ST. AUGUSTINE – Orange Park High senior distance runner John Bear has been the absent competitor from early season track meets due to a pesky knee ailment, but Wednesday afternoon at the St. Johns …
ST. AUGUSTINE – Orange Park High senior distance runner John Bear has been the absent competitor from early season track meets due to a pesky knee ailment, but Wednesday afternoon at the St. Johns River Athletic Conference track and field championships, Bear showed a little of the tough track running that he has been noted for since his sophomore year.
“It’s something with a floating patella (knee cap) that has been causing swelling and fluid and pain, but I’ve been dealing with it and slowly getting my track strength back,” said Bear, who joined a cadre of Clay County cross country aces at the November state meet in a recent explosion of distance running in the area. “I just want to be able to compete and not be in much pain afterward.”
Bear, who followed patiently behind early race leaders in the SJRAC 3200 final, looked as smooth and strong as has been his history with a solid stride and upward posture looking more and more confident since returning the track.
“I wanted to hold on at a good pace and see how my stamina was,” said Bear, who has been recently coached by former Keystone Heights High standout Enoch Nadler, who is now head coach for the Florida Track Club Elite racing team. “Coach Nadler told me my racing stamina would take some time to get back, but to take it slowly.”
Bear, with a winning four minute, 43 second 1600 meters at the Don Hall Invite on March 29 and a seventh place 4:41.69 at the March 23 UNF Spring Break 1600, tucked in behind early race leaders Branden McDonald of Bartram Trail, the eventual winner in 10:01.53, with St. Augustine senior Parker Woodruff, a long-time cross country and track rival for Bear, as the trio broke from the rest of the pack early and decisively.
In 2018, Bear clocked 4:30.76 for fifth in region 4-3A and also 9:52.55 in the 3200 to earn a state meet berth. Bear finished in 9:59.27 to finish 14th in the Class 3A 3200 final.
As the SJRAC 3200 moved on, the lead pack clocked just over 70 seconds for the first of eight laps with Bear in tow in third place before the group settled in at about 75-76 seconds per lap as the race progressed.
“I just wanted to maintain my position and gauge my condition,” said Bear. “I knew Parker would stay with the lead, but didn’t really know the other guy.”
As the three exchanged surges, the final lap gave Orange Park High track fans a little glimpse to the Bear strength as the wily veteran pushed to his final third place finish with 67.61 second final lap, the fastest of the race.
McDonald had opened a slight gap with a 74 second penultimate lap with Woodruff dropping to a 77 second lap with one to go.
“I think I had more if I needed it, but coach Nadler just said stay steady,” said Bear, third at 10:04.43. “I want to go back to state.”
Other top races at the SJRAC meet, Orange Park High sprinter Alex Collier continued his fast clockings in the 100 and 400, but found a shadow with Palatka’s fast duo of Jaylan Sessions and Trayvon Williams, both 2A powerhouse sprinters, who pulled the trio to three sub-11 second finishes; 10.69 for Sessions, 10.72 for Williams and 10.91 for Collier with Middleburg’s Marcus Floyd in the mix in fourth in 11.10. Sessions was ninth in 2A in 100 in 10.84. Williams was third in the 400 in 47.56 and fourth in the 200 in 21.49. Floyd earned a state meet berth in the 3A 100 and triple jump, but was injured thereafter.
In the 400, Collier, third in 3A last year, turned the tables with a 48.07-48.18 win over Williams. Collier, with a winning 47.67 at the UNF Spring Break 400 on March 23, has hovered in near the elusive 47 second mark this season and should be a major state contender as districts, regions and the state meet roll on in the next two weeks.
Two others in the 400; Orange Park’s Sean Dixon and Fleming Island’s Jared Ashe finished fifth in 51.72 and 52.03.
Dixon, 50.41 at UNF, was part of the Raiders 4 x 400 relay that took fourth in region 4-3A last year in 3:24.07 with Bartram Trail second in 3:22.11.
In the SJRAC 200 meters, Floyd would take second behind Williams with a 22.35 split to Williams’ winning 21.86, with Orange Park’s Keenan Restall third at 22.62.
In the SJRAC 110 high hurdles, Fleming Island High senior Glenn Rodgers returned to form with a winning 14.85 split that put him back on track to make a dent in the upcoming playoff run, but it was Orange Park’s John Abate putting his name in the hopper with a second place 15.83 split.
Rodgers, who took a dive at the UNF Spring Break Open after smashing the school record at the Bob Hayes Invite with a 14.22 split, took care of his event despite a severely windy day.
“He just has to keep his confidence up and he can run with the state’s best,” said Fleming Island coach Chris Otero. “He’s fluid over the hurdles and has great form. Today was good.”
Abate also took third in the high jump at 6’-2.65” with Middleburg’s Bryce Quiett winning at 6’-4.75”. Quiett was sixth in 3A last year and has the Bronco school record over 6’-6”.
In the girls shot put, Orange Park’s Destiny Basden put a strong 35’-7.25” put out for second behind Bartram Trail’s Qha’liyyah Taylor’s 38’-10.25”.
The pair repeated their 1-2 finished in discust with Taylor at 117’-5” and Basden at 115’-8”. Basden was second in region 1-3A last year in shot put at 35’-2.5” with Taylor eighth at 32’-9.5”. Basden eventually finished 20th in 3A with a 34’-2.5” put while Taylor did not make the final round.