• Palatka High School players and fans celebrates a dramatic and pivotal 58-56 Region 2-6A semifinal victory at Santa Fe on Feb. 21. (CHRIS DeVITTO / Palatka Daily News)

Column: Memorable Moments

It was a year of firsts, pleasant surprises and outstanding achievements

To say the 2016-17 high school sports season was interesting would be an understatement.

There were things that we didn’t see before this year. There were pleasant surprises. There were also performances by standouts who knew when the spotlight’s turned on.

They all add up into this year’s version of our Elite 8 Best of the Best. So here’s that recap of that Best of the Best.

8. A star is born (October 12): It was girls soccer coach Drew Richardson’s insistence that Jenny Galvan go out for the cross country team last fall. And, oh, did she make her presence felt. Galvan was, hands down, the best girls distance runner in the county, and proved that by winning the All-Putnam County championship in 25:40, just over a minute and a half ahead of her closest finisher.

7. A swimming success (November 3): Personal success is personal-best times in Putnam County. But Palatka High senior Alec Dawson did a bit more than just beating his own times. He was also beating some of the best the district, region and state could offer. It was on Nov. 3 at Frank Brown Park in Palatka when Dawson repeated his district success by winning both the 100-yard butterfly (51.92) and 200-yard freestyle (1:45.11). That got him to the state meet, where he finished fourth in the butterly in 51.01, a pretty good time considering he had been in a car accident two days earlier that saw his vehicle wrecked.

6. Putting it all together ... finally (April 27): So much was heaped in expectations on the Palatka High School boys track team ... that is until the sudden resignation by coach Steven Gonzalez. Enter new coach Ed Polly, whose squad was not as deep as Gonzalez’s teams were, and whose boys had to fight injuries and illness on and off throughout the year. But after finishing second at the District 5-2A meet, the Panthers woke up at the right time in the Region 2-2A meet at Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep. With Steven Simmons winning the 100 on a bad hamstring, Treyvon Williams winning the 200, Robert Passmore conquering the 400 and both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams crossing first, the Panthers scored enough points (70) to out-distance distance-heavy Winter Park Trinity Prep (64) for the crown and the third consecutive region championship.

5. The 13-year wait ends (April 11): For one season, Czech Republic native and exchange student Anna Koncelova made it a great one for Palatka High School. Koncelova finished out a memorable run to the District 5-2A championship at first singles by taking down The Villages’ Grace Hurt, 6-1, 6-3, at Palatka High School’s home court. With the win, Koncelova qualified for the FHSAA 2A state first singles championship tournament, the first time any Putnam County tennis player moved into a state tournament since Palatka’s Amy Eller and Kristin Smith won first doubles in District 5-2A in 2004. Koncelova’s run, though, was short-lived as she lost a first-round match in the state tournament.

4. A boys soccer district dandy (Jan. 27): Longtime rivals Crescent City and Keystone Heights have engaged in some epic matches. But this District 5-2A title match on Keystone Heights’ field may have been the greatest of them all. Scoreless for the first 64 minutes, Keystone Heights drew first blood to take a 1-0 lead. But these Raiders didn’t panic. Not at all. Jose Mancilla’s headball off a Fernando Cruz corner kick tied the match with 13:21 left. Then with 8:49 to go, a Christian Lopez corner kick ended up with Manny Dominguez lifting his right leg up and re-directing his shot into the net. The Raiders ended up holding on for the 2-1 victory and first district title in four years – and the first district title for rookie coach Jeff Lease, who took over the team from longtime coach John Thomas just two weeks before the season started.

3. If his name is Makatura, chances are ... (April 8): Older brother Jared was a four-time state champion in boys weightlifting. And just a year before, Joel Makatura took second place at his weight class. So you knew coming into the FHSAA 1A championship meet at DeLand High School that Makatura was vying to join his brother as a state champion in the sport. Mission accomplished: Makatura wiped out his competition in the heavyweight division, bench-pressing 410 pounds and adding a 330-pound clean and jerk for a 740-pound total. With teammate Hunter Cole taking fifth in the 169-pound weight class, Interlachen would finish fourth in the state team meet.

2. The tip-in (February 21): If you were in the gymnasium on this Tuesday night at Alachua Santa Fe High School, you knew the feverish pitch was something special for this Region 2-6A matchup between the Raiders and Palatka’s Panthers. The lead bounced back and forth until Santa Fe secured a two-point lead with a minute to go. But with Palatka getting the ball back, point guard Chamar Dumas drove to the basket, put a reverse layup up against Santa Fe’s tallest players and banked it in to tie it at 56-56 with 42 seconds left. Santa Fe decided to go for the win and ran the clock down to under 10 seconds. It was there that guard Tyrius Thomas anticipated a back-door pass coming. He stole the ball with six seconds to go and drove toward the basket at the other end. He missed his shot. Dumas missed the follow. So did center Mitchell McKinnon, but McKinnon was able to get his tip-in off the backboard and into the basket as the buzzer sounded, giving the Panthers a dramatic 58-56 win, a rare road win in state tourney play for a Putnam County team. That helped propel the Panthers into the final, where at home they took down Brooksville Nature Coast, 50-43, for the regional title and the Final Four in Lakeland.

1. Going out a state champion (May 6): Already signed and delivered to head to Florida State University next year, Ka’Tia Seymour left her mark as one of the all-time greatest sprinters Putnam County has ever seen in track and field. Once again at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Seymour scorched the 100- and 200-meter fields at the FHSAA 2A meet by winning in 11.57 seconds, an astounding .27 seconds better than the next closest competitor in the 100, then taking the 200 in 23.48 seconds, nearly a second faster than the next finisher. Anchoring the 4x100 relay team to a second-place finish, the Panthers scored 28 points, finishing seventh as a team at the 2A meet. Then again, did you expect anything less from Ka’Tia Seymour?

No, not really.

Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.

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