Debbie Ajagbe started collecting championships at the first major meet of the track and field season Friday.
Ajagbe won the shot put on the first day of the Louie Bing Invitational at Traz Powell Stadium.
By season’s end, Ransom Everglades is hoping to have an entire squad it can call state champions for the first time.
While the Raiders have come close in recent years, this year’s squad may be deep enough to join Miami-Dade County’s elite on the medal stand.
The county’s girls’ elite haven’t changed since last season.
Miami Northwestern remains the standard in the state with another loaded group that should come away with a state-record ninth consecutive state title and 14th overall.
Southridge, a state runner-up last year in 4A, looks strong enough to come away with its first state title since 2008 and seventh overall. Sprinter Symone Mason leads a stellar group of seniors, who include Kayla Johnson, Shaniya Williams and Courtney Gibson.
Northwestern should not have a problem locking up another state crown.
The Bulls, led by legendary coach Carmen Jackson, return a strong core of seniors led by jumper Taranique Alexander, hurdler De’Andreah Young, and sprinter Twanisha Terry and thrower Kaylah Clark.
But team state titles among Dade private school girls’ teams have been historically rare.
The last came in 2001 when Dade Christian prevailed and only two others — St. Brendan (1977) and Gulliver (1998) — have ever accomplished the feat.
Ajagbe, a University of Miami signee and two-time defending state champion in the shot put in Class 2A, could be the catalyst for Ransom this year. Ajagbe, who has a 3.4 GPA, picked up the sport in the sixth grade at Ransom and finished in the top six at state since that year. She’s slowly became one of the state’s best, catching the attention of numerous colleges, including the Hurricanes.
“Debbie had never done track before the sixth grade,” said longtime Ransom Everglades coach Mike Becker. “She picked it up so fast and has steadily improved. She’s a stellar student and truly a hard worker.”
Ransom also returns senior Annie Gutierrez, a state runner-up in the pole vault last season, sophomore Jatana Folston in the 400 and 800 meters, senior distance runner Beatriz Ruan and senior high jumper Jackie Kirk.
But the difference-maker could be Ransom’s sprints and relays, which should get a boost from freshman Vashti Claybrook. Ransom must contend with several contenders in Class 2A, including Jacksonville Bolles, Plantation American Heritage, Hallandale and Miami Jackson, which returns versatile star jumper/hurdler Tiara McMinn.
Columbus has had plenty of strong squads in the past, but a state title has eluded the Explorers.
That might change this season, however, as Columbus returns one of the fastest squads in the state led by seniors C.J. Henderson and Trajan Bandy, juniors Joshua Jobe and Tyler Harrell and freshman Xavier Henderson.
They’ll be complemented by senior pole vaulter Chris Bentley and distance runner Deshay Fernandes.
Through Saturday: Louie Bing Classic at Traz; Westminster Academy Relays; Feb. 25: Spartan Invitational at Southridge; Ferguson Falcon Invite; Walter Dix Relays (Coral Springs); March 3-4: Sam Burley Invitational at Southridge; Hallandale Invitational; March 10: Calvary Christian Invitational; March 11: Dade Christian Crusader Invitational; Bill Wilson Invitational; March 18: Youth Fair Invitational at Tropical Park; Bob Hayes Invitational (Jacksonville); March 22: GMAC North and South qualifiers; March 24-25: FSU Relays; March 25: GMAC championship at Traz Powell; Miramar Relays (Ansin Sports Complex); March 29-April 2: Texas Relays; March 30-April 1: Florida Relays (University of Florida); April 7: Dade Christian Last Chance Invitational; April 10 -13, 17-22: District championships; April 24-29: Regional championships; May 5-6: FHSAA State championships at IMG Academy in Bradenton.
2016 STATE CHAMPS
Girls—4A: Bradenton Lakewood Ranch; 3A: Miami Northwestern; 2A: Jacksonville Bolles; 1A: Gainesville Oak Hall; Boys—4A: Longwood Lyman; 3A: Tallahassee Chiles; 2A: Plantation American Heritage; 1A: St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut.
TOP BOYS’ TEAMS
1. Columbus, 2. Northwestern, 3. Belen Jesuit, 4. South Dade, 5. Southridge, 6. Booker T. Washington, 7. Ferguson, 8. Dade Christian, 9. North Miami, 10. Coral Reef.
