Track runs into districts


photo by DSP

Jumper Vecarie Pettis jumps in the Highlander Invitational.

Michael Gibson, Sports Editor

This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The athletes of girls and boys track and field knew they were going to have to step up.

They did just that; putting new faces on the top of leaderboards every week, the boys and girls track and field teams both finished out the season placing fifth at conference. Behind jumper Jacob Strickle, and runners Vecarie Pettis, Jacob Ball, Sabik Azad and Maria Puccio-Ball, the team jumped over the expected rebuilding year and has produced strong individual contenders heading into the state finals.

“This group has been pretty tight knitted on and off the track/field,” head coach Matthew Malkovich said. “They have some ownership in their success as a ‘family’ [which] to me that is the best part about it.”

The first few meets started out rough. Even though neither team placed in the top three for the first few meets, but there were signs of light in the Trinity Prep. Invitational on Feb. 14. Strickle, who scored 16 of the boys team’s 53 points, expected to do well coming into the season. The girls team finished fourth, their highest of the season.

“I went around to different tracks and practiced by myself during the summer,” Strickle said. “I felt confident going into the season and wanted to do well since it was the first meet.”

At the Sanford Seminole invite, the boys team placed fourth in a 31 team field while the girls placed 12th in a 25 team field. This included schools from all over the state, who were all trying to leave their mark for the postseason. The meet included a 21 point performance from Strickle as he won long jump and placed second in triple jump. The biggest highlight of the day came from both the boys and girls 4×800 teams who each won. This was the highest the boys have finished in that meet in school history.

“A major contributor for the boys is that this year we have, unlike years past, many multiple year contributors on our team,” Malkovich said. “We welcome everyone out for the team but the learning process, for boys especially, is best when they have been in the program for multiple years.”

As the best performance for the girls came in the first meet, the best performance for the boys was at the last meet of the year, the Saints Invitational. The team placed second, scoring a season-high 95.5 points and falling just short of Trinity Prep. who scored 100 points. Everyone got involved in the meet and many people placed for the first time.

Part of that hard work includes giving up spring and winter break plans and attending practices to stay sharp and consistent as the postseason draws near. Practices over a break are never mandatory but many athletes make the most of them to get an edge on their competition. The athletes and coaches know that not every school has practice over a break so showing up and giving maximum effort is a must for beating them later in the year.

“As a staff, you always hope that your underclassman are watching the upperclassman and how they operate at practice and at meets,” Malkovich said. “The upperclassman take care of business at practice, take care of business at meets, and encourage one another. It truly is a solid group of seniors we have leading this year.”

Both teams fell into a slump late in the season, both placing eighth in the Brian Jaeger Invite at Winter Park. The strongest performance of the day came from Strickle, who placed second in long jump with a 21’5’. No other athlete placed in the top three all day. Luckily, that would not be the case for the rest of the season as both teams would place no lower than top five.

At the most recent meet, the Seminole Athletic Conference championships, both teams placed fifth, led by Strickle and Pettis on the boys team and Puccio-Ball and thrower Kayra Tasci on the girls team. Strickle would get a personal record in long jump, jumping roughly 22 feet.  Strickle, Puccio-Ball and Tasci earned All-SAC second team honors, and Tasci moved up to second on the all-time discus list by throwing 103 feet and placing second. All four girls discus throwers would also place.

“It was really cool to get so close to the school record,” Tasci said. “I only have one more definite meet to break it, though, and since I’m a senior I have to.”

The team will head into districts on Wednesday, April 11 and every athlete who places in the top four will advance to the regional finals and continue their season. Both teams will look to build on a successful season as the athletes train by themselves over the summer.