SPRING ALL-AREA 2016: Boys Track & Field

By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports

All-Area boys track and field player of the year Ronnie Blem of Lemon Bay High School. Sun photo illustration by Jennifer Bruno

All-Area boys track and field player of the year Ronnie Blem of Lemon Bay High School.
Sun photo illustration by Jennifer Bruno

ENGLEWOOD — Ronnie Blem doesn’t often have to look up to see things.

A 6-foot-4 football player, basketball player and high jumper for Lemon Bay High School, Blem spent most of his senior year being one of the tallest people in the room.

So he had always looked down at the bar he was tasked with jumping over for the Manta Rays track and field team. Five-foot-4 at stomach level. Five-foot-6 at his chest. Five-foot-8 at the base of his neck.

But then, a little more than halfway through his final track season in blue and orange, Blem started seeing the bar rise to levels he had never seen before. Six feet at his nose. Six-foot-2 at eye-level. Six-foot-4 right at the top of his head.

And finally, 6-foot-6: Two inches above the top of his already tall stature.

“You’re looking up at it like, ‘How am I supposed to get over this?’” Blem said.

The answer, apparently, was to go against everything his body wanted to do naturally. Like a basketball player changing the hand he shoots with, Blem switched the leg he jumped off.

All it did was add a foot to his personal best, carry him to a regional championship and a fifth-place finish in the state, and make him the Sun’s All-Area boys track and field athlete of the year.

That rise started the week prior to Lemon Bay’s Feb. 26 meet at Riverview High School in Sarasota. Blem was days removed from tying his personal-best jump of 5-6 at the North Port Bobcat Relays, but nothing about it felt good — because of a lingering basketball injury, the senior was dealing with tendinitis in the left knee he had spent his whole career jumping off of.

“Every time I jumped,” Blem said, “I’d get a shooting pain through my knee.”

So together with coach Joe Casale, Blem began toying with the idea of switching to his healthy right leg. He tried it a few times during practice that week, and after feeling a little more comfortable with it by the time the Mantas arrived in Sarasota, decided to test it out during the meet.

Blem hadn’t yet learned how to do to the Fosbury Flop — the dominant jumping style in the sport — from the right side, but that hardly seemed to matter that Friday afternoon. The senior scissor-kicked his way over a bar set at 5-10, beating his personal-record by four inches and giving him the initial first-place finish of his career.

“That’s unusual for a kid to take to it that quick when you make a change like that. But he just took off,” Casale said. “It looked like he jumped better that way than he ever did the other way.”

Blem and Casale worked one-on-one every day at practice, perfecting the jumper’s form on the Fosbury Flop and doing exercises designed to strengthen his core and back muscles. And after two meets in which Blem jumped 5-10 and 6-foot to finish fourth and third, respectively, everything clicked.

Less than one month after jumping right-footed for the first time, Blem hit 6-4 to take the title at the Tarpon Invitational. That victory sparked a run of four straight wins, with the Lemon Bay leaper jumping 6-4 or better in each.

Blem set a personal-best when he jumped 6-6 at the Wally Keller Invitational on April 8, won his first career district title with a jump of 6-4 on April 14, then tied his personal best to win his first-ever regional title on April 29.

“I honestly did not think I was going to do that well,” Blem said. “I thought I’d maybe get a couple more inches, but not go from 5-8 to 6-6. Everyone was surprised with that, including myself.”

Blem’s official finish at the May 6 Class 2A state championships was fifth, but his jump of 6-4 equaled that of the two competitors who finished tied for second. Had he achieved his personal best of 6-6, he would have been tied with or better than all but one jumper in the state’s four classes.

If Blem hadn’t switched from his left leg to his right, he might not have been healthy enough to finish out his senior season. And if he did, he might never have been pain-free enough to beat the 5-6 mark he had been stuck on for a year.

Instead, Blem is a state medalist. And if things go as planned for him when he starts college at the University of South Florida this fall, he might be able to walk on to the Bulls track and field team.

“To an extent,” Casale said, “that tendinitis was a blessing in disguise.”

ALL-AREA TEAM

Rob Cerami
Lemon Bay • Senior
Advanced all the way to the state championships in the discus, finishing third in districts and fourth in regionals before achieving a career-best throw of 130 feet at state.

Chris Daniele
Charlotte • Senior
Finished third at the district meet in the 1600-meter run and was part of the 4×800 relay team that finished seventh in the state with a time of 8:05.98.

Juvens Delise
North Port • Senior
Took third in the 800 with a career-best time of 1:59.42 at the district meet and ran on the 4×400 and 4×800 relay teams that advanced to regionals.

Marshall Dillon
Charlotte • Senior
The reigning All-Area boys cross country runner of the year and a University of Florida signee, Dillon finished his career by winning eight individual races and two district titles between the 800, 1600 and 3200.

Tyreece Luther
Port Charlotte • Sophomore
Was the Pirates’ top individual performer, finishing top 10 in the long jump twice and advancing to regionals with a fourth-place finish in the triple jump.

D’Vonte Price
Charlotte • Junior
Finished in the top three 11 times in 15 110-meter hurdle races and took 13th at the state meet. Also advanced to regionals in the long jump and states on the Tarpons’ 4×100 relay team.

Miles Rittenhouse
Lemon Bay • Senior
Won the 3200 with a personal-record time of 10:23.87 at the Charlotte Invitational and advanced to regionals with a third-place finish at districts.

Kevin Shahan
North Port • Senior
Made it to regionals with a second-place finish in the high jump for the second straight year and nearly made it back to states with a fifth-place jump of six feet.

Stantley Thomas
Charlotte • Senior
Took seventh in the 100 and fourth in the 400 with a personal-record time of 22.46 seconds at districts. Also helped lead the 4×100 relay team that finished seventh at the state meet.

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