Wildcat's need for speed rubs off on track teammates

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Tue. March 6, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

Wildcat's need for speed rubs off on track teammates

WESLEY CHAPEL — When a former Wesley Chapel track coach saw Ravin Gilbert as a sophomore, she immediately spotted a sprinter's build on a 5-foot-7 frame.

“She saw my legs,” Gilbert said.

Soon enough, she and the rest of the North Suncoast saw Gilbert’s speed.

Gilbert had never participated in track before joining the team two years ago. She played guard on the basketball team and was a reserve on the Wildcats’ 22-4 squad in 2009-10, but she never really noticed her quickness until she switched sports.

Gilbert took a crash course in the basics that spring. Even though she was still learning the fundamentals, and form and techniques to explode out of the starting blocks, she flew down the track in the 4x100 relay a few days after her first practice.

Her first thought: Oh my gosh, I have some speed on me.

“I knew I was going to be good,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t know I was going to be this good or go this far.”

Gilbert needed little time to become one of Pasco County’s top runners. As a sophomore, she won districts in the 200 meters and finished seventh at regionals. She also took second in the 100.

That was all a prelude for last spring. Gilbert continued to hone her speed and qualified for the Class 2A state meet as an individual.

“That’s how I knew this is getting serious,” Gilbert said. “I can be somebody.”

She placed seventh in the 100 (12.72 seconds) and the 200 (25.18 seconds), but she wasn’t happy with her finishes. She said she got caught up in the hoopla of competing for a medal. Her time in the 100 was 0.6 seconds slower than her prelim time, and her 200 time was 0.3 seconds worse.

“I guess the hype got to me,” Gilbert said.

But she still attracted plenty of college recruiters.

Gilbert plans to sign a full track scholarship Thursday with Georgia State, a Division I program in the Colonial Athletic Association, where she’ll study physical therapy. She also had a partial scholarship offer from USF.

But her biggest impact is felt on Wesley Chapel’s roster.

“You can tell she’s just a leader out here,” Wildcats coach Brad Allen said. “She’s always working hard. She’s always doing her best.

The other kids see that.”

And that enthusiasm has rubbed off on the rest of the team, which ranks among the best in Pasco County.

Courtney Prengaman (high jump) has won meets at Gulf and King, and Abby Hudak is a consistent top-two performer in the pole vault after finishing 10th at regionals last year. The distance runners are faster, too, and senior Marissa Miller shaved two seconds off of her mile time in the offseason.

“Almost every girl is faster than they ended last year,” Allen said.

Gilbert still hopes to improve. She’s already broken the school record in the 200 (24.86 seconds at regionals) and plans to break it again.

She’s less than a tenth of a second from breaking the school record of 11.98 seconds in the 100, too.

Her pursuit will have to wait for a little bit. Gilbert bruised her foot in last week’s invitational at Gulf and plans to rest this week to prepare for next weekend’s big meet at USF.

If she accomplishes her goals, Gilbert said it will be because of her team. Just as she pushes them, the Wildcats inspire her to keep going.

“It’d break my heart to know I let someone down,” Gilbert said.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

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