Wilena Little lived up to the hype.
Only a few days removed from her graduation from Springstead, with her prep career now complete, it’s easy to see that the advanced billing was correct.
Little arrived four years ago from J.D. Floyd K-8, having dominated as a sprinter on the middle school circuit, bursting with talent and potential.
She left with a resume that speaks for itself.
“Hell of a career,” said Springstead girls track and field coach Joel Myers. “Twelve county championships, five district titles, she had a regional title, two medals at states, state runner-up her senior year. That’s a great career in anyone’s book. She battled through a lot and went to work to make herself better.”
She can also now boast a third straight Hernando Today Athlete of the Year award for girls track.
“It’s just like every other year, I appreciate it very much, being recognized for my hard work and effort,” Little said. “It’s a great way to end my season.”
Ever since the Class 3A FHSAA Finals on May 3 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Little has gradually come to realize the finality her high school days.
“She can’t be replaced,” Myers said. “I’ll not see another one like her. We had a nice four-year run. It was nice to come up with 20-30 points every track meet and know it’s pretty solid.”
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A four-time state qualifier, and four-time All-County selection, Little garnered her first state medal last year when she placed fourth in the long jump, with a 17-9 3/4.
The other three competitors who finished ahead of her were seniors, making her a favorite to become the first Lady Eagle to win a state title.
Coming into this season there was hope that a strong offseason of training would allow Little to avoid the nagging leg injuries that often plagued her. It didn’t work out that way.
Again she found herself fighting through various ailments for much of the regular season, and it showed in a relatively slow start.
“It was frustrating because you just don’t know what you did wrong,” Little said. “You just have to deal with it.”
But by the time the Hernando/Citrus Championship rolled around in early April, Little showed signs of rounding into form.
She claimed a fourth straight county title in the 200 (25.80) and made it three in a row in the long jump (15-11).
Two weeks later, in the Class 3A, District 7 Meet, she added a three-peat in the 200 (26.65) and a repeat in the long jump (18-1).
At the 3A-Region II Meet, Little posted a county- and personal-best 18-6 to take second in the long jump, qualifying for states in that event for a second consecutive season.
She added a second-place 25.18 in the 200, after running a county-best 25.09 in prelims, to make it to states in that race for the third time in four years.
Once again she left states with some hardware, finishing as the runner-up in the long jump behind an 18-1 1/4. At both regionals and states, Ocala-Lake Weir’s BeJai Fray captured the top spot over Little.
A balky hamstring, though, came into play at states in the 200. She placed 11th in 25.96.
Little admittedly was not happy with her height in the long jump, but was able to appreciate her performance.
“I didn’t meet my expectations at all, to be honest. Nothing you can do about it now,” Little said. “It was definitely a big accomplishment (to be state runner-up) even though it wasn’t what I expected to do length-wise.
“Overall besides the injuries and everything, it was pretty amazing. I had a good team, a good coach, good everything. I had a lot of support. That’s all any athlete can ask for.”
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Even with Springstead in the rearview mirror, Little’s athletic career is far from over. On National Signing Day in February, she inked with Division I Florida International University.
“I’ll just be training in the offseason, running at a few meets, but mostly hitting the weights,” Little said. “I’m pretty excited. It’s so crazy. These four years flew by so fast.”
Feeling that way seems appropriate for someone who left her mark, at least in part, by moving so quickly.
She said she’ll miss suiting up for the Lady Eagles, but she’s happy with what she did while donning that uniform. She even helped the team earn two county crowns.
“She’s just a great kid,” Myers said. “I’m going to miss her. Springstead’s going to miss her. She brought a lot of glory and notoriety to our school.
“We’re going to miss her work ethic and miss her talent a lot. She’s just a super kid and was a pleasure to coach.”
By the number: Wilena Little
County champion – 200 (26.37)
County champion – 100 (12.89)
District runner-up – 200 (26.42)
State qualifier – 200 (14th, 26.32)
County champion – Long jump (16-8)
County champion – 200 (25.77)
County champion – 100 (12.67)
County champion – 400 (58.61)
District champion – 200 (25.92)
Regional qualifier – 400 (7th, 59.13)
State qualifier – 200 (9th, 25.49)
Personal best – 100 (12.38)
County champion – Long jump (16-4 1/2)
County champion – 200 (25.49)
County champion – 100 (12.47)
County champion – 400 (58.29*)
District champion – Long jump (18-4)
District champion – 200 (25.60)
Regional qualifier – 400 (7th, 59.81)
Regional champion – Long jump (18-4)
State medalist – Long jump (4th, 17-9 3/4)
Personal best – 200 (24.97)
County champion – Long jump (15-11)
County champion – 200 (25.80)
District champion – Long jump (18-1)
District champion – 200 (26.65)
Regional runner-up – Long jump (18-6*)
Regional runner-up – 200 (25.09)
State runner-up – Long jump (18-1 1/4)
State qualifier – 200 (11th, 25.96)
* Denotes personal best