Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Sports

Springstead’s Harris, Little eye state crowns

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It’s no secret that on the state level, Springstead has not had the most illustrious track and field history.

But in recent years the program has made significant strides, regularly represented on the state’s grandest stage.

Still, pole vaulter Joel Nunag remains the lone state champion – male or female – in school history. That came 24 years ago, in 1989.

By the time what remains of the Eagles leaves the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium, site of the Class 3A FHSAA Finals in Jacksonville, today, Nunag may finally have company.

Junior Wilena Little enters the meet seeded first in the long jump at 18-4. Another junior, Bobby Harris, tied for second in the state in high jump last year and ranks tied for second this time around at 6-6.

The meet starts with the 4x800 at noon. Long jump will be among the field events that kick off the meet at 1 p.m. High jump won’t begin until 5 p.m. The top eight finishers in each event earn medals.

Also competing from Springstead will be Ricky Toth (800), Ethan Kemp (shot put) and Erin Blackwell (800), as well as the boys 4x800.

Central senior Quadavis Battle will run in both the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles.

Harris has been building toward this moment for a full year, following his initial trip to states when he cleared the bar at 6-4.

That was actually two inches short of his season-best of 6-6, which he achieved twice in 2012 to tie a school record.

He finished second to one senior (Sebring’s Donavon White at 6-6), and tied another (Miami Norland’s Cleon Roberts).

“He knows what to expect,” Springstead boys coach Brandon Wright said. “He’s on the same track. He’s had a good week of practice. He’s focused and ready to go.”

The seedings, based solely on regional performance, have him knotted with Kyle Forchion of Land O’ Lakes and behind Celebration’s Jhonny Victor (6-8). All three came out of Region II.

For Harris, the caveat is that 6-6 is far from his personal best. He cleared the bar at 6-9 at the Central Invitational on March 19. According to flrunners.com, that makes him the state leader in 3A.

“There’s no reason to believe he can’t (win),” Wright said. “The kid he’s jumping against (Victor) beat him at regionals, but Bobby has cleared a better height.

“Bobby always seems to thrive in competition. It always fuels him. I think having other people to push him will help.”

Wright admits that Victor has “great ups,” but pointed to Harris’ superior form as the potential difference-maker.

Harris will also be able to draw on his experience from last season, his driving force ever since.

“Obviously he’s very happy to be back. But he’s not content with just being there,” Wright said. “His goal is to win. But if he goes out there and PRs (gets a personal record) and the other kid beats him, there’s no reason for him to be upset.”

Little has posted a personal-best 18-4 leap the past two weeks, collecting district and regional championships.

She’s previously gone to states as a freshman and sophomore in the 200, finishing just shy of a medal in ninth place in 2012.

This season she was the victim of a staggeringly tough region. Her sixth-place 25.09 at the 3A-II Meet was faster than the times of seven state qualifiers. Only the top four in each region advanced.

So she’ll fully focus on the long jump this time around. Again, regional heights only tell part of the story. Taylor Day of Orlando-Evans is seeded seventh at 17-8, yet paces the classification on the season with a best of 19-2 1/2, according to flrunners.com.

“I’m going in from the perspective, and I think she is, too, that any medal would be good,” Springstead girls coach Joel Myers said. “If a state championship comes, it comes. She’s got the potential for it.

“She needs to just be Wilena. Just jump and if that’s good enough to win a state championship, that’s great.”

Little has battled various leg ailments since last year’s state series, and Myers said she was recently diagnosed with turf toe. Because the condition is in the early stages, he doesn’t anticipate it will limit her at states.

This will mark the first time all year that she’ll only participate in one event, as opposed to the typical four, so that could help her improve her performance.

If Little pulls out a state title, she would make history as the first Lady Eagle to do so.

“That would be a huge deal,” Myers said. “It would be tremendous for her. I know she’s thinking about it. How can you not think about it?”

Toth, a senior, is seeded seventh in the 800 at 1:56.46, a time that placed him second in the region.

“He’s only been running the 800 for a year now. Obviously it’s a big improvement for him to be here,” Wright said. “Obviously his goal is to at least medal, but by no means does he count himself out of a potential run at a state championship.

“If he can keep it close coming down the last 200 meters, I’d put him up against a lot of kids to sprint that out. But he’s got to go out and run a great race. He’s got to run a PR.”

Toth is also part of the 4x800 seeded 13th (8:09.71). The relay will take a hit due a scheduling conflict, as senior Zackary Romblad will miss the meet due to an International Baccalaureate (IB) exam.

Sophomore Josh Page will take his place, joining Toth, James Amodie and Jai Jackson.

Kemp, a senior, is seeded 16th in the shot put at 48-3 1/2.

“He wants to break our school record,” Wright said. “If he gets out there and throws the school record, which would be about 50 feet, there’s no reason he can’t get a state medal.”

The sophomore Blackwell placed 11th in the state with a 2:22.60 a year ago. Her 2:22.73 from last week ranks 16th coming in.

“She knows who she has to go after and stay with,” Myers said. “The girl does have guts and determination. I don’t say she can’t do anything.”

Battle, Central’s first boys state qualifier since Paul Robinson in the 400 in 2010, is seeded 11th in the 110 hurdles (39.91) and 13th in the 300 hurdles (14.88).

“He can probably take off quite a bit of time in both of them,” Central boys coach Tyson Graham said. “I think he has a shot in both (to medal). It’s just a matter of running clean races.”

At a Glance

What – Class 3A FHSAA Finals

Who – Springstead’s Bobby Harris (high jump), Wilena Little (long jump), Ricky Toth (800), Erin Blackwell (800), Ethan Kemp (shot put) and boys 4x800; Central’s Quadavis Battle (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles).

Where – University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium, 1 UNF Dr., Jacksonville

When – Meet begins with 4x800 at noon. Field events start at 1 p.m. Running prelims start at 2 p.m.; finals at 4:30 p.m.

At Stake – State championship and runner-up trophies; top eight finishers in each event earn medals.


cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

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