By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
BRADENTON — Charlotte High School’s Natalie Jen was the area’s big winner Friday, finishing runner-up in the pole vault in Class 3A state championships at IMG Academy.
Jen was a late-comer to the event, not beginning the sport until after girls weightlifting season ended when coach Angie Nolan suggested freshman give it a shot.
“Coach Nolan just said I should start pole vaulting, so I did.” Jen said. “She said I had the physique for it, and I decided to try. I don’t know how to explain (how I feel). It’s kind of crazy to think how late I started.”
Nolan’s hunch about Jen was spot on. The rookie vaulter cleared 11 feet to finish second. Her height technically tied for first place in the 3A event, but a tiebreaker kept her from the top spot on the podium.
All four of the state’s classes competed in some form Friday. Both preliminaries and finals were held in both events in the field and on the track.
North Port’s Morgan Gloster competed in the Class 4A side of the pole vault, and placed sixth in her first year competing in the sport.
“My goal was just to come to states,” Gloster said. “To be able to get a medal is amazing.”
Teammate Alexis Francavilla was a seventh-place finisher in the long jump. The sophomore’s best jump was 18 feet, 4.25 inches.
“I’ll take what I can get. It’s better than nothing.” Francavilla said, as she reflected on her season. “I did a lot better than I did last year. There’s been a whole bunch of things to remember that I can bring with me in my junior year.”
From Lemon Bay, Ronnie Blem entered the Class 2A high jump as the No. 5 seed, and met projections by taking home a fifth-place medal. Blem’s highest jump was 6-4. He was two inches shy of second, which was a mark he reached last week at regionals.
“I’m happy with it,” Blem said. “It was a little bit colder today, so I felt like it was harder to stay warm.”
The weather made an impact on Manta Rays distance runners Abigayle Weinfeld and Kelsi Ogilvie, who didn’t fare very well in the 3200-meter race.
In the final event of the day, temperatures dropped into the upper 60s, which likely felt colder with the wind.
The change in weather didn’t bode well for Weinfeld, who suffers from asthma.
“With asthma, when you have drastic temperature changes, where it’s been warm for four or five weeks, and then all of the sudden it gets cold, that’s what happens,” Lemon Bay coach Joe Casale said. “It was predictable. We all thought there was a great chance it was going to happen, just because of the history. We’ve seen it.”
Weinfeld stepped off the track, struggling to breath, in the middle of the fourth lap in the eight-lap event. She didn’t return.
Ogilvie ran a strong race until the middle of the seventh lap when one of her legs started to tighten up. She struggled to walk on her own following the race. Ogilvie placed 12th with a time of 11:36.80.
Both girls will compete in the 4×800 relay and 1600-meter race today.
Marshall Dillon closed the night on a disappointing note, placing 10th in the 3200-meter with a time of 9:51.84.
Just like the pair from Lemon Bay, he, too, will compete in the 4×800 relay and 1600 meters today.