Nature Coast's Gentz, Land O'Lakes' Cannata take center stage at Kiwanis Invitational
BROOKSVILLE —Tuesday’s Kiwanis Invitational pitted two of the North Suncoast's top track and field programs against each other, and they snatched the top two spots across both genders. The Land O'Lakes girls outpaced Nature Coast 150-127 and the Nature Coast boys topped Land O'Lakes 126.5-72. Host Hernando took fourth on the boys side with 61.5.
The story of the evening was a pair of elite female athletes scoring across four events, trying to out-do each other. Land O'Lakes' Tori Cannata and NCT's Ashley Gentz set the standard across eight events.
Gentz got it started off in the long jump in one of the pair's head-to-head matchups. Cannata is only in her second competition in the long jump but still managed to go 16-4 for a personal record and third place in the event. Gentz won with a 16-6.5, just off her PR but good enough to set down the meet record. Cannata then lit up the high jump, clearing 5-6, winning the event by 4 inches, tying the school record and obliterating the previous meet mark of 5-2.
"I feel a lot stronger than in the past (in the event)," Cannata said. "Every week it keeps getting better, steps are going well and I just went for it today."
Cannata won her signature event, the triple jump, going 35-8.5, setting down that meet record, too. Soccer teammate Sydny Nasello took second in the triple jump at 33-10. Cannata capped off a brilliant day by anchoring the winning 4x100-meter relay (51.83) that was all Land O'Lakes soccer players including Cannata, Nasello, Lexi Fotopoulos and Madison Lordsmith.
"Winning is fun," Cannata said.
Gentz continued her run in the sprints, first winning the 100 in 12.72. Bishop McLaughlin's Taysha Kuhn was second in 12.82, and Gentz's teammate and training partner, Kaitlyn Pierce, was third in 12.96.
Gentz then won the 400 in 1:01.21 with Pierce right behind in 1:01.89. The Sharks swept the top three spots in the 100 with Eboni Johnson in third (1:04.97). Gentz made it four-for-four, winning the 200 toward the end of the night in 25.55. Familiar opponent Pierce was second in 26.18.
"My coach put me in four events because she knows I can score (in all four)," Gentz said. "I try not to think about all the events at once, I just try to prepare for what she wants me to do."
NCT girls coach Nikki Pierce will have a familiar face on the squad even after Gentz graduates this summer, her own daughter Kaitlyn.
"I'm so thankful to have Ashley as a training partner," Kaitlyn Pierce said. "I had a bad day in triple jump today and Ashley talked me out of it. She's like a sister and she pushes me to be the best I can. She's one of the reasons I am where I am today."
The distance events boasted some top athletes, but none of them got the challenge hungry track fans wanted. Lecanto's Claire Farnsworth swept both the 1,600 and 3,200. Pasco County cross country champ Natalie Abernathy of Land O’Lakees came within five seconds of Farnsworth in the 1,600 but didn't run in the 3,200, allowing Farnsworth to take it with ease and under 12 minutes. Abernathy recently ran a sub-12-minute 3,200 at a tri meet last week. The showdown will have to wait.
On the boys side, Hernando's Trevor Foley swept the distance events, going 4:34.38 in the 1,600 and 10:19.78 in the 3,200. Foley has been training more speed intervals and even hitting the weight room over the winter break, improving his conditioning with his sights set on some of the bigger meets this season.
"I treat the smaller meets more like a workout," Foley said. "The big meets like IMG, UF and FSU I really want to hit hard."
Land O'Lakes pole vaulter Tucker Brace took second, clearing 12 feet. When he tried for 13 feet one of his poles snapped in half, nearly causing a nasty accident but Brace shook it off and kept competing.
"I had a funny feeling like the pole was going to break before the meet even started," Brace said. "It definitely gives you an adrenaline rush but at least it (pole breaking) is out of the way now."
Ridgewood's Brandon Schultz won the 110 hurdles in 14.60, the only sub-15-second time in the event and took second in the 300 hurdles (40.17). NCT football star DeShawn Smith anchored the winning 4x100 relay and took second in the open 100 (11.26). Weeki Wachee's Thomas Tolbert threw a 131-2.5 to win the discus and NCT's William Coffey won the shot at 47-4.
Land O' Lakes’ female throwers Alexis Harris and Amelia Cary went second and third in the discus (107-3 and 99-9), then Cary took second in shot 36-9. The Gators swept the 800 with Lindsey Weilant winning for the girls in 2:33.63 and Josue Arandia winning the boys in 2:03.04.
"We try to maximize the points in events they're good at," Land O'Lakes girls coach Rock Ridgeway said. "The most important thing is keeping them healthy and that they enjoy what they're doing."