Saraiah Walkes overcomes injuries to claim three medals at the FHSAA State Championship finals.
First-place finishes in high jump, pole vault, 100-meter dash and 300-meter hurdles highlight Saturday
Jaasiel Torres had a blast.
The Sarasota High senior was smiling, chatting it up with competitors, cheering on others, just having a grand ol' time.
"You've got to enjoy what you do," Torres said. "If you don't love what you do, you're not going to give it all you've got."
It was one of the highlights on Day 2 of the FHSAA State Track and Field Championships for area athletes at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida.
Other state champions included Out-of-Door Academy freshman sprinter Saraiah Walkes, who capped a injury-plagued season with a first-, second- and third-place finish in Class 1A; Lakewood Ranch's Karen Lyvers, who shook off the disappointment of her performance in the hurdles to capture the Class 4A pole vault; and Lakewood Ranch's James Rivera, who came from the far outside to win the Class 4A 300-meter hurdles.
Torres was one of three finalists along with Lake Mary's Trent Barnecott and Jacksonville Buchholz's Terrence Young before soaring to new heights.
After winning the high jump by clearing 2.07 meters, Torres went to 2.14 and cleared 7 feet for the first time in a meet on his third and final attempt. He then went to 2.19, the state record mark, but just missed on his three tries.
"I gave it all I've got," Torres said. "I won states. I'm proud of that. I had a good time. I feel good."
Coming off a state championship in the wind and the rain last year at IMG Academy with a 2.05, Torres said he did not feel the pressure to repeat, but knew he had backing.
"My coach was pushing for me to win it," he said. "My friends push me to go back-to-back. There was a little pressure. I just gave it all I've got."
After accomplishing the feat, Torres had time to reflect.
"It means a lot: two-time champion, breaking 7," he said. "I've been trying to push for, especially to do it at the state meet. It means a lot to me, honestly."
As an added bonus, Torres gave the hometown fans at Hodges Stadium a sneak preview, since he is attending UNF next season.
"They gave me the chance to come here and I'm going to give them all I've got," said Torres, who also finished 12th in the triple jump with a jump of 13.37 meters.
Walkes' day as easy as 1-2-3
Out-of-Door Academy's Saraiah Walkes did not have as good a day as she did last year at the state meet, when she completed a near-impossible triple, winning the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes as an eighth-grader.
This year, she had to settle for a first in the 100, third in the 400 and second in the 200, in that order, in about a three-and-a-half hour period.
"It was pretty good, really busy though back-to-back-to-back," Walkes said.
Injuries and other ailments nearly took their toll on her throughout the season: She was out a month with a sprained ankle and only able to run in a couple of regular season meets because of a tight IT band. And when she finally began feeling better, she suffered a groin injury.
"My coaches weren't sure I was going to be able to run at regionals, because my body was acting up again," Walkes said. "So I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to states. But here I am."
She ran 12.18 seconds for a win in the 100, 57.51 for a third in the 400 and 24.47 for a runner-up in the 200 just off the 24.43 time sent by Evangelical's Moriah Oliveira.
"I guess so," Walkes said when asked if she was happy with her day. "Yes, I was happy to come back from some mishaps and minor injuries. It was pretty good to come back and get a title."
With the genetics of having athletic parents, the form of a sprinter from running AAU track since she was 7 and the drive and determination of a champion, Walkes has emerged as one of the top sprinters in the state.
"Yes, who wouldn't be happy to get first, second and third. This is not the end of me," she said. "These girls are going to have to put up with me for another three years."
Ranch's Lyvers rallies to win pole vault
Karen Lyvers did not even look when Winter Park's Elizabeth Nix took her final attempt at 3.45 meters.
"I was sitting there hoping she would make it because she is a friend," Lyvers said. "But I was also hoping as a competitor, 'Please don't make this.' I really wanted her to make it because she is such a great athlete and such a nice girl."
Nix cleared 3.45 on her final attempt, but that only delayed the inevitable.
Lyvers cleared 3.60 on her second try, while Nix missed all three of her attempts.
Then she burst into her happy dance.
"That's spontaneous," Lyvers said. "I get really excited and that's the dance I do every time. I hit the bar coming down and I was like, 'Oh man, gosh dang it.' And then I saw it was up. What are the odds? That's kinda how I got the excitement out.
"I'm really happy about that, actually. I feel I've come a long way since last year."
A sprained ankle sidelined her a month a year ago, her first competing in the pole vault.
"So, I'm just a beginner vaulter," she said. "So this is really humbling for me to have come this far."
