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Gators in the running for track titles

(ran PAS edition)

Sammy Portalatin missed practice time last week to be with the Land O'Lakes High School band at a competition in Atlanta.

The drum major/hurdler apparently had gotten in enough training not to worry about missing a few sessions as he finished among the leaders in two events at Thursday's Class 5A, District 8 track meet.

That leaves Portalatin among eight Gators who are still in the running for state track and field championships. Lee Stephens, Jeremy Nelsestuen, Clint Newman, Hannes Schill, Challis Weerts, Kate Benson, Kristy Fuller and Portalatin will try to qualify for the state meet in Thursday's regionals at Sanford Seminole. They need to be among the top four in their respective events to advance to the next level.

"Sammy is probably peaking at the right time," Land O'Lakes boys coach Al Claggett said. "This is his goal, to try to get a return trip to the regionals."

Portalatin overcame a groin pull during the regular season to win the 330-meter hurdles in 40.75 at the district meet hosted by Land O'Lakes. He was second in 100 hurdles in a time of 15.45.

Land O'Lakes finished fifth in both the boys and girls district competitions, but no one really expected the Gators to make a run at the team championships.

"The people that were there performed very, very well," Claggett said.

Besides Portalatin, Weerts is the only other Land O'Lakes runner to qualify for the regionals in two events. Weerts ran first in the 330 hurdles (50.84) and was runner-up in the triple jump at 30 feet, 11\ inches.

Weerts, however, feels she could have done better in the hurdles. The sophomore arrived late for track because she played soccer on Land O'Lakes' team that reached the regionals.

"I'm running two seconds slower than last year," she said. "There's nothing I really can do. I'm just going to do some 300s, increase my endurance and work out in the weight room."

Land O'Lakes girls coach Rock Ridgeway concurred that Weerts' late arrival slowed her development this season.

"She could never really get in top form," he said. "She's just starting now to get there."

As for the triple jump, Ridgeway said Weerts is "going to need about a foot more to do well at regionals."

Fuller, who missed most of last year with a hip injury, was third in the 1,600 at 5:56.50 and Benson placed fourth in the 3,200 at 13:13.97.

Stephens, a two-time Sunshine Athletic Conference Cross Country Runner of the Year, qualified for his second regional berth by running the 3,200 in 10:02.41, good enough for third in the district meet.

"I think Lee is running very, very well," Claggett said of the senior distance runner who recently signed to run next fall for the University of South Florida. "He's very competitive; he's a tough nut."

German exchange student Schill was third (2:04.41) in the 800 at districts.

In the field events, Nelsestuen placed second in the high jump at 6-4 and Newman was runner-up in the discus with a toss of 133-4{.

Newman hopes to make it to states in his second sport this spring. He placed 10th in the 139-pound weight class at last week's state weightlifting meet.