TOP RETURNING BOYS’ ATHLETES
Trajan Bandy, Columbus, Sr. (sprints); Chris Bentley, Columbus, Sr. (pole vault); Thomas Burns, Northwestern, Jr. (hurdles); Joshua Collins, Belen, Jr. (distance); Tyrese Cooper, Norland, So. (sprints); Kameron Davis, Southridge, Jr. (hurdles); Tyler Harrell, Columbus, Jr. (sprints); Christopher Henderson, Columbus, Sr. (sprints); Milton Ingraham, Dade Christian, Jr. (shot, discus); Jessi Jeudi, South Dade, Sr. (triple jump); Joshua Jobe, Columbus, Jr. (sprints); Tiondre Toomer, Northwestern, Sr. (sprints, middle distance).
Others to watch — Belen Jesuit: Don Chaney, Jr., Fr. Sebastian Roa, So.; Braddock: Jason Reese, Jr.; Eli Torres, Jr.; Carol City: Nayquan Wright, So.; Cameron Davis, Jr.; Johaun Bekesford; Central: Nathaniel Wheeler, Sr.; Coral Gables: Cavan Wilson, Jr.; Columbus: Deshay Fernandes, Jr.; Xavier Henderson, Fr.; Ferguson: Guillermo Rojas, Jr.; Chad Spencer, Sr.; Liam Ackerman, Sr.; North Miami: Terry Lynn, Jr.; Northwestern: Nigel Bethel, Jr.; South Dade: Jamaal Wiggins, Sr.; Southridge: Rodney Scott, Sr.; Andre Foster, Jr.
TOP GIRLS’ TEAMS
1. Northwestern, 2. Southridge, 3. Ransom Everglades, 4. Gulliver, 5. Jackson, 6. Lourdes, 7. Mater Academy, 8. North Miami, 9. Carol City, 10. Coral Reef.
TOP RETURNING GIRLS’ ATHLETES
Debbie Ajagbe, Ransom Everglades, Sr. (shot, discus); Taranique Alexander, Northwestern, Sr. (jumps); Kaylah Clark, Northwestern, Sr. (shot, discus); Ayoola Gbolade, Northwestern, Jr. (distance); Annie Gutierrez, Ransom Everglades, Sr. (pole vault); Symone Mason, Southridge, Sr. (sprints); Tiara McMinn, Jackson, Sr. (jumps, hurdles); Jinah Mickens-Malik, Mater Academy, 8th (distance); Daesha Rogers, Jackson, Sr. (distance); Jazmyn Smith, Gulliver, Jr. (jumps); Twanisha Terry, Northwestern, Sr. (sprints); Ulani Toussaint, Northwestern, Jr. (sprints); Natalie Varela, Gulliver, Fr. (distance); De’Andreah Young, Northwestern, Sr. (hurdles, distance).
Others to watch — Doral: Maria Fernandez, Jr.; Lourdes: Calyope Ortega, Sr.; North Miami: Charity Johnson, So.; Javenique McDowell, Sr.; Northwestern: Chanel Dawson, Jr.; Dascha Robinson, Jr.; Ariayanna Val, Sr.; Palmer Trinity: Autumn Jade Stoner, So.; Ransom Everglades: Jatana Folston, So.; Beatriz Ruan, Sr.; Jackie Kirk, Sr.; Southridge: Rahyah Andressohn, Fr.; Troyesha Davis, Sr.; Shakyra Garnett, Sr.; Courtney Gibson, Sr.; Diamond Griffin, Sr.; Jonae Harris, Jr.; Kayla Johnson, Sr.; Shaniya Williams, Sr.; Westminster Christian: Samantha Rodriguez, Sr.
NOTE: For complete team outlooks, go to www.miamiherald.com/sports/high-school
BOYS’ TEAM-BY-TEAM PREVIEWS
BELEN JESUIT (Coach Victor Arrieta, 9th year, 142-0). Last year: 19-0 (District champions). Top athletes: Joshua Collins, Jr. (1600, 3200); Don Chaney, Fr. (hj, lj, 100, 200); Sebastian Roa, So. (1600, 3200); Javier Fraga, Jr. (300h); Henry Souza, So. (1600, 3200); Carlos Vela, Jr. (400).
BRADDOCK (Coach Alex Shaw, 2nd year at BR, 10th overall). Top athletes: Jason Reese, Jr. (100, 200); Eli Torres, Jr. (1600, 3200); Steven Stallings, Jr. (100, 200); Steven Hernandez, So. (hj); Andres Alderete, Sr. (100, 200); Anthony Perez, Sr. (1600, 3200).
