In terms of participation and prestige, the USF/George M. Steinbrenner Invitational has evolved into the area’s biggest regular-season meet in three short seasons. Today, roughly 70 schools from west central Florida (and a bit beyond) converge at the USF Track & Field Stadium for what stands as a midseason gauge and postseason gear-up. With such a sprawling field, one needs a Cliff’s Notes-style cheat sheet. Here are a few locals you definitely shouldn’t miss today.
FSU signee Max del Monte, second in the 1,600 at last spring’s Class 4A meet, is always worth watching, but the girls race could be one of the day’s most exciting. Several of Plant’s state championship cross country team are entered, as are state cross country medalists Colleen Doherty (Holy Names), Claire Snyder (Tampa Prep) and Kari Grippo (Gulf).
For Steinbrenner senior Alexis Wright, reigning Class 2A state 100-meter hurdles champ, this event will be her first of the spring in postseason-type conditions (electronic timing and a rubberized surface). Wright turned in hand-timed efforts of 15 seconds in the 100 hurdles early in the season and ran a “phenomenal split” in leading the Warriors to an overwhelming victory in the shuttle hurdle at the Nash Higgins Relays two weeks ago. “I think she’s primed for a good meet (today),” coach Ladd Baldwin said.
Many of the area’s top competitors — including All-American triple jumper Jeremiah Green of Hillsborough — are competing elsewhere this weekend, but the girls long jump remains worth watching. Reigning Class 4A state long jump champ DerRenae Freeman of Winter Garden West Orange will be challenged by several locals, including returning 3A state qualifier Dejoun Dennard of Armwood.
If you watched one Armwood football game last fall, then the sleek components of the Hawks’ 4x100-meter team — Leon McQuay, Wade Edwards, Kaylaun Edwards and Alvin Bailey — should look familiar. The group recorded a season-best time (43.36) in the preliminaries of the recent Charles Johnson Invitational then edged Hillsborough by two-tenths of a second in the final. Bailey’s the anchor — the same role he played for the football team in 2011.
Sift through the litany of 200-meter heats (10 for the girls, 11 for the boys) and you’ll find Hillsborough junior Jorian Ordway and King junior Carrol Hardy, arguably the county’s top two in this event. With Hillsborough senior Anthony Brown competing elsewhere this weekend, Spoto state medalist Eric Moate appears a solid favorite on the boys side.
The boys shot put could generate interest, if for nothing more than star appeal. Flight One features major college football signees Cody Waldrop (South Carolina) and Shelldon Lewinson (Wake Forest) of Armwood and Dante Fowler (Florida) of Lakewood. The boys discus will include highly underrated Chamberlain senior Neil MacInnes, a district champion in three field events last spring.
Where: USF Track & Field Stadium
Schedule: 9 a.m. — field events; noon — running prelims; 2 p.m. — running finals
Defending team champs: Orlando Evans (girls), Hillsborough (boys)