Injuries forced distance runner Jada Williams to focus on a new event; now she's aiming for a podium finish in the 800.
This was not the senior track season Jada Williams expected. And yet, her final race at Flagler Palm Coast High School ended the way she might have envisioned. With big hugs and tears of joy.
Williams qualified for the Class 4A state championships in the 800-meter run with the fifth-best qualifying time in the field. The 800 is a race she never expected to compete in this season. But then, nothing has turned out this spring the way she planned.
Williams was one of seven FPC track and field athletes to qualify in individual events for state at the Region 1-4A meet on May 7 at FPC.
The Bulldogs also qualified in the boys 4x400 and 4x100 relays. D.J. Murray qualified in the 400-meter run and is also a member of both relay teams. Gerod Tolbert qualified in triple jump and 4x100, Jake Blumengarten qualified in shot put, Isaiah Joseph qualified in 300 hurdles and the 4x400 and Zeli Hayworth qualified in javelin.
On the girls' side, freshman Maya Tyson qualified in shot put with a school-record 38 feet, three-quarters of an inch to finish sixth at the region meet and attain the 10th seed at the state championships May 14 at the University of Florida's Percy Beard Track.
Murray is heading to state as the seventh seed in the 400 after finishing as the runner-up for the second week in a row to Sandalwood's David Terry. Murray ran a 48.68 into a headwind, with Terry edging him by just over a tenth of a second at 48.56.
Murray runs the anchor leg on the 4x400 relay, which finished second to Sanford Seminole with a season-best time of 3:19.29 and is seeded fourth at state, less than a second behind top seed Fort Lauderdale. The other runners on the relay at region were lead leg Vijay Weeden, Monte Curry and Joseph. Joseph replaced D.Z. Steward, who pulled his hamstring at district but could be back for the state meet.
Tolbert is seeded 10th at state in the triple jump after finishing fourth at region with a personal-best leap of 44 feet, 2 inches. This is Tolbert's first year running track. He started the season using distance spikes. Now he has a pair of gold Dreameagle sprinting spikes. He runs the lead leg on the 4x100 relay team that also includes Murray, Curry and Weeden at anchor. The Bulldogs finished third with a time 42.25 and are seeded 10th at state.
WILLIAMS SHIFTS GEARS
Williams, who will run for the University of North Florida next year, had several goals this season after finishing ninth in the 1,600 meters and 11th in the 3,200 at state last year. Podium finishes in those two events and the school record in the 3,200 to go with her school record in the 1,600 appeared to be attainable until a series of injuries delayed her season for six weeks.
A severe IT band injury required physical therapy. By the time she could run again, the season was more than half over.
"It was really stressful," she said. "Getting back wasn't easy. Everybody else was getting ahead when I was just getting into it. But my injury forced me to work more on the muscles in my legs, and that made me faster."
"That was my last race on this track. I definitely left it on a good note. And I'm really grateful I can have one last race."
While Williams' endurance was lagging, FPC head coach Dave Halliday and distance coach Virgil Williams saw her potential in the 800.
"We knew she could do the 800. She ran in the 4x800," Virgil Williams said. "We just started working on her speed. She showed early it was going to come."
In her first 800 race of the season on April 8, she ran a personal-record 2:23.89. At district, she failed to qualify for region in the 1,600, but she finished third in the 800 with a time of 2:24.07 to keep her season alive.
One week later, she lowered her time to 2:18.68 to finish third at region. She ran out to an early lead against an elite field. Winner Trinity Holland of Niceville beat her by less than a second.
"Just getting her back this season and ready to compete was huge," Halliday said. "I think she can get her time down to 2:15 or 2:16. When the stakes get higher, Jada gets better. I'm excited for her."
After the race, her teammates gave her long hugs.
"That was my last race on this track," Williams said. "I definitely left it on a good note. And I'm really grateful I can have one last race."