JACKSONVILLE — The state meet brings quite a bit of stress for it’s attendees both in the stands and on the track. It’s the thrill of competition and the fear of not living up to expectations.
Taking the field at the University of North Florida for the first time, North Port’s Daham-Shel Jean’s day was full of electrifying highs and a few unexpected bumps along the way.
Getting to the field late, Jean got very little warmup time ahead of her participation in the Class 4A long jump event. Able to block it out, Jean leaped 17 feet, 5 1/4 inches, good enough for a personal best and an 8th place podium finish.
“It’s a sigh of relief,” Jean said. “It was really stressful. I got here really late, but I gave it my all and made my coaches proud and that’s all I care about. Coming in late I was like, I’m gonna freak out, no warmups. But I just really had to focus and PR and that’s exactly what I did.”
Jean said she qualified for states in sixth grade, but was unable to compete due to injury.
In addition to the long jump, she finished 23rd in the 100-meter dash with a time of 13.02 seconds.
“It’s amazing,” Jean said of the experience. “This year I made it for long jump and the 100 and I’m proud that I was able to compete.”
For Jean, it was a new, educational experience, which will help her if she makes it back as a senior. For others, like Venice triple jumper Michael Trapani, it was time to put those lessons to good use.
Trapani broke the school record last year at states, but finished 17th in the event. Nerves played a role and this year he vowed to not let that happen.
Though he wasn’t able to break his previous record, Trapani jumped his way to the podium with an eighth-place finish. He jumped 43 feet, 9 3/4 inches.
“I’m feeling good. I didn’t jump as far as I wanted to, but I got a medal, which is my ultimate goal,” Trapani said. “After finishing 17th last year, I wasn’t happy with that so I wanted to come back this year and get a medal. I’m much more confident (this year). Last year I was shaking on the runway, didn’t feel like I belonged there. This year I knew I had a place here.”
The downside is that the state meet marks the close of his athletic career at Venice. That hasn’t sunk in for him just yet.
“It’s awesome,” Trapani said. “The trip we take up here is great. It’s a good bonding time and then getting to triple jump with all of these amazing athletes. It’s awesome. It isn’t sinking in yet, not really. But I couldn’t ask to close it out much better.”
Playing the field
With most of the field events pushed back from Friday to Saturday due to inclement weather, the outskirts of Hodges stadium was filled with event going round the clock.
Among those events was the 3A girls high jump, which featured the highest placer from our area.
Sarah Cote of Lemon Bay, who recently signed with UNF to compete on the same track she battled on Saturday, took home the only top-3 finish. Cote breezed through the first three jumps, clearing each on her first attempt up to 5 feet, 1 1/4 inch.
She had two less misses than the two girls ahead of her, but she was unable to clear 5 feet, 3 3/4 inches.
Also competing in the high jump was DeSoto County senior Nate Maybell, who finished in 17th with a jump of 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches. Cote’s teammate Elijah Houser competed, but was unable to clear the first height.
Another Manta Ray was getting it done over at the shot put earlier in the morning. Liam Johnson finished 17th in the event with a throw of 44 feet, 2 inches.
Most of the field athletes were affected by Friday’s weather, but not many were put in a bind quite like Charlotte pole vaulter Natalie Jen. Jen was supposed to compete at 1 p.m. on Friday, but multiple rain delays pushed it until Saturday Morning, which happened to also be the morning of prom.
Jen wrapped up her event, clearing 10 feet, 10 inches, and headed back south to get ready for the dance.
Jen made her fourth trip to the state meet. She finished second as a freshman and sophomore, but an injury has made it more challenging the past two years.
“The competition has definitely gotten stronger,” Jen said of her ninth-place finish.
“They’ve gotten really good, so it’s really hard to place now. I’m a little disappointed, but I have to go to prom.”
Other field competitors included Venice’s Aja Jones (17th, 3A shot put) and Marlem Louis (15th, 3A discus) and Port Charlotte’s Brandon Leacock (12th, 3A discus).
Up and down day for relays
Relays are unlike individual events. Not only do you have to run your best race, you have to count on your teammates to do the same and pull their weight.
On the final leg of the 3A girls 4x800 relay, Venice senior Gabby La Rock did just that. Trailing a touted squad in East Lake, La Rock charged and picked her spot, helping her team earn a 10th place finish in the event.
“I passed in the last 200-300 (meters),” La Rock said. “I just wanted it so badly. That’s kind of my spot, right at the last corner. She had a big lead, but I just thought, ‘I have to get her.’”
Charlotte also had a 4x800 team in that race and finished 17th with a time of 10:00.44.
Unlike the experienced team of Venice, North Port’s young bunch qualified for states despite being mostly comprised of sophomores.
Even after switching up the lineup at the last second due to a medical issue, the goal of breaking the school record of 8:06 was still in play. The Bobcats fell short with a time of 8:15, but they earned invaluable experience as they continue to grow in the sport.
“It’s definitely not what we wanted,” Alvaro Amaya said. “We had to swap out our starter and he still ran well. I had some congestion on the first handoff. We know what we’re up against next year when we come back.”
“We got here and next year we’re planning to do the same thing,” anchor Joseph Smith added. “We’re gonna work hard and hopefully do better than we did this year.”
Charlotte’s sixth place finish in the 4x100 relay topped the local teams, though they seemed a little disappointed following the race. After Regionals they said they were shooting for top-3.
The Lady Tarpons finished in 48.06 seconds, 2.02 seconds behind third.
Wrapping up the relays was the Venice 4x400, which finished in 11th.
Best of the rest
After dominating Districts and Regionals, Charlotte’s Eunice Noel met her match on Saturday.
Her best finish was in the 100-meter hurdles where she finished sixth with a 14.53 second time.
She also competed in the 300-meter hurdle, placing 16th, and the 4x100 relay.
Teammate Annabelle Anderson-Prater was part of the 4x100 team and also placed 22nd in the 200-meter dash. North Port’s Teagan Sabo also finished 22nd in the 200.
In a repeat of Friday night, the 3200 meters, which featured Port Charlotte’s John Perez-Dunn, was postponed due to lightning.