnson) in 46.8.  Instead, she helped win the 4 X 4 (Lyric Schmalz - Greene – Smith – Knott) in 3:54.37.

“My favorite is the 4 X 4,” Smith admitted, “because of adrenalin. My teammates get my adrenalin up by chanting ‘CHS! CHS! CHS!’ over and over again. I am faster (than in the open 400) because of that. My best time was a 55.”

One wonders, why not save that 55 for the anchor? The answer lies in the structure of the meet, and where each of their individual events falls.

 “My job is to get in good position for the final leg, especially because KK just came from the 200, and I come from the 400, so we have to help each other out.”

East River’s Jose Santana was the first of four sub-50s in the Boys’ 400: Santana (49.11); Angel Coburn (West Orange, 49.47); Brylon Slay (Winter Park, 49.55); Justin Gorbea (Viera, 49.67); and Rohan Mcdaniel (Lake Brantley, 49.79).

Lake Brantley won the Boys’ 4-by-4 in 3:18.48 (Rohan Mcdaniel – Kenny Lane – Donavon Frater - Otneil Teixeira).

“It was the coach’s decision to use Otneil in the anchor,” said Donavon Frater. “Rohan was tired.”

“Besides,” clarified Ken Lane, “he’s (Otneil) Brazilian.”

“They want to see what I can do,” concluded Teixeira.

Besides winning the open 8, Teixeira also anchored Lake Brantley’s winning 4 X 800 relay team (Derek Cannone – Mcdaniel – Hunter Morgan – Teixeira).

“I knew, coming in to this race, that the first two runners weren’t as fast as us, and we could get the lead,” explained Cannone. “And we could hold it because we are very competitive runners.”

“I trust Derek to get me the baton in first,” added Rohan. “Once I get the baton, I stay in first, or second. I run for them,” he nodded towards his teammates.

“I ran third leg in Districts, Regionals, and States last year,” said Hunter. “When Rohan gives me the baton, I know that my job is to give Otneil the baton with enough space to do what he does best.”

“I felt smooth today,” finished Otneil, “I went out to get as far ahead as possible, so that he (Arroyo) couldn’t outkick me. He has an amazing kick.”

As mentioned earlier, LB won by .07 in the eight lap relay.

Winter Park (Gracen Jacks – Tania White? – Kristen Kelly – Charlotte Stevens) won the Girls’ 4 X 800 in 9:29.60.

Teams, Teams, and More Teams

With 29 Boys’ and 25 Girls’ teams among which to divvy up the points, it should have been closer; however, the Colonial juggernaut steams on. Their boys scored 100 points, all, or part of 80%  having been awarded to just three individuals: Andres Arroyo (20 individual and his share of a second in the 4 X 8); JP Friday (25 individual); and the Knott brothers, Derrick (15) and Erick (10). Apopka was second (58), Freedom third (57), and Spruce Creek fourth (50).

Likewise in the Girls’ team championship. Of their 82 points, the lions’ share was glommed up by Kristina Knott (firsts in the 4 X 1 and 4 X 4, and seconds in the 200 and long jump), Oriel Anu (a first and second in the hurdles, and a team first in the 4 X 1), and Katurah Smith (a first in the 400, a fourth in the long jump, and a first in the 4 X 4). (Kristina and Katurah, incidentally, are sophomores.) West Orange (58.5), Winter Park (51.5), and Hagerty (49) rounded out the top four.