Crowning an individual state champion in track and field is a rare achievement for North Suncoast athletes.
In 2010, only two, Central's Tikiera Relaford (high jump) and Wiregrass Ranch's Alex Kazanski (pole vault), brought home gold medals from Winter Park's Showalter Field.
Counting the two titles Pasco's Janarion Grant (long jump) and Wesley Chapel's Hunter Joyer (shot put) won last weekend, the North Suncoast has had six state champions in the past five seasons.
Kazanski will look to add to that total at Friday's Class 3A state meet. The Wiregrass Ranch senior enters as the prohibitive favorite; he has cleared 15 feet three times this season and, at one point owned the top mark in the state, regardless of classification.
But should he falter, Mitchell senior Ryan Jerothe will be waiting to take over. Jerothe is ranked second and defeated Kazanski head-to-head at the Sunshine Athletic Conference championship meet.
And don't forget about Jerothe's teammate, A.J. Bales. The senior has struggled to regain the form he showed early in the season, but is a threat at any meet to vault 15 feet and come away with the title.
The North Suncoast is fortunate when one of its athletes challenges for a state title. Two in the same event is almost unheard of.
"That's always kind of been in my head all year, that it was going to be one of the three of us to win," Bales said. "I worked really hard training over the summer. I knew we had all been working really hard at it and we really wanted it."
With three of the top contenders in the event, it's not unreasonable to think North Suncoast pole vaulters could finish 1-2-3.
"I definitely think it's a possibility," Kazanski said.
Kazanski, who trains at Lyman High School in Longwood, a suburb northeast of Orlando, has vaulted 16 feet in practice. Despite coming in as the defending champ, he said he'll approach this meet like any other.
"There's always going to be pressure," Kazanski said. "The main thing I need to do is just relax. If I relax and do what I've done the last six weeks, I should win."
Jerothe has excelled since the start of the postseason. He followed his first-place SAC performance by battling Kazanski well into the night at regionals before finally settling for second.
Bales, the seventh seed at state, nearly missed qualifying after easily clearing 13 feet, decided to skip ahead to 14 feet, then faulted each time at that height. He said he's ready to put a disappointing season behind him with one final, grand performance.
"I'm hoping that the state meet will bring out everything I have," Bales said. "I don't know what happened toward the end of my season. I think switching poles screwed everything up for me. I was on track for a really great season, but it hasn't gone like I wanted. …I plan on taking full advantage of my last opportunity."
Class 3A state track meet
When/where: Friday, 1 p.m. Showalter Field, Winter Park
Admission: $8 Parking: $5
North Suncoast contenders
Tony Perez, Ridgewood (long jump, triple jump): Senior hit the 45-foot mark to win gold at regionals in the triple jump. He's seeded eighth at state and needs to add around 2.5 feet to reach top qualifier Javonte Sykes of Plant City. Perez also qualified in the long jump as the 12th seed (22-7.25).
Travis Manecki, Wiregrass Ranch (discus): Will contend for a medal after placing second at regionals (145-0). Manecki is ranked eighth in Class 3A but might have some difficulty reaching Gulf Breeze's Austin Droogsma, who enters with a qualifying mark of 172-11.
Ryan Pulsifer, Wiregrass Ranch (3,200): Senior is the No. 7 seed (9:44.12) after earning silver at regionals. Last year, he ran 9:53.29 to come in 10th at state.
Other state qualifiers: Thomas Rodriguez, Ridgewood (high jump); Tony Hays, Ridgewood (high jump); Jeff Kruse, Gulf (shot put); Thomas Watson, Springstead (400); Tyler Ross, Mitchell (800); Logan Selzer, Wiregrass Ranch (1,600); Wiregrass Ranch 4x800 relay (Josh Reilly, Ian Cassette, Logan Selzer, Tyler Mattera)