Fans stood shoulder to shoulder in the Ansin Sports Complex bleachers on Thursday, anticipating a sprint fireworks at the Region 4-4A championships.
Leave it up to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Kendall Ellis and Krystal Sparling, Northeast’s Daeshon Gordon and Piper’s Andre Ewers to deliver.
In their final tuneup before the state finals, Ellis (400), Sparling (100 and 200) and Gordon (110 hurdles) climbed atop the nation leaderboard while Ewers, the state’s break-out sprinter, enhanced his bid to land a college scholarship with the nation’s No. 2 time in the 100.
Sparling, a state runner-up in the 100 and 200 last year, appears a lock to sweep both meets at the state finals by clocking a personal-best 11.34 to win the 100 and improve her own nation-leading time in the 200 by clocking 23.34. Sparling capped her big night by leading the Raiders’ 400-meter relay team to victory.
“I feel like this is my year,” Sparling said. “I am confident. We have a strong team. We are deep. We are just trying to become better, and we push each other in practice. We run off each other.”
Sparling and Ellis will provide the biggest ammunition for a St. Thomas Aquinas squad seeking its 10th state title and second in a row at the Class 4A State Finals at the University of North Florida on May 3.
The top four finishers on Thursday advance to the state meet.
Already a three-time state champion in the 400, Ellis can erase any questions where she ranks all-time by breaking the state record (52.51) held by her idol, Sanya Richards, who started the Raiders’ dynastic run.
Ellis put herself in position to eclipse Richards’ mark next week by clocking a personal-best 53.09 to finish ahead of Southridge’s Symone Mason (54.83).
Coral Reef’s Kurt Convey bounced back from a second-place finish to Sunset’s Nick Diaz in the 1,600 to win the 3,200.
American’s Ari Cogdell led the Patriots 3,200-relay team to a state-leading and U.S. No. 3 7:44.64, and then outleaned Aquinas’ Rasheed Tatham to win the 400 in 46.67. Cogdell capped his big night by anchoring the Patriots’ winning 1,600-relay team.
Aquinas swept both the girls’ and boys’ team titles, setting up the possibility of becoming the first program in Florida history to sweep state cross-country and state track titles in the same season.
Ewers said a pep talk from Florida sprint great Walter Dix was the impetus in believing he could win states this season.
Ewers exploded out of the blocks and ran to a personal-best and U.S. No. 2 10.31 to win the 100, and then capped his sprint double by winning the 200 in a personal-best 21.09.
After winning the 100 hurdles at states in 2012 and then the 300 hurdles last season, Gordon is poised for her first state titles sweep. Gordon, an LSU signee, clocked a personal-best and U.S. No. 1 13.46 in the 100 hurdles and then 42.01 to win the 300 hurdles.
Northeast freshman Damion Thomas appears ready to take the baton from Gordon after his victory in the boys’ 100 hurdles.
Gordon validated his pre-race position as the top seed by skimming over the hurdles to win in 13.46.
Fort Lauderdale’s Prince Logan, meanwhile, added a region pole vault title to county and district crowns by clearing 13-0, off his personal-best 13-10.
“It’s going to take at least 14-6 to become state champion,” Logan said.
McArthur’s Derric Jean, a high-flying 6-2 guard for the Mustangs’ basketball team, came close to playing spoiler in the high jump.
With only six meets worth of experience, Jean pushed American’s Christian Williams, the state’s fifth-ranked jumper, to the limit. Williams and Jean finished at 6-8, but Williams won on fewer misses.