With all due respect to the rest of the Class 3A state track girls field, the only race in doubt likely will be the one for second place at the University of North Florida on May 3.
Ten-time state champion Miami Northwestern winning what would be a state record 11 appears to be all but a foregone conclusion after running away with the Region 4-3A title at Traz Powell Stadium on Wednesday.
Winning No. 11 for coach Carmen Jackson, who built the Bulls into a nationally recognized dynasty has been the rallying cry for the Bulls team all season.
“It’s kind of ironic when I walked across the field the kids yelled “I love you coach” said Jackson. “I told my assistant coaches, as mean and hard as I am it’s funny they would come back and say that. It blew me away a little bit. I teared up a little bit.”
Backed by raucous partisan crowd, the Bulls took any drama out of the outcome by rolling up 144.50 points to take an insurmountable lead following field events and never took their foot off the pedal.
Freshman standout Taranique Alexander kickstarted the Bulls with victories in the long jump (18-8) and triple jump (37-11), while Lloydricia Cameron swept the discus (166-8) and led a 1-2-3 finish for the Bulls in the shot put (46-8.50) with Jontavia Dykes and Akassja White.
Northwestern is working on its sixth consecutive state girls' championship. Since Jackson led the Bulls to its first state title in 1999, the Bulls have only left the state finals five times without championship hardware.
The top four finishers advance to the Class 3A state finals on May 3.
The Northwestern boys won the 1,600 relay to help the Bulls sweep both team titles.
Antonio Howard, who missed the region championships with a groin injury last year, edged Central’s Simpkin Pherris in the 100 and Jeffrey Green won the 400 to pace the Bulls sprints corps.
“I feel blessed,” Howard said. “I was expecting to win today. I’m just happy I’m back healthy. Everybody will be sleeping on me at states but I will show them. It’s a bounce back year for me.”
Norland’s long striding Kimani Austin-Reese, a fourth-place finisher in the 300 hurdles at states last year, cruised to the title in 41.95 after finishing second in the 100 hurdles.
“Last year taught me,” said Austin-Reese, a UCLA signee. “I’m a senior and the only way to finish the season is right. Next week I am expecting what I didn’t have last year. I have been progressively getting better througout the season. Because I put in more time with getting stronger and getting my cadence up and finishing the race again.”
Meanwhile, Carol City sophomore Terneka Gibson won the 400 in 55.71 to pace the Chiefs to a runner-up finish.
Belen Jesuit’s Ryan Rodriguez, the latest in a long line of distance standouts, stamped himself a contender in the 1,600 and 3,200 with convincing victories in both. Rodriguez clocked 4:20.32 to beat Pines Charter’s Andrew Iglesias in the 1,600 and returned to win the 3,200.
“I am satisfied with the mile, but I wouldn’t say I'm happy with my race,” Rodriguez said. “I know there will be a lot of great guys at states. It will be a fast race and we will see how it goes. I believe in myself and I believe in my training. I put myself in the mix with them.”