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GULFPORT — The first time sophomore Chaise Cook-Martin stepped into the Boca Ciega gymnasium, she leaped so high her 5-foot-6 frame nearly touched the rim.
“She can almost dunk,” former Pirates girls basketball coach Will White said. “She’s an amazing athlete.”
But basketball is not her forte.
Track and field is.
Cook-Martin was a star at Azalea Middle School, winning almost every event she entered. About the only one she didn’t win was the triple jump — and that’s because it’s not included in middle school track.
Still, the event intrigued her, especially after she watched a few of Boca Ciega’s girls leaping in practice last year.
“I thought it was cool, so I gave it a shot,” Cook-Martin said.
On her first attempt, she cleared 35 feet. She went on to win districts and placed fifth in the triple jump at the Class 3A state meet.
Now, it is her signature event.
Entering Friday’s state championships, Cook-Martin is seeded third after a leap of 37 feet, 9.25 inches. Orlando Edgewater’s Britni Strates is the top seed at 38-2.
Cook-Martin knows she can go farther. Her best mark this season is 39-2.5 at March’s Ed Wells/Kiwanis Invitational. She said last week she was bothered by a strained hamstring and shin splints.
“I jumped 39-5 at practice this week,” Cook-Martin said. “I know I have a 40-foot jump in me.”
To leave the rest of the triple jump competitors behind her, Cook-Martin will have to rock back on her heels and explode down the runway. She will have to hit the board well, get through the hop and step phrases, then rise with remarkable power before soaring through the pit.
The best thing she has going for her this week is that she is concentrating solely on the triple jump. Cook-Martin also ran the 100 and 300 hurdles but did not qualify for state in either event.
“Chaise is naturally talented and can place in the top three this year,” coach Cheryl Greene said. “This is all she has to focus on and there’s not much that separates her the top mark in the state.”
If Cook-Martin wins, she would be the first female athlete from her school to take gold in the event.
“I’ve been practicing a lot at it,” Cook-Martin said. “I need to have my best jump at state to do it.”
Class 3A state track
Where: Showalter Field, Winter Park
When: Friday. Field events and 4x800 relay finals, 1 p.m.; running event preliminaries, 4 p.m.; running event finals, 6:30 p.m.
Admission: $8 Parking: $5
Other county athletes to watch
Kala Funderburk, Lakewood: The Memphis signee, who is trying to cap her career by winning her first state title in an individual event, has the top seed in the high jump (5-6) and the 400 (55.24).
Lakewood’s 4x100 girls relay team: The quartet of Julian Battiest, Erika Allen, Sharell Keys and Kajira Davis have the top seed (47.65) in the event.
Alexis Irwin, Osceola: The most consistent point scorer for the Warriors is seeded fourth (5:07.12) in the 1600 meters.
Dennis Pugh, Lakewood: The county’s top male athlete is seeded eighth in the 110 hurdles (14.61) and seventh in the 300 hurdles (38.54).