COLUMBUS (Coach Fred Foyo, 33rd year). Last year: Fourth at state. Top athletes: Chris Henderson, Sr. (100, 200, relays); Tyler Harrell, Jr. (200, 400, relays); Joshua Jobe, Jr. (100, 200, relays); Trajan Bandy, Sr. (100, relays); Deshay Fernandes, Jr. (800, 1600, 3200, relays); Chris Bentley, Sr. (pole vault); Xavier Henderson, Fr. (400, 800, hj).
FLORIDA CHRISTIAN (Coach Paul Howell, 13th year at FC, 27th overall). Top athletes: Tim King, Sr. (hj); Isaac Sullivan, So. (hj); Cleyton Howell, So. (discus); Isaiah Llanes, Jr. (tj).
GULLIVER (Coach Rav Maisonet, 3rd year at GP, 6th overall). Top athletes: Dewayne Terry, Sr. (tj); James Jackson, Jr. (100, relays); Jason Guillou, Jr. (lj, 400); Anton Hall, Fr. (lj, 200); Michael Garcia, Sr. (800, 1600).
SOUTHRIDGE (Coach Rodney Wright, 14th year, 295-0). Last year: 8-0. Top athletes: Kameron Davis, Jr. (110h, 300h); Rodney Scott, Sr. (300h); Andre Foster, Jr. (high jump); Keith Harris, Sr. (discus).
SUNSET (Coach John Hammontree, 42nd year at SUN, 52nd overall, 125-38). Last year: 2-3. Top athletes: Sno White, So. (sprints); George Spratting, Jr. (sprints); Nicholas Schmid, So. (hurdles); Aaron Ortiz, Jr. (distance); Jamal Horne, Jr. (sprints); Leo Linares, Jr. (shot put, discus).
VARELA (Coach Mayra Sasso, 2nd year). Top athletes: Jovanny Valdez, Sr. (100, 200, lj, relays); Giovanny Matos, Sr. (lj); Irving Baez, Sr. (300h); Juan Diaz, Jr. (100); Nicholas Parham, Sr. (400).
GIRLS’ TEAM-BY-TEAM PREVIEWS
CARROLLTON (Coach Liz Orlin, 2nd year). Top athletes: Sophie Polenghi, Sr. (200, 400, 800); Tatyana Minnis, Sr. (400); Alexa Dickinson, So. (300h, tj, lj).
FLORIDA CHRISTIAN (Coach Paul Howell, 27th year). Top athletes: Sydney Pereira, Sr. (100, 200, relays); Natalia Esparragera, Jr. (hj); Gaby Rodriguez, Sr. (pole vault).
GULLIVER (Coach Mike Ward, 2nd year at GP, 25th overall). Last year: District runner-up. Top athletes: Jazmyn Smith (lj, 100, 200); Natalie Varela, Fr. (1600, 3200); Antonia Spencer, Sr. (300h).
RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Mike Becker, 13th year at RE, 37th overall). Last year: Third at state. Top athletes: Debbie Ajagbe, Sr. (shot, discus); Jatana Folston, So. (400, 800); Annie Gutierrez, Sr. (pole vault); Vashti Claybrook, Fr. (200, 400); Beatriz Ruan, Sr. (3200); Jackie Kirk, Sr. (hj).
ST. BRENDAN (Coach Carlos Maymi, 6th year). Top athletes: Noemi Kerjean, Fr. (1600, 3200); Nikki Martinez, So. (800, 1600); Gabriella Gutierrez, Sr. (1600, 3200); Julia Villena, Sr. (400, 800).
SOUTHRIDGE (Coach Erin McCray, 2nd year, 2-0). Last year: 2-0 (State runner-up). Top athletes: Symone Mason, Sr. (100, 200, 400); Kayla Johnson, Sr. (400, 800); Shaniya Williams, Sr. (100, 200); Courtney Gibson, Sr. (lj, tj); Rehana Henderson, Jr. (tj, 300h); Diamond Griffin, Sr. (800, 1600); Ryah Andressohn, Fr. (1600, 3200).
VARELA (Coach Antonina Gorban, 3rd year). Top athletes: Sofia Naya, Sr. (300h, 400); Melissa Santiago, Sr. (800); Arielle Ho, Fr. (hj).