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Lao leads county's athletes

Hernando senior Raquel Lao goes to Coral Gables with the top qualifying mark in the discus and the hopes of topping her eighth-place performance last year.

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


Eight individuals and three relays will represent Central and Hernando in Saturday's Class 2A track meet in Coral Gables.

For some, it is a first glance at the pinnacle of their sport. For others, it's a final chance to put themselves among the state's elite athletes.

Leading the county contingent is Hernando senior Raquel Lao, who has the top qualifying mark in the discus.

Lao, the class salutatorian at Hernando with a weighted grade point average of 4.28, finished eighth in last year's state meet, earning the final spot on the winners' podium.

"It's really exciting when you get to see all the other athletes from around the state," said Lao, who set a personal best in the first meet of this season, clearing 124 feet at Springstead.

Lao isn't the county's only regional champion returning to the state meet.

The Central girls 4x100 relay squad won last week and posted the fifth fastest qualifying time. Senior Leiko Munford, junior Tiffany Mobley, sophomore Alaya Smiley and freshman Jaimie Costanzo have represented the relay every year they have been in high school.

Munford helped the Bears finish ninth her freshman season, then seventh, then fourth last year. The relay's qualifying mark of 50.13 seconds is a half-second faster than last season's was at regionals but two seconds off the school record set a year ago.

Smiley also will compete in the 100 meters, and Mobley qualified in the 200 meters. The relay, along with Lao, is the county's best shot at a strong finish, but others head to Coral Gables hoping to place in the top eight.

Central's 4x800 relay and 3,200-meter runner Joel Crandall have that realistic goal for their weekend. Another athlete to watch is the Bears' Kyle Keene, who became the school's first freshman to qualify for a state meet when he took second in the triple jump last week.

Smiley qualified with the fourth spot in the 100 meters, but there's an important asterisk that goes with that race.

Smiley finished second in the finals at Central last week. But the computerized timer did not start, so meet officials didn't have an accurate time to go with the order of finish.

A jury of appeals decided to run the race again, but Smiley finished fourth the second time around, still good enough to advance.

While Saturday marks the end of the season for Central and Hernando, Springstead could have athletes in Coral Gables next weekend for the Class 3A meet.

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