BRADENTON — Gaither senior Carter Palasti struggled a bit earlier this season with a nagging leg injury and a nagging search to find the right vaulting pole.
Then on Saturday at the Class 3A state meet at IMG Academy, Palasti struggled a bit with his steps and missed on his first vault of the day, attempting to come in at 13 feet, 10 inches.
"I got a little concerned at that point because you never want to miss that first attempt," Palasti said. "But I just pressed on and made it on the next attempt. It wasn't the best vault but it got me over."
Then the bar kept going up and Palasti started getting sharper. A little less than an hour later, he charged the pit, set his pole and vaulted himself higher than ever, clearing 4.68 meters (15 feet, 4.25 inches).
A vault that sealed up the state title.
"I came in feeling that it was between me and (Harmony's Seth Musselman and River Ridge's Stone Baker) and I was rated as the third seed," Palasti said. "And now I've won and it's a feeling that's amazing. I don't know how to describe it. Awesome."
Musselman ended up second and Baker third after both went out at 4.53 meters (14 feet, 10.15 inches).
Gaither senior Alessa Sandusky got some interesting advice from her dad before she ran in the Class 3A 100-meter hurdle final.
"He told me to pretend like I was being chased by a bear," Sandusky said. "So when I was in the blocks before the race I told myself that at bear was about to be released from a cage behind me and I had to run for my life."
And she won, crossing the finish line in 14.55 seconds, just .01 seconds ahead of the runnerup.
The victory all but erased a severely disappointing 300-meter hurdle performance in Friday's prelims, where she eased off too much down the final stretch and failed to qualify for Saturday's finals.
"If I would have just run harder in Friday's prelims there is no doubt I would have qualified (for the finals)," Sandusky said. "But I had to move on from that. Now I'm really happy."
It's been a busy, but productive, weekend for Katie Barnett.
First, the Admiral Farragut senior competed in the Class A state long jump Friday night, placing second. Then she received a phone call from her future coaches at Princeton University laying out her training schedule for the summer.
She saved her best for last, tenuous as it was, repeating as state champ in the triple jump Saturday morning.
"The long jump was the last event (Friday)," Barnett said. "I was kind of tired and I had to get up early (Saturday), but once I got into (the triple jump) I was energized."
With six shots to win the championship, Barnett fouled on four. Luckily, a preliminary leap of 11.75 meters (38 feet, 6.75 inches) easily got her into the finals and that distance held, edging out Oak Hall's Nadiria Evans by 4 1/2 inches.
"Most of my best jumps this year have been fouls," Barnett said with a laugh. "There were some really good jumpers that were getting good marks. I'm happy with my results."
Going out golden
Talk about going the distance to finish a track career on a high note. Bishop McLaughlin senior Owen Clanahan had a long, seemingly slow climb to finally achieve his dream and compete in the sprints.
"I started my freshman year running the mile, and last year, winning the (state title in the 300 meter) hurdles," Clanahan said. "I thought I could really do (the dashes), and when my coaches let me starting my sophomore year and my times dropped. …"
But Clanahan could never have expected to become a double champion, winning the Class A 100 (11.03 seconds) and 200 (21.96) meters. Especially when his best finishes of the postseason (second place) came the weekend before in regionals.
"I didn't do too much to prepare, practices were lighter, I ate well, drank a lot of water … it worked in my favor."
Clanahan also didn't let the pressure overwhelm him.
"I've always been pretty calm. I find assistant coach (Sarah) Plummer so we can talk about nothing to relax. That's all it takes."
And with no plans to compete at the collegiate level — "I was thinking I might walk on at Florida State in the fall, but we'll see." — he leaves on top.
Hertenstein strikes again
Riverview junior Bailey Hertenstein defended her Class 4A 1,600-meter title with emphasis, taking the lead early and never letting it go the rest of the race.
She finished in four minutes, 54.55 seconds with a far less dramatic performance than last year when she won the 1,600 after falling flat on the track, pikcing herself up and chasing down the leaders from a full 35 yards behind.
"This time the strategy was to get out and lead even though the wind was tough," Hertenstein said. "It was a good strategy."
On Friday, Hertenstein won the 3,200.
A couple of relay events turned out pretty well for Tampa Bay, particularly for the Zephyrhills Christian boys 4x100 relay of Javan Smith, Dominic Moss, Calvin Samuel and Evan Miller, who won the Class A title in 43.40 seconds.
In the girls' 4x800, Steinbrenner came in with high hopes after running a blazing time of nine minutes, 11 seconds earlier this year. On Saturday in the Class 4A final, Steinbrenner's Ken'naria Gadson, Alexandra Straumann, Emily Petrus and Serena Gadson finished in 9:26.89, a time that left them with mixed emotions.
"Some of us didn't feel great this week," Gadson said. "We think we could run faster, but we are happy because we gave it our best and we did get second."
Speaking of relays …
Youth gone wild
Admiral Farragut sophomore Jazmine Alderman had a satisfying Saturday as she placed second in the Class A 100 (12.63), ran a commanding anchor leg in a victorious 4x100 relay team (48.90) and finished third in the 200 (25.83).
Her closing relay 100 was eye opening, considering Farragut was in third place when she took the baton. Within 25 meters, she was in second, then took the lead in the final 25 meters.
"I think of our team," Alderman said. "I push hard to get us to a better place."
Gaither sophomore LaSarah Hargrove did her part, placing second in the 3A 100 (11.90) and 200 (24.05). "(The field was) very motivating and it did push me to do better," she said. "But I always try not to worry, focus on my race, block anything else out and run."
AFA finishes strong
For Admiral Farragut coach Arron Prather and his squad of five — Barnett, Alderman, Faith Nelms, Sydni Bostick and Jolie Caya — their faith was rewarded as the girls team came in second out of 53 Class A schools. Only Oak Hall School, with 75 points, was able to best AFA's 54-point total.
"We set two new school records, in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, and that was after those girls ran two or three races earlier," Prather said. "This is a great group of girls. They are Farragut family and I'm so proud."
It took a pair of superb efforts in the hurdles by First Academy freshman Alex Shields to keep Northside Christian junior Tyler Rhodes off of the top spot of the Class A podium.
As it was, Rhodes turned in times of 14.76 in the 110 and 39.28 in the 300 — almost a second faster than last week's regionals, to claim second place in both races. "This season was really good," Rhodes said. "Almost every meet, I set a new personal best, and this meet topped them all."
Bell vs. Beast
Hillsborough senior Duran Bell ran the second fastest 400 in Hillsborough County history in a blazing 46.41 seconds, a time that currently ranks as the nation's ninth-fastest time run this year, and yet …
Bell didn't win.
Miami Norland sophomore Tyrese Cooper, who ran a 45.23-second 400 last summer, won Saturday in 45.51.
Bell, however, did finish second ahead of Tallahassee Leon's Leander Forbes, who had run the nation's third fastest 400 earlier this year. Forbes finished Saturday's 400 in 46.60 seconds.
"I don't feel like I lost because I ran the best race I could possibly run," Bell said. "I'm happy to run against the best."
Bell also ran against Cooper in the 100 and the 200. Running into a stiff headwind, Bell finished the 100 in seventh (11.04) and the 200 in third (21.67). Cooper finished second in the 100 (10.63) seconds and won the 200 (21.13).