By Gary Curreri
Blanche Ely and Highlands Christian Academy raced to their respective regional track championships last week.
For Highlands Christian, it was the first regional track championship in school history, and, defeated defending state champion Westminster Academy. The Knights boys and girls teams will send 15 state qualifiers in 20 events.
Highlands Christian’s Ryan Szklany was a double winner as he captured the 1,600 (4:31.23) and 3,200-meter runs (10:04.18) in the Region 4-1A meet. Highlands Boys placed first with 113 points over defending state champs Westminster Academy, who finished at 88.
Highlands Christian runners that placed second included Hunter Walton (800), Delimar Martina (high jump), Scott Bush (pole vault), Chris Julien (100). Placing third for Highlands was Kenny Armstrong (shot put and discus) and Jake Petersen (110 and 300 hurdles).
On the girls’ side, Sara Carroll won four events (high jump, triple jump, 100 and 300 hurdles). Abby Simpson placed third in the 300 hurdles, while Sydney Blackburn placed third in both the shot and the discus. Highlands girls placed third (72 points) behind South Florida Heat (133 points) and Westminster Christian School (Miami) (98.5 points).
“I am very proud of both the boys and the girls,” said Highlands Christian coach Jarod Ebenhack. “We knew at the end of last year that our boys would be as strong if not stronger than Westminster coming into the season, but we also knew that the athletes at Westminster are seasoned competitors and champions who would not be easy to beat.
“We conditioned hard all year long to make this a reality and we faced some adversity,” added Ebenhack, who lost their top 400-meter runner, Steven Ludwig, to a collapsed lung, and then Elijah Kerr to a broken foot the weekend before regionals. “Those two represented a large amount of points to our team. The team took on the challenge of filling the holes left by the loss of these two senior leaders. Our field events, in particular, rose to the challenge, and scored more points than I was expecting.”
Host Blanche Ely ran away with the boys’ crown in the Region 4-3A meet as it finished with 118-1/2 points. The Tigers’ boys’ 4×800-meter relay set the tone early, as Sueil Foucha, James Walker, Syvenson Noel and Roderic Wilson ran an 8:02.11.
“I’ve got a lot of 12th-graders that really worked hard to get to this point,” said Blanche Ely coach Anthony Jordan. “Last year a few that got to state, they got to state and didn’t do anything. This year they are focused on winning it.”
Blanche Ely senior Jacee Simon won the high jump with a leap of 6 ft., 6 in., while University of Cincinnati football signee, senior Thomas Geddis, won the 200 in 21.54. Ely senior Arthur Forrest placed second in the 100 with a time of 10.88, while Wilson also took second in the 800 (1:56.57).
The top four competitors in each event qualified for the state meet, set for May 6-7 at IMG Academy in Bradenton.