JACKSONVILE Faith Woodard says she's still a basketball player first, but if she keeps performing like she has at the state track and field championships, she might be forced to ret-think that stance.
In Saturday's Class 4A state finals at the University of North Florida's Hodges Stadium, the Riverview standout captured the gold medal in the girls high jump at 5 feet, 8 inches. Woodard earned a measure of revenge in the process by edging out Miami South Dade's Barbara Vilson, the girl who beat her out of first place in last year's state finals.
Both Woodard and Vilson cleared 5-8, but first place went to Woodard on fewer misses. About 90 minutes later, Woodard picked up her second medal of the meet when she took sixth in the 400-meter dash in 56.74 seconds.
True, Woodard is a great basketball player. And at 6-foot-1, her height gives college basketball coaches reason to take notice. But her height, long stride, speed and endurance has also made her a force in the track world. For now, there's no reason to decide between the two sports. She's still a junior.
But one day, if a college track coach offers her a full ride to school?
''Basketball is my first choice but I would definitely take (track) into consideration,'' said Woodard. ''A scholarship is a scholarship. I'm just trying to go to college.''
For Plant junior Julia Rodriguez, the state final was a reminder she is still one of the area's most talented distance runners. No, she didn't finish the Panthers' state championship cross country season last fall in their No. 1 spot, but Rodriguez's silver medal in the girls 3,200 Saturday – in a personal best of 11 minutes, 7.45 seconds – showed once again what she is capable of when she's on her game.
Plant's girls 4x800-meter relay team of Caroline Gibson, Caroline Bado, Emory Pitisci and Scarlett Fox were certainly ready to run Saturday. They took the silver medal, but more impressive was their time: 9:10.21. That not only shaved 15 seconds off the school record they set last week, but is also the nation's seventh best time of the season.
Also in the 4x800, the Wharton foursome of Erin Kocher, Mariah Henderson, Tyler Watson and Taylor Griffith grabbed fifth place in a season best 9:31.27. Wharton also produced fourth- and eighth-place finishes in the girls 300 hurdles with Mikayla Barber and Watson, respectively.
In the boys discus, Plant senior Michael Dvornik grabbed the third-place bronze medal when he recorded a throw of 158 feet, 8 inches. On the other end of the field, teammate Parker Diehl earned the sixth-place medal in the pole vault at 13-0. In the girls high jump, Anna Peyton Malizia won a share of the eighth-place medal by clearing 5-0.
The Panthers got a fourth-place effort in the 3,200 from senior Travis Christenberry (9:39.09), a race that also featured a seventh from Riverview's Michael Babinec (9:41.07). Plant picked up another medal, in the boys 1,600, when senior John Drawdy grabbed eighth in 4:29.53. Newsome's Lars Benner (4:27.48) was seventh in a personal best.
In the boys 4x800 relay, the Bloomingdale foursome of Ryan Chadderton, Kevin Heron and twins Matt LeBlanc and Andre LeBlanc also took down a school record when they blasted to a seventh-place finish in 8:00.19. The good news for this Bulls relay is the three sophomores and one junior all will return next year.
Alonso's Quatasia Fantroy and Jordan Davis each took the bronze medal in the long jump, with Fantroy recording a lifetime best of 18 feet, 7 inches in the girls competition and Davis, a senior, going 23 feet in the boys. Oddly enough, each recorded their third-place marks on the final attempt of the finals. Fantroy, a junior, also took home a fifth-place medal in the triple jump (37-2) and a third medal when she finished eighth in the 200. Another Ravens star, William Taylor-Haynes, won medals in the 110 hurdles (fifth) and high jump (sixth).
Fantroy's friend and rival, junior Sandra Akachukwu of Freedom, was the area's lone quadruple medal winner. She was fifth in the long jump with a personal record (18-3.75), zipped over to the high jump to take the bronze medal at 5-6 and came back in the running event finals to take eighth in the 100 (12.42) and seventh in the 200 (25.06). There's only been a handful of county athletes to leave the state finals with four medals, and Akachukwu is now in the elite group.
Hillsborough County's top boys sprinter at the 4A meet turned out to be a first-year track athlete, Deontae Williams of Tampa Bay Tech. Despite having to split practice between the two spring sports, Williams placed sixth in the 100 (10.95).