It’s been one year since West Florida suffered heartbreak in the Region 1-2A meet. The Jaguars were denied their second consecutive region title by Jacksonville Paxon High School by 0.5 points.
The memory of last season’s loss is still fresh for the Jaguars as they aim to retake their region crown today at Bolles High School in Jacksonville.
While Paxon is gone to 3A, the Jaguars face an imposing, but familiar foe in Bolles at the top of Region 1 this year.
“We were fortunate to beat them the last two years, but they’re looking really strong,” head and distance coach Jeff Oliver said. “They picked up some good freshmen in the distance events.”
In the Jaguars’ last two region appearances, the Jags sat at or just shy of the lead with point totals in the 70s. But with Bolles and West Florida leaving the rest of the region behind this year, Oliver said he expects the winning total to be closer to 100.
Seniors Murray Washington, Valentino Espinoza, Javen Jackson and Matthew Jones lead the way for this experienced Jaguars squad, who are also paced by juniors Damond Johnson and Kalia Davis.
Injuries have kept key runners like Jackson and Johnson out for extended periods of the season. In crueler luck, the Jaguars have also been without distance runner Von Littlejohn, whose foot was run over by a car while training.
While the missed time may have held back a younger team, Oliver said the seniors were focused on the postseason throughout their recovery.
“These guys are patient and had a lot of faith that they’d be back and fine,” Oliver said. “I always felt like Javen was more confident than I was when I talked to him.”
That confidence was justified in Jackson’s first event. Oliver chose to ease Jackson back with the opening leg of the Jaguars’ region-best 4x800m team, only for the senior to run a personal best 1:59.
Not to be outdone, Johnson posted the region’s No. 1 400m time of 49.22 in his first race back.
With Jackson and Johnson ready to rejoin the Jaguars’ already region-best 4x400m and 4x800m teams, Oliver said there’s a feeling that the team may be peaking at the right time.
“Some years you find that you peak early,” Oliver said. “But the injuries happened so early it has kinda kept us level-headed.”
That 4x400m team could play a crucial role should the meet come down to its final event. But while the Jaguars can expect to score well in relays, their region title chances could be boosted in the field by shot putters Kalia Davis and Michael Moore and high jumper Jamal Sharp.
“When it comes down to it you just have to put your blinders on and get in there,” throws coach Erik Lee said. “They’ve done a really good job this year.”
WHAT: Region 1–2A track & field meet
WHEN: Prelims – 1 p.m., Finals – 7 p.m. (eastern)
WHERE: Bolles High School, Jacksonville