BRADENTON–Middleburg High senior pole vaulter Samantha Stelmaszek stood nervously with her back to the pole vault pit as Dunedin High School's Olivia Welsh set up for her final attempt at 11 feet, …
BRADENTON–Middleburg High senior pole vaulter Samantha Stelmaszek stood nervously with her back to the pole vault pit as Dunedin High School's Olivia Welsh set up for her final attempt at 11 feet, six inches at the Class 3A state track and field championships held May 6-7 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
"I think I was more nervous then her because there was nothing more for me to do and she had one more shot to win the gold medal," said Stelmaszek, who successfully hit her first three attempts in consecutive fashion at 10 foot, 10 feet, six inches and 11 feet to position herself as the early leader with no misses into the final jumps at 11 feet, six inches. "If she made it and she already had a 12 foot jump at regions, she wins."
Welsh entered the state championship with a best of 12 feet, two inches which won her a region 3-3A title a week prior. Stelmaszek won region 1-3A at 11 feet, six inches.
On that final vault, Welsh missed and Stelmaszek became the first Middleburg High track athlete to win an individual gold medal and also the only Clay County track athlete to return home with a gold medal from the weekend's competition. Charlotte High freshman Natalie Jen wound up second with less misses in the early rounds to push Welsh to third place.
Stelmaszek finished a disappointing seventh last year with a top jump of 10 feet and was advised by Middleburg High coach Craig Martin to do one thing different.
"Have fun out there," said Stelmaszek. "Coach Martin said I was too tense last year thinking about the event and the state meet and just kind of never got focused. He simply said to have fun and enjoy the moment."
The irony of Stelmaszek's somewhat upset of a victory was a display of Martin's relaxed advice to his student.
"Pole vault is a tough and mentally taxing event on its own with everything that needs to happen in the very short time from the run up to the vault over the bar and then you add the stress and pressure of being at the state meet and any little thing can throw an athlete off," said Martin. "Samantha just relaxed, had some fun and flowed with the competition. She deserves a lot of credit for coming away from last year's meet with almost a totally different attitude. She's worked very hard to not only return, but to improve which she did by a foot and a half."
In the run up to the final rounds at 11 feet, six inches, Welsh and Charlotte High freshman Natalie Jen, who finished 1-2 in the region 3-3A region championships with Jen getting second at 10 feet, six inches, Stelmaszek was nearly perfect on her first attempts at her first three heights. Jen came in at nine feet, six inches with a miss at 10 feet and two misses at 10 feet, six inches before nailing her first attempt at 11 foot. Jen also missed all three attempts at 11 feet, six inches.
Stelmaszek finishes 2016 as district 4-3A champion at 11 foot, region 1-3A champion at 11 feet, six inches and now the Class 3A champion at 11 feet.
"I came in thinking 12 foot would be needed to win and when Olivia had to make her jumps at 11'-6" with three misses before that round, I felt like that put a lot more pressure on her," said Stelmaszek. "I hugged her after she missed the last jump. It was a great competition."
Middleburg High's other athlete at the state meet, freshman Marcus Floyd in the 400, finished ninth overall in 49.65 with his split getting fifth in his preliminary heat. The top three of both of two heats automatically advanced with the next two fastest times getting into the final with Floyd's 49.65 just off of the eighth fastest time of 49.43 from Northwestern's Steven Henderson, seventh in 2015, who ran in the second heat. Brandon Collier senior Brandon Cachon, the defending 3A champion, won in 47.74.
Orange Park High senior sprinter Candice Childs finished 12th overall with a heat time of 12.75 in the 100 meter dash. Winner Twanisha Terry of Miami Northwestern won in 11.72 seconds. Childs ran 12.61 in her region 1-3A preliminary heat before taking fourth in 12.75 in the final.