Amid heavy rain and wind, Hernando County runners found a way to fight the elements and grab medals at the Class 2A FHSAA Finals Friday.
Even a rain delay, switching the format of the meet to timed finals, couldn’t stop a handful of local female runners. Nature Coast’s Alicia Gentz and Ashley Gentz as well as its 4x400, and Hernando’s Jashá Patrick found the award podium at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
The top eight finishers in each event earned medals.
“I think the weather played a huge factor mentally,” Lady Sharks coach Ryan Wilson said. “Maybe for us not so much because we train in the rain; but it’s tough for them.”
Lady Leopard skipper Shawanda McCullough echoed those sentiments.
“The weather was bad all day,” McCullough said. “It was a constant rain and everyone is cold and wet, and it’s hard as a coach because you’re seeing athletes (fall) down due to the conditions.”
The first medal of the day among local competitors went to the senior Alicia Gentz, who finished sixth in her 100-meter dash with a time of 12.60.
“It’s indescribable!” she said. “To win states in an individual event is amazing to me! All my hard work these past four years has now paid off.”
Patrick, a junior, leapt her way to a sixth-place finish in the 300 hurdles with a time of 46.52.
“Coming in she knew what she needed to do and she did it,” McCullough said. “A few days ago we took her out in the rain and had her get used to the conditions she might have to face. I think it was beneficial.”
The third county medal of the day went to the younger Gentz, the sophomore Ashley, who ran a time of 25.58 in the 200, good for eighth place by one-tenth of a second.
“It was horrible to watch as a coach,” Wilson said. “It was so close, but Ashley is a competitor and I knew how bad she wanted it.”
“Leaving this meet with two medals is something I never thought would happen,” Ashley Gentz said. “It was scary walking up to that line knowing I was competing with the best, but I just remember everything I’ve worked for and everything my coaches told me. Hard work pays off and I’m already looking forward to next year!”
The medal for Ashley Gentz meant that both sisters medaled at the state meet in two different sports this year, with both grabbing a spot on the podium in Kissimmee at the state weightlifting meet.
“This is the most perfect way to end my senior year,” Alicia Gentz said. “Between medaling in weightlifting and now track to me makes this year unforgettable. I wouldn’t want to experience this with anyone else. She’s there for weightlifting and now track.”
“Me and my sister had our mind set on making it here since Day 1,” Ashley Gentz said. “Actually being able to experience it with her was perfect.”
The final medal handed out belonged to the 4x400 of Ashley Gentz, Crystal Burchhardt, Nilsa-Marie Rodriguez and Eboni Johnson, who finished eighth with a time of 4:03.74.
“So proud of these girls,” Wilson said. “(Ashley) Gentz is one of the hardest workers we have, it’s great for Burchhardt to come out here and get a medal as a senior. She’s worked hard, and the unsung heroes of our team have to be Rodriguez and Johnson who come out and bust it every day.”
Johnson finished 14th in the 400 with a time of 1:00.93, and the 4x800 of Johnson, Burchhardt, Brianna Horn and Alexa Lacy finished 11th with a time of 10:15.34.
Horn, who finished with a time of 2.38.17, good for 15th in the 800, and Nature Coast shot put hurler Rita Jarque, who finished 10th with a distance of 35-6, rounded out the Lady Shark contingency.
The other Lady Leopard was Lauren Plaugher who finished 15th in the discus with a throw of 94-1. She finished third at states last year.
With the four medals for the lady runners of Hernando County, Coach McCullough said it was a call for action.
“I hope these girls inspire other kids,” McCullough said. “We have some terrific coaches in Hernando County. Showing up and having kids winning at regionals, then medaling at states, it should inspire other girls to get out and compete like all these athletes do.”
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Over five events, the Hernando County boys failed to reach the podium.
“The weather was a hindrance for sure,” Sharks coach Eric Milholland said. “It was a good day for the conditions and a good experience for our guys.”
Nature Coast’s 4x100 of Jalen McFarland, DeShawn Smith, Brian Haygood and Jordan Burkes just missed the podium finishing ninth by half of a second with a time of 43.82.
“Coming in we were seeded 13th,” Milholland said. “To come out here in these conditions and finish ninth was great.”
Also representing the Sharks was senior James Harkless, who ran 11th in the 1,600 with a time of 4:35.10, and 12th in the 800 with a time of 2:04.08.
“James has been battling a sickness for about two weeks,” Milholland said. “For him to come out and repeat what he did at regionals was great.”
Haygood also competed in the triple jump, and finished 14th with a distance of 40-11 1/4.
“We are a young program,” Milholland said. “To have Haygood come out here as a freshman is great. For our team, we only lose Harkless. I’m excited to see how all these guys progress next year.”
Milholland was happy that his team got to experience a state meet, and hopes it will prepare them for their own future.
“I’m glad they got to come here and see the cream of the crop,” Milholland said. “Now they know the level of competition and know what they need to do.”
The lone Weeki Wachee Hornet at the state meet was Jacob Tinch, who finished 16th in the discus with a throw of 97-6.
Class 2A FHSAA Finals
Nature Coast (NCT) NTS, Weeki Wachee (WW) NTS
(Top eight score team points; earn medals)
TJ - 14. Haygood (NCT) 40-11 1/4
DIS - 16. Tinch (WW) 97-6
1600 - 11. Harkless (NCT) 4:35.10
4x100 - 9. McFarland, Smith, Haygood, Burkes (NCT) 43.82
800 - 12. Harkless (NCT) 2:04.08
28. Nature Coast (NCT) 5, 37. Hernando (HER) 3
(Top eight score team points; earn medals)
4x800 - 11. Johnson, Burchhardt, Horn, Lacy (NCT) 10:15.34
SP - 10. Jarque (NCT) 35-6
DIS - 15. Plaugher (HER) 94-1
100 - 6. Al. Gentz (NCT) 12.60
300 hurdles - 6. Patrick (HER) 46.52
400 - 14. Johnson (NCT) 1:00.93
800 - 15. Horn (NCT) 2:38.17
200 - 8. As. Gentz (NCT) 25.58
4x400 - 2. Burchhardt, Al. Gentz, Rodriguez, Johnson (NCT) 4:03.74