After holding 13 separate state track championship celebrations, the first joint coronation for the St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ and girls’ teams could unfold at the Class 4A state finals Saturday.
While the Aquinas girls possess the superior depth to overcome the sprinting brilliance of reigning state champ Boyd Anderson, the five-time state championship boys team will be pushed to the limit to make it six state titles in a row.
Orlando Olympia is favored to end the Aquinas’ boys reign, but it would be foolhardy to count out Raiders coach Alex Armenteros and the pedigree he will bring to the University of North Florida.
Armenteros is 4-0 at the state finals and was the lead assistant to David Shepherd when the Raiders started their historic run of five consecutive big-school state titles in 2008.
“This is one of those years where everybody has to pull their weight, there is no cavalry coming,” Armenteros said. “It is one of my most exciting years as coach because I am going in with what I have. To pull an upset would be that much sweeter. We want to go in there being spoilers. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
With no All-American boys sprinter for the first time in six seasons, the Raiders are missing the wow factor, but have received the point production from other areas.
Matt Ryan and Matt Ballard have been a formidable pole vault tandem; Ryan Crozier is a threat in the discus; and Alexander Haugen and Antony Cruz could provide some crucial points in the distances.
Matthew Butler has emerged as a surprise state contender in the 1,600 and led the 3,200 relay team to a Florida No. 3 time of 7:57.97.
But perhaps the Raider’s trump card to upset Olympia will be Maurice Dix, a nationally ranked hurdler who has battled back from injuries to reemerge in the 300 hurdles.
“This season I have dealt with hamstring problems and a hip imbalance,” Dix said. “I just had to come out and do it for my team and find a way to make it happen. I came into this season ranked No. 3 in the nation and to be not ranked and overlooked all season. I couldn’t let that happen to me.”
The margin for error is more sizeable on the girls side where Aquinas is poised to overwhelm the 4A field with a wealth of talent spearheaded by two-time 400 state champion Kendall Ellis and teammates Krystal Sparling, Khalifa St. Fort, Toria Levy, Nastolgia Smith, Shanell Atkins, Alon Lewis, Christina Kalis, Alexa Cruz, Brianna Thaler and Kelsey Palheygi.
Ellis, who set herself up for a three-peat in the 400 with a season-best 53.80 at the Region 3-4A finals, landed a gig this season as a blogger on flrunners.com .
If the Aquinas girls can break a state title drought that extends to 2005 and the Aquinas boys catch a few breaks to extend their historic run, Ellis’ next post on “In her own Words” column would undoubtedly detail Aquinas celebrating a state championship simultaneously for the first time.
“The sides have definitely twisted,” Ellis said. “Our girls are considered the favorites. We have never been in this position. I don’t think it will be an easy battle for the boys, but I think both teams can pull it off. Hopefully I can blog that the St. Thomas boys’ and girls’ teams finally came out on top together.”
• District 11 final — Chaminade-Madonna d. South Broward 25-23, 25-16, 23-25, 25-22: Chaminade and South Broward met each other for the third year in row in the district final. And for the second time, it was the Lions emerging victorious as Chaminade pulled out the match in four close sets at Miramar High.
Chaminade (20-5) advances to a play-in game on May 7 and will travel to either Mourning or Hialeah-Miami Lakes, which play their District 12 title game 5 p.m. Thursday at Mourning High.
The Lions defeated South Broward two years ago before the Bulldogs returned the favor last year.
“We beat them twice in straight sets during the regular season but every one of those six sets was close so we knew going in [Wednesday] that we would really have to battle,” said Chaminade coach Jason Johnson. “We’ve played them quite a bit in recent years so it was nothing we didn’t expect and we’re happy and excited to be moving on.”
The Lions were led by Dan Callahan (16 kills, eight blocks, five service points), Victor Zamudio (13 kills, five blocks, 11 digs) and Jorge Seoane (25 digs, eight service points, two aces).