ST. PETERSBURG — In the past, getting girls to come out for the Lakewood track and field team seemed to be no problem. The Spartans’ record speaks for itself: they won the Class 3A, District 3 title last season and under former coach Eileen Givens, who is now at Countryside, earned 12 district crowns.
But this season has been a different story. Injuries to key sprinters along with athletes’ interest in other sports have forced other Spartans to be more versatile. Senior Kala Funderburk has moved from the 200-meter dash to the 800 and Gincy Marcelin has taken over the 200.
Sophomore Sharell Keys, who finished as a state runnerup in the 100 last year, is contributing to the points totals by running on the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.
But coach Anthony Snead says the extra work isn’t taking the focus off the team’s yearly goals.
“We’re learning a lot about ourselves right now,” Snead said. “We’re slim in numbers right now, and I think it’s a little discouraging to the veterans. But then again I think it also provides a little extra motivation to these girls to work harder. We’re running races with nine or so girls when we have 20 on the roster.
“I think the team takes this lack in numbers as a new challenge.”
Among those nine girls is Funderburk, who according to Snead is someone the team is counting on for consistent victories.
Funderburk had a solid showing at the West Coast Invitational, winning the 400 (59.44) and placing third in the 800 (2:30).
“We want to get back to that No. 1 spot,” Funderburk said. “I think us having the lesser numbers is really something difficult to cope with. It is a challenge to us. My younger sister (Ashlee) has moved to running the hurdles and the relays.
“With the team this year, everyone has to be more versatile. We’re dealing with a lot of injuries right now, so we have a lot of things to battle with.”
Also this season the playing field is more equal, with Osceola joining Lakewood as one of Pinellas County’s top teams.
“At this point we know that Osceola is the team to beat,” Snead said. “With (Osceola) getting better, there is a new member at the top of the mountain. We learned at the West Coast Invite that we’re not the only team with speed.
“The positive thing for our team is that it is early in the season. Hopefully we can continue to get better as the season moves along.”
As the Spartans continue to make strides as individuals, team goals will come into focus.
“Going after that state title this season is all I keep thinking about as an individual,” Keys said. “As a team, we really want to get after all of our goals and the girls are motivated by being the underdogs this year. We’re just going to have to earn everything we get at every meet. Everyone has to contribute because every point really does count.”