By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
CLEARWATER — Natalie Jen really wanted to drive her assistant coach’s jeep.
As the Charlotte sophomore sat in her ice bath on Thursday afternoon, she made a bet with assistant coach Jon Nusbaum that she’d break the school record in the pole vault at Friday’s Region 3A-3 meet.
And she delivered.
Jen won the event with a school-record height of 3.48 meters (11 feet, 5 inches), breaking her previous mark of 11 feet that she set at last year’s state meet, where she finished in second place.
Now she’s headed back to states as a regional champion, possibly even behind the wheel of Nusbaum’s jeep.
“As soon as I cleared, I go, ‘I want to drive the jeep,’ ” Jen said. “That was all I wanted to do.”
Jen helped lead Charlotte to a fourth-place finish with 60 points, just seven points behind third-place East Lake (67) and second-place Venice (69). Hillsborough took the regional title with 102 points.
Jen’s rise to the top in pole vaulting has been a quick one, considering she didn’t even start competing in the event until midway through her freshman year. That was when her girls weightlifting coach, Angie Nolan, told her to give it a shot.
“I got into it because one of my coaches suggested it. And it’s addicting,” Jen said. “I just can’t stop. It’s pushing yourself to the limit and trying to beat the other odds.”
Jen will try to do just that at next week’s Class 3A state meet, which takes place May 5-6 at IMG Academy in Bradenton. But Jen won’t be the only Tarpon there as 11 of her teammates — boys and girls combined — also qualified in eight events on Friday to make the trip to Bradenton with her.
In addition to Jen, the Tarpons also won regional titles in two other events. D’Vonte Price won the 110-meter hurdle (14.49 seconds) and Charlotte’s girls 4×100 relay team of Kaitlyn Chavarria, Britney Augustin, Jaliyah Underwood and Dana Donovan just eked out a victory (47.74 seconds), thanks in large part to Donovan.
Donovan, the team’s anchor, booked it past Hillsborough’s Jayla Walker in the final stretch to beat her by 0.25 seconds.
“I thought I was too far behind her to catch her. I really did. There just happened to be a miracle,” Donovan said. “I had to do what I had to do for our team. Trying to get somewhere in life.”
Donovan also qualified for state in the 100-meter dash with a third-place finish while Augustin finished third in the 300-meter hurdles to move on to state in her individual event. Eunice Noel (fourth in 100-meter hurdles) and La Tisha Pereira (high jump) also qualified for Charlotte’s girls.
On the boys side, Jack Fining finished third in the shot put to qualify for state while the 4×100 relay team of Andrew Grace, Savorion Warren, Ny Harvey and Price qualified with a third-place finish. Those five also helped Charlotte’s boys place fourth overall as a team with 31.5 points.
Hillsborough also won the boys title with 105.5 points.
Port Charlotte’s track & field teams were also in attendance but only qualified one athlete for next week’s state meet, which just so happened to be a regional champion. T.J. Luther won the regional title in the triple jump, leaping 13.56 meters (44 feet, six inches) to also set a personal record.
Luther said he was motivated by Hillsborough’s Kenric Motgomery, who jumped right before and ultimately finished second with a jump of 12.97 meters.
“He pushed me. He pushed me to go farther,” said Luther, who only started triple jumping last season.
“I didn’t think I’d get this far to be honest. But my coaches pushed me.”
Port Charlotte’s boys finished in 12th with 17 points. The girls placed 24th with seven points.
Full results: http://elitetiming.net/fhsaa-3ar3-clearwater-2017/