Thursday, June 27, 2019
Lynn Ramsey - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Entering the running events, Christopher Columbus High School trailed Sunrise Piper and Flagler Palm Coach. The Explorers could count on two relays. They also could count on junior Xzavier Henderson and senior Cameron Daniel.
Henderson and Daniel combined to deliver 27 points, and the 4x400 relay team finished just well enough to hold off Piper and Flagler Palm Coast and defend its Florida Class 4A Track and Field State Championships.
The Explorers finished with 45 points, followed by Flagler Palm Coast’s 41 points and Piper’s 33.
KEY HIRE FILLS KEY NEED
Columbus coach Fred Foyo said the Explorers have always had distance runners and field-event athletes. The difference this year is that they have more sprinters.
To do that, Foyo returned to the football team’s coaching staff. A side benefit of coaching on a state football finalist was that he was able to recruit football players to the team.
“Once we started getting those back, it made all the difference,” Foyo said. “A coach is only as good as his athletes.”
He then hired James Hardwick, a longtime track coach at Miami Jackson High, to coach the Explorers’ sprinters. “He’s a sprint guy,” Foyo said. “He’s got the kids believing in the 400 and doing things the right way.”
Henderson said that Hardwick is one of the best track coaches in Florida. “He helped develop my speed, tweak me on my form. It’s all about the form.”
IMPROVISE, ADAPT, OVERCOME
The weather took a 2-by-4 to the meet, changing the schedule of the field events and reducing the 200 to a timed final. Henderson said keeping focused helped him handle the distractions.
The Explorers’ 4x800-meter relay team of Nicolas Arkala, Kevin Kergean, Malcolm Brown and Sebastien Cantave took second in 7 minutes, 54.71 seconds, just behind champion Oviedo and ahead of third-place Flagler Palm Coast. That started the push toward a title.
Gary Cooper, a senior who will play tight end on the Indiana University football team in the fall, added more points with a fifth-place finish in the shot put. He posted a 50-foot-6 Â¾-inch mark. That gave Columbus 12 points entering the heart of the running schedule, just behind Flagler Palm Coast’s 18 points.
After the 800 and 110 hurdles, the point tally was Flagler 30, Piper 14 and Columbus 12.
SPRINTS LEAD THE RALLY
“The whole key was Xzavier and Cameron,” Foyo said. “They were solid in both the 200 and 400. We had run them in the 4x100 relay at the Florida Relays, and they’d ran a low 41.00. I would’ve used them in the 4x100 if we could’ve gotten it there, but we had to make a decision. The 4x100 and 100 meters were back-to-back.”
Henderson and Daniel, who will run track at Florida State University next year, helped Columbus pass Piper in the 400. Henderson won in 46.77, while Daniel took fourth in 47.68.
Columbus’ final pass came due to a couple breaks – one the Explorers received, the other the Explorers made.
The Explorers caught a break when Flagler’s Nathan Farrell was disqualified in the 300 hurdles preliminaries. Had he equaled his season-best of 36.70 at the state meet, he would’ve gotten 10 points to add to teammate Ken’Deric Morton’s sixth-place finish, which might have made Flagler Palm Coast uncatchable.
Columbus made a break at season’s start when it chose to add the 200 to the events in which Henderson and Daniel competed. “When he asked me to pick up the 200, it was a big job,” Daniel said. “I’ll do whatever I can do to help the team and not let them down.” Henderson had been asked last year to run the 200. He said working on the 200 helped him in the 400, his better event.
That move paid off late in the state meet, when Columbus passed Flagler Palm Coast in the 200. Henderson took second in 21.57 and Daniel took fifth in 21.95 to tally 12 points, while Flagler received no points in that event.
Henderson said he and Daniel set a goal to finish top four at the state meet. He said his victory in the 400 surpassed expectations.
All Columbus needed to clinch the repeat title was to finish one place behind Flagler Palm Coast in the 4x400 relay. The team of Sebastien Cantave, Henderson, Courtney Holmes (coming off an anterior-cruciate-ligament tear in his knee) and Daniel took third in 3:16.72. Piper won and Flagler took second. Foyo said the Explorers took third despite a bad baton exchange on the final exchange.
“I feel like we’ve always had a strong command (of the 4x400), but there are some points we could’ve gotten better,” Daniel said. “In my years at Columbus, we have gotten better.”
BUILDING FOR THREE
Foyo said that the Explorers’ chances of a three-peat are strong after runner-up finishes in 2009, 2010 and 2017 and a third-place finish in 2011. Henderson is back, as are other Elijah Roberts in the shot put. The Explorers return three of the four legs on their 4x400 and 4x800 relay teams. Tristan Dodge, who also qualified for state in the high jump, also returns.
Foyo said the Explorers will return at least three Division I football recruits to the track team. Henderson, a wide receiver on the Explorers’ state-finalist football team, is also getting recruited in football. Foyo said Henderson wants to try football and track in college if he can. Henderson said he is getting recruited in both by the University of Florida, Auburn University and the University of Alabama; several others are seeking him for football.
“Having speed is a superpower in football,” Henderson said. “You can change the game with speed.”
After building up the sprints the last few years, Foyo said he’ll try to build the field-event depth.
“We’ve always tried to build the team around the 4x800, because it’s the first event,” Foyo said. “If you develop 800-meter kids, you can develop 400 and 2-milers. You try to coach the whole team. We have some pieces coming back. We’ll get hit hard next year by graduation. Track is a tough sport. Everything’s gotta go your way.”