Last season, when Springstead’s Bobby Harris leapt into the county record book with a high jump state championship, the underlying story was the poor weather conditions.
The Class 3A state meet was besieged by rain and wind, creating an atmosphere that Harris likened to a monsoon, and keeping all but two high jump competitors from even recording a successful attempt.
Even though Harris had successfully improved upon his state runner-up showing in 2012, it felt a little strange that he only had to clear 6-2 to get it done.
On Saturday, the senior will be among a small Springstead contingent returning to the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, the same site as last year’s state meets, for the Class 3A FHSAA Finals.
Representatives from Nature Coast, Hernando and Weeki Wachee will try to collect a few of their own state medals – awarded to the top eight finishers in each event – in today’s 2A state meet.
The forecast in Jacksonville: a 60 percent chance of rain today, shrinking slightly to 50 percent on Saturday with morning showers.
That’s left local coaches hoping they won’t see a repeat of last year’s soggy trip to states.
“I’ve been telling Bobby, ‘You can’t control anything anybody else does. You’ve got to go out there and do your thing,’” Springstead boys coach Brandon Wright said.
“Am I concerned (about the weather)? Sure. But it’s another one of those things out of our control. And he knows what to expect. That’s an advantage he’ll have over all the other kids.”
The high jump is among the field events, as well as the 4x800, that start the meet both days at 9 a.m. Running prelims start at 11 a.m. and finals begin at 4 p.m.
Harris has an opportunity to achieve something unprecedented in the county’s boys track ranks.
Two male athletes from Hernando High have earned multiple state titles in the same event. Kevin Fitzpatrick collected discus crowns in 1986 and 1988, and someone known only as Pearson in FHSAA records won the 100-yard, 220-yard and 440-yard dashes in 1915 and 1917.
But no one on the boys side has ever been a repeat champion, winning in back-to-back seasons. For the girls, only Central’s Tikiera Relaford has done it, in the high jump in 2010-11.
“It’d be a unique honor,” Wright said. “But that’s not his primary motivation. His motivation is go there and win because that’s what he does.”
He did that in last week’s 3A-Region II Meet with a 6-6, which ties him for the third seed overall heading into states.
Harris, however, has a 6-8 to his credit this season and cleared 6-9 last year.
Nat Dixon from Lynn Haven-Mosley and Chris Rogers of Pensacola-Pine Forest both notched 6-10 at regionals.
“Bobby is still the defending state champ,” Wright said. “He’s been jumping 6-8 fairly consistently and has the drive to have a big day.
“If he goes there and jumps 6-10 and gets beat, how can you be upset about that? If he jumps 6-2 and doesn’t do well, that’s a different story.”
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He isn’t the only Springstead athlete contending for a state title. Senior Wilena Little has a shot to take the top spot in the long jump.
Already a state medalist in that event last season (fourth) and signed with Division I Florida International, going out as the Lady Eagles’ first-ever state champion would be a tremendous way to cap an outstanding prep career.
“She’s going to have to jump well,” Springstead girls coach Joel Myers said. “Then we’ll see what happens. She should medal. Where’s she going to be depends on what kind of day she has. You just don’t know in long jump.
“It’s important to her. It’s been a long season for her trying to get her healthy. She’s pretty much back.”
She finished second at regionals with an 18-6, finishing behind Ocala-Lake Weir’s BeJai Fray with an 18-8 1/4.
Taranique Alexander of Miami Northwestern is seeded between them this weekend at 18-8.
While that regional height was Little’s best this season, she did achieve 18-9 as a junior. She has spent much of this year hampered by leg injuries, but her recent performance indicates those problems are at least under control.
Additionally Little will run the 200 meter and she comes in seeded eighth at 25.18 from regionals. She ran a 25.09 in prelims that day, and is making her third state appearance in that race.
Junior Erin Blackwell could also collect a medal for the Lady Eagles. This marks her third visit to states in the 800, and she’s seeded seventh with a 2:21.87.
“She’s going to have to run a smart race,” Myers said. “She’s in the fast heat. She’ll have to take a look at how fast the slow heat is and it’s not as fast as in years past. She’s beaten everybody in the slow heat and there’s one girl she’s beaten in the fast heat.
“She’s capable of going sub-2:20. I’ve never seen somebody go sub-2:20 and not medal in the 800.”
Blackwell, Julia Diven, Ty’Rhonza Harris and Joy Jackson will run the 4x800, though they’re unlikely to medal seeded 15th (10:07.69).
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Nature Coast will send the largest group to states, while two girls from Hernando and one boy from Weeki Wachee are among those who qualified in 2A.
For the Lady Sharks, fresh off finishing second at regionals, there’s senior Alicia Gentz in the 100 (12.53, 12th), sophomore Ashley Gentz in the 200 (25.70, ninth), sophomore Eboni Johnson in the 400 (1:01.83, 16th), senior Brianna Horn in the 800 (2:29.33 16th) and junior Rita Jarque in the shot put (14th, 35-3 1/2).
Also, Crystal Burchhardt, Johnson, Horn and Alexa Lacy are set to the run the 4x800 (10:18.88, 12th), as will Burchhardt, Alicia Gentz, Johnson and Nilsa-Marie Rodriguez in the 4x400 (4:08.13, 11th)
“I’m not a big person at looking at seedings because championships are not won on paper,” Nature Coast girls coach Ryan Wilson said. “They all have a really good chance if they seize the moment and don’t panic.”
Among the Nature Coast boys is senior James Harkless in the 1,600 (4:33.01, 14th) and 800 (2:02.79, 16th), and freshman Brian Haygood in the triple jump (42-3, 16th).
Haygood as well as Jordan Burkes, Jalen McFarland and DeShawn Smith form the 4x100 seeded 15th at 43.40.
“They’ve all got a chance to medal but they have to run at their best,” Nature Coast boys coach Eric Milholland said. “It’s not a great chance, but they’ve a got a chance.”
Hernando juniors Lauren Plaugher in the discus (110-2, 12th) and Jasha Patrick in the 300 hurdles (46.12, fifth) are making their second state appearances. Plaugher placed third last year with a 116-9.
“I’m expecting both of girls to be on the medal stand,” Hernando girls coach Shawanda McCullough said. “Going in we’re in a good place.
“Jasha is walking in fifth and based on what she has done she should make top eight no problem. On a perfect day she should do even better. If she does what she’s practiced and is trained to do, she should have no problem.”
As for Plaugher, McCullough noted that she tends to rise to the occasion.
“We know what she can do,” McCullough said. “We know her abilities and her abilities say she should have no problems.”
Weeki Wachee’s lone entrant is sophomore Jacob Tinch in the discus (137-10, 14th).
At a Glance
What – FHSAA Track and Field Finals
Who – Athletes from Hernando, Nature Coast and Weeki Wachee in Class 2A; Springstead in 3A.
Where – University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium, 1 UNF Dr., Jacksonville
When – 2A competes today, 3A on Saturday. Both days begin with field events and 4x800 at 9 a.m. Running prelims start at 11 a.m. and finals begin at 4 p.m.
At Stake – State championship and runner-up trophies; top eight finishers in each event earn medals.