Mills wins gold, Jones silver, at state tourney

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The Port St. Joe varsity track team came back from the state tournament in Jacksonville with a fistful of medals, further proof that when it comes to the public-school presence in Class 1A, the Tiger Sharks are at the very top.

Junior Darian Mills paced the team by winning gold in the 110 meters at Friday's state championship at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

With a personal best time of 14.55 seconds, Mills finished 0.18 seconds ahead of Admiral Farragut senior Ronald White. He earned 10 points for the Tiger Sharks with his finish.

“I was pleased with his performance,” said coach Keion McNair. “He crashed a couple hurdles at the end. He hit the seventh hurdle and the ninth hurdle. He hit one with his back trail leg in the air; it went straight down to the ground.”

McNair said that in all the state’s classifications, from the smallest schools to the largest, Mills was in the top eight in the event. “I thought we could have been in the top three,” he said. “I think he could have run a 14.0 to a 14.2, a tenth to a half-second faster.”

Mills took advantage of his one shot at victory as the tightened schedule, which had the Class 3A tournament beginning in the afternoon, called for his running just once, in a final.

“This was only his third track meet of the season, he’s been hurt,” said McNair. “He hurt his ankle during basketball and missed the whole first half of the track season.”

Junior Amani Jones took the silver in the triple jump at Friday's state championship. With a leap of 10.97 meters, or 35 feet 9 inches, she took second place, 10.25 inches short of the jump by Northside Christian sophomore Grace Lathrop. 

Jones earned eight points for the Tiger Sharks with her finish.

“I was very pleased, she had a big day,” said McNair. “It was a personal record. She was excited, and every jump she took she got farther.”

Jones jumped 10.71 meters, then 10.79, and after a soul, hit her 10.97 on her fourth and final jump.

A pair of juniors, Lily Wockenfuss and Emily Lacour, placed fifth and sixth respectively at states.

Wockenfuss vaulted 3.15 meters, or 10 feet 4 inches, to finish fifth, and earn four points for the Tiger Sharks team.

Lacour reached a height of 3.0 meters, or 9 feet 10 inches, to tie for sixth place, and earn the team 2.5 points.

“Wockenfuss probably could have won or got second, she didn’t have her best day,” said McNair. “It was a foot off of her personal best.”

Lacour, he said, “had a pretty good day, finishing right up under her personal record.”

The 4 by 100-meter relay team of sophomore Lexi Fountain, sophomore Jae Lenox, junior Madelyn Gortemoller and Jones, earned a fifth place finish, with a time of 51.49.

“It was not a personal best. I know we could have ran faster and placed higher,” said McNair. “The handoff was good. I know we could have done better.”

The coach said newness to the state tourney may have been a factor with entire young Port St. Joe team, since only Gortemoller had ever competed at that level before, and that was as a freshman.

The next highest finish for a Tiger Shark was sophomore D.T. Oliver in the shot put, with a top throw of 13.79 meters, that put him at 11th place. Oliver threw for 13.15 meters, then 12.11 and 13.10, before nailing his top throw on his fourth try.

“I think he could have placed in the top eight,” said McNair. “It was his first time ever doing track. He has a big summer coming up, as a bigtime football player.”

In the 100-meter hurdles, junior Damari Johnson ran a 17.29 time to finish 13th.

“It wasn’t her best but I was proud of her,” said the coach. “She got hurt right before regionals, and she was dealing with that injury. She pulled up close to her personal best, so I was pretty pleased with her injured and all.”

In the 400 meters, Gortemoller ran a 1:03.62 to finish 15th.

“I don’t she recovered 100 percent from the relays,” McNair said. “She had to turn around and run the 400. She ran her hardest.”

Running out of lane eight in the staggered start added to Gortemoller’s challenge. “You can’t see anybody next to you,” said McNair. “It’s hard to make up that stagger.”

Rounding out the team’s performance was sophomore Bladen Levins in the pole vault, as he vaulted 3.30 meters, or 10 feet 10 inches, on his second attempt, to take 16th place.

After that he tried 3.45 meters but couldn’t clear it. “He went straight up right to near his best,” said McNair. “He didn’t have a good day but he’s a sophomore. He’ll be back next year.”

As a team the girls finished 14th, tops of any Class 1A public school, and the boys finished in a tie for 25th.

“In every other sport, they don’t compete against private schools, but they do in track and cross county,” McNair said.

The coach said it was different having to do a whole track meet and finishing by 2 p.m., an unusual combination of two track meets in one day.

“It was a really good meet for everybody,” he said. “I can’t wait until next year. I’ll give them a couple days, and then we’ll start the USATF and AAU teams summer track schedule.”

The younger elementary school kids compete in the AAU, while most of the high schoolers are in the USATF coemption.

“We’ll try to qualify for Junior Olympics,” McNair said.

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