She attempted to go higher. Ranked first in Florida heading into the state meet, Laine Roberts of Jacksonville Bolles passed Lyvers with a 3.85 Friday in the Class 2A meet. So after clinching the state title, Lyvers attempted 3.89, which would have vaulted her back to the top.
"I felt it on that last attempt," she said. "I had the bar, but I didn't have enough penetration to the pit. To look down, I knew I was over it. I just didn't finish the vault. But it's all right."
Lyvers knew a state title was possible when she went to a bigger pole.
"This season, as soon as I got on the 14-foot pole I knew this is pretty legit," she said. "As far as I know, there's no other high school girl in Florida on this size pole and not a lot of college girls on it too. As soon as I got on it, I said, 'This is sick. This is awesome.' "
It was a drastic turnaround from Friday when she failed to qualify in the 100-meter hurdles, an event she was ranked first.
"Oh, boy. I kinda stumbled coming out of the blocks," Lyvers said. "I had to take a really long stride and I came up on the hurdle and was too close. Then I tried to snap my leg down too quick. I fell. I had to switch my lead leg, switch it back and get my three-step back. I started catching up to everybody, but there was not enough space for me.
"It's all right. I still have nationals, so, it's OK."
Lyvers then will compete for the University of South Florida in the fall.
"Yeah, I'd say it does. I'd say it makes up for it," she said. "I'm still upset about the hurdles, but winning this doesn't make me super, super upset as I was."
Mustangs' Rivera captures hurdles
Being the eighth qualifier and having to run out of Lane 8 in the Class 4A 300-meter hurdles finals was not a detriment to Lakewood Ranch's James Rivera.
"Me and my coach were talking and he said that's exactly where I want to be," he said of Mustangs coach Mark Napier. "You don't want to worry about anyone behind you. It's your race. Just do what you've got to do. Take advantage of that longer curve. It's not tighter. Just go for it. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."with ease.
"Exactly how I wanted to run it. Just what I was hoping for," the junior said. "It showed definitely. I'm excited to where I got."
Rivera got excited when he was getting pushed.
"Coming around the curve, I was right next to him and it fueled me more to keep going and keep pushing through it," he said. "I love it. This is fun."
He knew he could capture the title as soon as he cleared the final hurdle.
It was a far cry from his performance in the 110-meter hurdles earlier "I got out pushing it and I was right with them at 50 meters," said Rivera, who finished seventh in 14.69. "By the seventh hurdle I started messing up because I wanted it so badly."That was not the case in the 300.
"With this race I stayed smooth and consistent with it and it showed," he said.
Port Charlotte's Luther takes 2nd in triple jump
Tyreece Luther could not find a comfortable mark to begin his attempts in the Class 3A triple jump.
"I really wasn't feeling the mark I was at," he said. "So I kept changing the mark."
With a best of 14.18 meters on his second attempt in his heat, Luther finished behind only Sebastian River's Quesban Watson-Riggins, who turned in a 14.57.
It helped ease the pain of Luther's performance Friday in the long jump, where he finished 10th with a 6.51.
"I had something to prove," said Luther, a slot receiver/defensive back for the Pirates who will play football at Wofford College next season. "I had to let them know I could still jump and do what I've got to do."
Other top medal-winning performances Saturday:
• Second: Jonathan Reid, Lakewood Ranch, Class 4A boys 1600 4:19.14
• Thirds: Priscilla Miller, Southeast, 2A girls triple jump 11.74 (38-6 1/4), Saint Stephen's boys 400 relay 3:27.07
• Fourths: Lakewood Ranch boys 800 relay 8:01.04, Britney Augustin, Charlotte, 3A girls 300 hurdles 44.25, Chase Brown, Saint Stephen's 1A boys 200 22.25
• Fifths: Harry Barthelemy, Lakewood Ranch 4A boys high jump 1.92 (6-3 1/2), Ben Hartvisgen, Sarasota, boys 1600 4:22.52
• Sixth: Aliyah Cunningham, Riverview, 4A girls 100 12.11
• Sevenths: none
• Eighths: Lauryn Dougherty, Riverview, 4A girls pole vault 3.15 (10-4), Nicholas Napier, Lakewood Ranch 4A boys pole vault 4.05 (13-3 1/2), Manny Dasher, Booker, 2A boys discus 44.78 (146-11), Jonathan Coca, Riverview, 4A boys high jump 1.87 (6-1 1/2), Natalie Jen, Charlotte, 3A girls pole vault 3.15 (10-4)