The Wildcats are looking for their third straight state championship in the 4x800 relay – along with an elusive 17-year-old record.
When the Winter Park Wildcats hit the track, no record is safe.
The Winter Park High School girls track team hopes to continue to leave its mark on school history as it awaits the regional championship on April 27 at Flagler Palm Coast High School and the state championships to follow.
It’s been a wild ride for the Wildcats on the state stage during the past few years. They captured two consecutive state championships in the 4x800 relay — and a group comprising Rafaella Gibbons, Melanie White, Elizabeth Jenkins and Karina Groff wants a third.
“It would be a really big accomplishment; it would mean a lot being with most of these girls since freshman year,” senior Elizabeth Jenkins said.
“It would be affirmation of our hard work,” junior Melanie White added.
The girls know how much pressure comes with the state meet, but they consider that one of their biggest advantages.
“It definitely helps that we’ve been in the environment and that we know what it’s like,” Jenkins said. “Karina is our only freshman. Three of us have been there and understand the importance of the race. It’s not just a party.”
Winter Park High’s track team is preparing for regionals and state, but that didn’t stop them from taking a moment to beat a school record in the distance medley relay earlier this month at the University of Florida. Jenkins, Gibbons, White and senior Hana Herndon ran a 12:15:65, smashing the prior record of 12:29:23 set at least five years ago.
“Going in, we had the motto, ‘We want to break it so no one else can make it,’” said Herndon, who also ran during Winter Park’s second 4x800 state championship before Groff came into the fold. “We just want to leave our mark here, but we already have. Everything we do now will just be icing on the cake.”
Now, the current 4x800 group sets its sights on a record that hasn’t been touched in 17 years: the 4x800 record time of 9:11, set back in 2000 by Winter Springs High School.
The magic number the Wildcats are aiming for is 9:10. They’re not far away from it either — their current school record is 9:13 from last year.
“Shoot for moon, and if you don’t make it, you’ll land on the stars,” said Jenkins regarding to the record that’s been around as many years as she’s been alive.
Meanwhile, Gibbons hopes to reclaim glory in the 3,200-meter run. She became one of the state’s most celebrated runners when she took first in 2015 and earned second place last year.
“She’s running strong,” coach Kristin McWilliams said. “She looks to have a good postseason.”
The Wildcats have been here before. They know what it takes. But they certainly aren’t taking anything for granted, McWilliams said.
“You can look at the pressure of keeping it up, but you can also just look at it as an opportunity to do it again,” said Herndon, who is competing in the 1,600- and the 3,200-meter runs. “You know it was so great. I’ve done it before and I’d like to do it again. I want to leave my mark here.”