Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year
By Chris Bernhardt | Hernando TodayFrom the very start of her prep career, there has been little doubt what Wilena Little can become.
Published: August 8, 2012
Published: August 8, 2012
Four years ago, J.D. Floyd, having shifted from an elementary school to a K-8, entered the local middle school athletic scene.
The Dolphins made their first Hernando County Middle School Athletic Conference Meet, boasting just one champion: a sixth-grader in the 100 meter.
Jump to a few months ago, the Hernando County Meet at Nature Coast. That J.D. Floyd sixth-grader, now a Springstead sophomore, again wins a county championship in the 100.
Plus she won the 200, and the 400. The long jump, too, even though she had barely ever competed in that event.
Yes, Little has started to live up to the expectations that followed her to high school. Even as an underclassman, her accomplishments stand out.
That's why she was an easy selection for Hernando Today Athlete of the Year in girls track and field.
"She won the county in four events and one (long jump) was a brand new event for her, so I don't see how (Athlete of the Year) can be anyone else," Springstead head coach Joel Myers said. "She had a very good year. She improved in everything."
"It's an honor. I'm actually kind of surprised. It feels good, though," Little said. "It (the season) started off kind of shaky, but it ended really well."
It concluded with her qualifying for states in the 200 for the second straight season, just missing out on a medal with a ninth-place 25.49.
That was nonetheless a vast improvement over a 14th-place state showing as a freshman, when she ran a 26.32.
During prelims that day, she posted a personal best of 25.20, the fastest time in the county all season.
Her 2012 season also included a district title with a 25.92 at the Class 3A, District 6 Meet, and a third-place finish in regionals (25.60).
Yet she faced some adversity along the way, from the beginning to the closing curtain.
Little was winning races during the first few meets of the season. She just wasn't running up to her standards, recording times in the 27s in the 200 and 13s in the 100.
That actually represented a regression from the end of the 2011 campaign, and still leaves her perplexed as to the explanation.
"I was very frustrated and disappointed," Little said. "I played basketball to try to stay in shape. So it was not like I was out of shape.
"I'm not sure what was going on, but eventually I got where I needed to be. I focused more and pushed myself during practice."
Things finally clicked, she said, at the George M. Steinbrenner Invitational, one of the more rugged regular-season meets in the state held March 17 at USF.
She only finished seventh in the 200 and 13th in the 100, but against top-flight competition the placing wasn't nearly as important as the times.
In the 200, Little ran a 25.60 in prelims and a 25.95 in the final, and a 12.92 in the 100 prelims.
Later that month, she posted a 12.38 in the 100 at Hernando High's Kiwanis Invitational, the county's fastest clocking in that event.
Also at Kiwanis, Little tried her hand at the long jump. A 13-9 1/2 leap placed her an uninspiring 11th, and didn't foreshadow how she'd perform six days later.
Despite scratching on her first two attempts at the county meet, jumping completely out of the pit on the second try, Little managed a county-high 16-8 for first place.
"I tried it my freshman year, I couldn't get off the ground," Little said. "I think the basketball summer league I did helped me a lot with my jumping ability.
"It was fun. I had my teammates to cheer me on the whole way. My third jump, I just completely focused and finally did it."
That day she repeated as county champ in both sprints, while adding the 400 (running a county-best 58.61) title to go with the victory in her newfound field event.
Yet just as she turned a corner in her season, another issue cropped up. This time it was an injured left hamstring she first felt the next morning after the Steinbrenner Invite.
She had been limited in practice heading into the district meet at Central High, and it showed in the results.
Despite being seeded first in four events, she won only the 200. She didn't even participate in the 100, and failed to advance to regionals in the long jump, producing an eighth-place 14-10 1/2.
In the 400, she finished third in 1:01.13, good enough to make it to the 3A-Region II Meet in Tampa, where she came in seventh (59.13).
"It affected me, especially during long jump, especially at districts," Little said. "I could bring my right leg out, but my left leg was dragging. It took three or four feet off, so I didn't make it out of the district.
"Plus in races, it slowed me down. I think my times would have been faster, but since my leg was hurting me, I had to slow down some.
"I tried not to think about it. I tried to run through it, as hard as I could."
Though she still managed to reach states, her coach didn't downplay the impact of her bad hammy.
"She could have been even better. Her hamstring got to her right before districts," Myers said.
"Her work ethic has gotten better. She missed a (state) medal by 100th of a second. It was devastating at the time, but I think it'll be the best thing for her because she's hungry.
"She got a little better coming out of the blocks, a little more serious. She has gotten by on natural talent. She was so much better than anyone in middle school. She found out at this level, that's not going to get you by. She went to work."
In order to recover from the hamstring ailment, which she estimates is at 75-80 percent now, she actually had to scale back on her running this summer.
When school begins, she said she may at least practice with Myers' cross-country team and will take weightlifting classes.
However, she has decided not to play basketball – she averaged 5.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season – so she can focus on track.
"The sky's the limit for her," Myers said. "She's determined to get a medal next year. It devastated her to be that close. And I think she's going to do it."
By the number: Wilena Little's season bests
200^# – 25.20*
100# – 12.38*
400# – 58.61*
LJ# – 16-8*
^ Denotes state qualifying event
# Denotes county championship event
* Denotes county's season best
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