That familiar roar of the crowd following the sprints at the Class 3A state track and field finals on Friday will greatly contrast the near silence Cardinal Gibbons’ Winston Perry and Archbishop McCarthy’s Will Kelly will choose to script the final chapter of a riveting high school pole-vault rivalry.
While vaulters occasionally motion to the crowd for vocal support, Perry, ranked No. 3 in the state (14-11.5) and No. 4 Kelly (14-8) will opt for a subdued atmosphere at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville.
“Some people like the crowd, but for me, I like to zone it out and stay focused on what I need to do,” Perry said. “The difference on Friday will be the mental factor. Which one of us will be mentally prepared on the state level with everyone watching?”
The friendly rivals will need a career day and perhaps even a few breaks to upset Lakeland’s state-leader Josh McDaniel (15-6).
If the past two weeks have proven anything, the final head-to-head meeting between Perry and Kelly could be too close to call.
In keeping with their seesaw battles the past two seasons, Kelly beat Perry with a jump of 13-0 to win the District 15-3A title, only to have Perry turn the tables by clearing 14-6 to win Region 4-3A.
Despite the intense mental focus that comes with chasing the same goal, Kelly said the two pole-vault stars share a mutual respect.
“It’s always friendly between us,” Kelly said. “When Winston does good, I am happy for him. I always know I’m going to have good competition against him. I’m always going to try and beat him.”
Competing on his future home track could provide an edge for Perry, who has thrived under the tutelage of vault guru Bobby Haeck.
Since clearing a then-personal best 13-0 to finish seventh at the 2011 state finals, Perry has shown marked improvement in his takeoff, resulting in a new personal-best and then state-leading 14-11.50 at the Pepsi Relays on April 5.
“It would mean the world to me if I won states,” Perry said. “I have been thinking of nothing else these past five weeks. To realize I only have one shot at this, I’m ready to give it my all.”
By: Fabian Lyon & Miami Herald