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Track: Coach’s return sparks Countryside’s swagger

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Tue. March 18, 2014 | Bob Putnam | Email

Two years ago, Eileen Givens retired as Countryside’s track coach, ending a run in which she won 18 straight district titles (12 with Lakewood’s girls, six with Countryside’s boys).

She thought she was done with the sport, but it was hard to give up coaching runners completely.

Givens, 48, remained the Cougars’ cross country coach and was coaxed into becoming an assistant with track. Now Givens is back in charge after taking over Countryside’s track team from Jazmyn Shorter, a former Lakewood standout who returned to her alma mater to coach the girls team.

“I had every intention of staying away,” Givens said. “But it was hard because I was still coaching cross country and I had those boys until November. Once track season rolled around, they still wanted me to coach them in distance events.”

Givens has the team back on top after team titles at the East Lake Early Bird Invitational, the Richard Allen Relays and the Anclote Invitational. The only major meet the Cougars have not won is last week’s USF/Steinbrenner Invitational.

Still, Countryside’s distance runners did well at USF, with the 4x800 relay team of Ryan Bennett, Billy Fitch, Robert Davis and Andrew Llewellyn setting a meet record by winning in seven minutes, 59 seconds. The time also ranked as the best in the state — though it only lasted an hour. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas moved to the top after running the 4x800 in 7:56 at the Bob Hayes Invitational in Jacksonville.

Personal records were also set at the USF meet by Davis in the preliminaries of the 400 (49.92) and Llewellyn in the finals of the 1,600 (4:25). But Givens felt her runners were starting to go flat as the meet went on and decided to pull some of her boys out of the last few events. She also scaled back workouts this week and will tinker with the lineup in the 4x800 at today’s Ed Wells/Kiwanis Invitational in Clearwater.

“They just looked tired,” Givens said. “I needed to give them time to recover.”

Givens said she has no timetable on how long she will coach before she decides to retire — again.

“I think I would have to completely walk away from the school for that to happen,” Givens said. “If a kid is looking for help or trying to work to get better, it’s nearly impossible for me to say no.”

Better than expected: The graduation of Gibbs’ Trayvon Bromell, and Lakewood’s trio of Tim Holmes and Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin left a void in Pinellas County track and field considering how many state titles and national marks they produced.

This year, there is not a county boys or girls athlete or relay team at the top of the state rankings in any event. But if last week’s performance at the USF/Steinbrenner meet was any indication, Pinellas could be in contention for just as many state titles as last season.

Five county athletes set records at the USF meet, equaling the number from 2013. Admiral Farragut’s Brittany McGee leaped 19 feet, 2 inches in the long jump, and Osceola’s Carson Waters cleared 15-1 in the pole vault, each breaking the previous record in their respective event by more than 7 inches.

Dunedin’s Ahmad Middleton won the 300 hurdles in 38.09 seconds, surpassing the previous record by one-hundredth of a second set by Holmes last year.

The other records were turned in by Osceola’s Jennifer Kistemaker in the pole vault (11-6) and Countryside’s boys 4x800 relay team (7:59).

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