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Four years later, a state championship

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


CORAL SPRINGS -- Raquel Lao wanted the Olive Garden. Coach Rodney Byrd was thinking Pizza Hut. Whichever restaurant they ended up at Saturday night, it was sure to be a victory dinner to savor.

Four years of hard work paid off for the Hernando senior at Saturday's Class 2A state meet when Lao won the state discus title with a throw of 118 feet, 1 inch.

"I thought it was really close and challenging," Lao said of the competition. "It felt really good. For four years, I've trained and worked on my step work, and it finally paid off."

Said Byrd: "It's a thrill to watch a kid like her. She's dedicated, determined and has great academics."

Lao was just one of many North Suncoast athletes to shine at Jim Caldwell Field.

Lecanto's Kate Wheeler took second in the high jump (5-2) and sixth in the triple jump (35-7). The high jump turned into a test of stamina between Wheeler and Sarasota Cardinal Mooney's Megan Wallin.

The two engaged in a jumpoff for the state title, but each missed nine jumps ranging from 5-4 to 5-0. Finally, Wallin hit a 5-2 leap to win it.

Wheeler, though, said she was happy to accept the silver.

"I'm happy with this," she said. "The high jump is my favorite event. And last year, I didn't even get a medal. So I feel good about this."

Citrus' Rick Miller won silver in the 800 meters (1 minute, 56.9 seconds) just behind the favorite, Pensacola Christian's Daniel Soule (1:54.36). Miller said the pace wasn't fast enough. On top of that, organizers mistakenly gave the 800 medals to the 200 winners. Citrus teammate Jeremy Hensley also brought home a medal to Citrus County, winning the bronze in the discus (145-8).

Pasco's Keymo Pearson was Pasco County's lone medal-winner, finishing tied for fourth in the high jump (6-3).

"I thank God for it,' Pearson said. "Fourth place is what I wanted to do this year."

Lecanto's Kylene Colasanti was fourth in the 300 hurdles (47.69) and tied for eighth in the high jump (5-0) with Miami Ransom Everglades' Carly Brown. Citrus' Tony Lyons finished sixth in the 3,200 (9:51.66) ahead of seventh-place Joel Crandall of Central (9:52.7).

Lecanto's Deirdra Witherspoon took eighth (11:53.9) in the 3,200. Citrus' Myesha Hollis was eighth in the triple jump (35-1) and ninth in the long jump (16-101/4). Central's 4x100 squad of Jaimie Costanzo, Tiffany Mobley, Leiko Munford and Alaya Smiley took seventh (50.55).

Suwanee won the boys title (83 points). Citrus was 15th with 17. The Riviera Beach Suncoast girls won its third consecutive state title (100). Lecanto was were 12th (17.50).

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