Miami-Dade County is home to the most prolific girls’ track and field dynasty in the state, and that likely won’t change this season.
Northwestern’s 11 state titles is a state record, and should the Bulls win a seventh in a row as they are overwhelmingly favored to do in Class 3A this season, they would creep a little closer to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas’ record for consecutive state titles (eight).
But the Bulls aren’t the only contenders in what could be a successful season for female athletes from Dade.
Ransom Everglades has what could be its strongest squad ever and in Class 2A will challenge to become only the fourth private school in county history to win a girls’ team title.
Junior distance runner Lauren Archer spearheads a talented Raiders’ squad that also returns senior and state runner-up pole vaulter Nati Sheppard, sophomore discus thrower Debbie Ajagbe and senior Beatriz Ruan, a state runner-up in cross-country this past season in Class 2A.
Ransom is also strong in sprints, led by 400- and 800-meter runner Jatana Folston.
“We return all our personnel from last season, and this is a strong enough squad that should contend with most teams not only in Class 2A but in the state overall,” said longtime coach Mike Becker, who is entering his 10th season at Ransom and 34th overall.
In Class 4A, look for Southridge to continue to build off a third-place finish at state last season.
The Spartans have one of the youngest and best sprinters in the state overall in freshman Symone Mason. They will also be strong in the jumps with senior Destiny Woodard and sophomore Courtney Gibson leading the way, and sophomore Kayla Johnson should do well in the 400 and 800 meters.
As for Northwestern, the Bulls are again regarded as the deepest team in the state regardless of classification.
Senior La’Kayla Harris is one of the state’s best sprinters, and along with senior Alexis Harrell, sophomore Twanisha Terry and junior Asja Baker, they should give the Bulls a huge advantage in relay events again.
Northwestern graduated multiple state champion thrower Lloydricia Cameron, so it will be looking for new leaders in field events such as sophomore Taranique Alexander and junior Briana Eskridge in the jumps.
Booker T. Washington is Dade’s lone defending state champion and looks to win again in Class 2A with a new group.
The team hoping to bring home gold after claiming silver in Class 4A last year is American.
The Patriots bring back nearly all of their key athletes, led by senior Ari Cogdell (200 and 400 meters) and junior Shammond Williams (200 and 400 meters). Junior Dawun Hylton will compete in both the 400 and 800 meters and should bolster an already solid American relay team.
Senior Kevin Turner is another versatile and experienced athlete who should give the Patriots added depth and success in both the 110 and 300 meter hurdles.
Northwestern’s boys should also have enough to contend for the Class 3A championship, again led by senior sprinter Antonio Howard.
As usual, Dade County will be strong in distance events with several top cross-country stars such as Sunset’s Nick Diaz, Belen’s Ryan Rodriguez, Coral Reef’s Carlin Berryhill and Kurt Convey, Ransom’s Gabriel Correa, and Columbus’ Humberto Freire competing in the mile and 2-mile events.
Miami-Dade season outlook
Monday: Regular season begins.
Feb. 21: Louie Bing Invitational at Ansin Sports Complex; Walter Dix Invitational.
Feb. 28: Ferguson Falcons Invitational; Southridge Spartan Invitational.
March 7: Hallandale Invitational; Bob Wilson Relays in Sebastian.
March 13-15: Disney Invitational in Orlando.
March 13-14, 17: GMAC championships.
March 21: Bob Hayes Invitational in Jacksonville.
March 27-28: FSU Relays in Tallahassee; Texas Relays; Miramar Invitational.
April 2-4: Florida Relays in Gainesville.
April 4: Youth Fair Invitational at Ferguson.
April 6-11, 13-18: District meets.
April 20-25: Regionals.
May 1: State track meet (Classes 2A-1A) in Jacksonville.
May 2: State track meet (Classes 4A-3A) in Jacksonville.
BOYS’ DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; 3A: Tallahassee Chiles; 2A: Miami Booker T. Washington; 1A: Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy.
GIRLS’ DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; 3A: Miami Northwestern; 2A: Jacksonville Bolles; 1A: Melbourne Holy Trinity.
TOP 10 BOYS’ TEAMS
1. American; 2. Northwestern; 3. Coral Reef; 4. Belen Jesuit; 5. Columbus; 6. Carol City; 7. Booker T. Washington; 8. Central; 9. Jackson; 10. Killian.
TOP 10 GIRLS’ TEAMS
1. Northwestern; 2. Southridge; 3. Ransom Everglades; 4. Ferguson; 5. Carol City; 6. Jackson; 7. Lourdes; 8. American; 9. Westminster Christian; 10. Doral.
TOP RETURNING BOYS’ ATHLETES
Dicaprio Bootle, Killian, Jr. (sprints)
Carlin Berryhill, Coral Reef, Jr. (distance)
Ari Cogdell, American, Sr. (200, 400)
Kurt Convey, Coral Reef, Sr. (distance)
Gabriel Correa, Ransom, Jr. (distance)
Nick Diaz, Sunset, Sr. (distance)
Humberto Freire, Columbus, Jr. (distance)
Aaron Hanna, Central, Sr. (shot, discus)
Antonio Howard, Northwestern, Sr. (sprints)
Dawun Hylton, American, Jr. (400, 800)
Joseph Jackson, Gulliver, Jr. (shot, discus)
Amir Rasul, Coral Gables, Jr. (sprints)
Ryan Rodriguez, Belen, Sr. (distance)
Kevin Turner, American, Sr. (hurdles)
Shammond Williams, American, Jr. (sprints)
TOP RETURNING GIRLS’ ATHLETES
Debbie Ajagbe, Ransom, So. (discus)
Taranique Alexander, Northwestern, So. (jumps)
Lauren Archer, Ransom, Jr. (distance)
Asja Baker, Northwestern, Jr. (sprints)
Briana Eskridge, Northwestern, Jr. (jumps)
Lauren Gavulic, Ferguson, Sr. (distance)
Terneka Gibson, Carol City, Jr. (high jump)
Alexis Harrell, Northwestern, Sr. (sprints)
La’Kayla Harris, Northwestern, Sr. (sprints)
Kamaria Johnson, Ferguson, Sr. (hurdles, jumps)
Kayla Johnson, Southridge, So. (400, 800)
Symone Mason, Southridge, Fr. (sprints)
Tiara McMinn, Jackson, So. (hurdles)
Timetria Mitchell, Northwestern, Jr. (hurdles)
Nati Sheppard, Ransom, Sr. (pole vault)
Twanisha Terry, Northwestern, So. (sprints)
Destiny Woodard, Southridge, Sr. (jumps, sprints)
DeAndreah Young, Northwestern, So. (hurdles)
NOTE: For complete team-by-team capsules, please visit our High School Sports page at www.MiamiHerald.com/sports.
Andre C. Fernandez