Normally, some local track and field athletes get a mid-season taste of big-time meets at the annual Florida Relays in Gainesville. With the University of Florida’s track under renovation, that opportunity was lost.
So the best chance for many local athletes to get that experience is today and Saturday at the Cougar Challenge at Barron Collier High School. The finals of the boys and girls long jump, girls pole vault and discus, boys high jump and shot put and boys and girls 3,200-meter run are today beginning at 4 p.m., as are the preliminaries in all other track events. The finals in all other track and field events are Saturday beginning at noon.
Barron Collier boys track coach Matt Keraus said it was more important this year than it ever was before to put on a quality meet, especially with the loss of Gainesville. That competition moved to Florida State this year, but Tallahassee was too far to travel.
“I think it hurt us quite a bit because the kids did not get that big time experience,” Keraus said. “Next week’s the conference meet and from there it’s districts. There’s not anywhere else anyone can get a good quality meet before regionals and states.”
Sixteen teams will compete at the two-day meet, including Miami Edison, Miami Jackson and Indora Eudora High from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The meet should be well-populated with some of the best track and field athletes Florida has to offer. Several local competitors have placed before in state competition, including Estero distance runner Bona Jones, Community School high jumper Frank DeSalvo and Gulf Coast pole vaulter Anne Greco.
Keraus said the Cougar Challenge’s format should be especially helpful to the junior and senior athletes who plan on joining collegiate track and field teams. “It’s really good, especially for upperclassmen going to college,” he said. “They have to do it to experience it. I think the kids are ready to run more on the next day.”