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Navigators Go Undefeated 3X

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BROOKSVILLE — Challenger’s Girls Track team has never known defeat. In three years of competitions, Navigators Head Coach David Barrett’s “eighth graders (girls) have never lost a meet!”

On Thursday afternoon, an awards ceremony was held at Challenger K8 to celebrate the 60 girls and 55 boys on their track teams. The girls garnered most of the accolades this year as the boys’ squad was in the midst of a rebuilding year and finished third in the county, but the coaches still had trophies and medals to hand out to both groups.

As part of the festivities, the girls’ team had multiple eighth graders, including Lainee Mercer, Amanda Soults, Janessa Howland, and Audrina Savarese, who were recognized. All three of the athletes contributed significantly throughout their time as Navigators.

Mercer was named Most Valuable for girls’ track, among other designations. Soults and Logan Cornillow received the commendation for Top Jumper on their respective squads and Howland was one of a handful who the coaching staff recognized with the Navigator Award.

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“Lainee Mercer led our distance team for three years and 4×400 squad,” and she was “undefeated for three years in the mile and the half-mile, school record holder in both,” said the head coach, but she has accomplished even more.

Mercer won the 8K Gasparilla Race in February despite the competition not being limited to her age group. She nabbed first place by roughly a minute and a half, with the second-place finisher being a woman in her 30s. The eighth grader placed fourth overall and second in her age group in a near photo finish in Nationals and took gold in Cross Country 3km in states.

The coaching staff sees Mercer as an inspiration to the rest of their standout squad. Despite her dominance, Coach Barrett had other significant eighth graders, such as Soults, contribute all three years as well.

“Amanda Soults, who was actually a top miler as well as a sixth grader but moved to sprints as seventh and eighth grader and dominated in long jump each year for us!” Coach Barrett said. Janessa Howland excelled in hurdles and 400m dash and was given a Navigator Award because “we want you on our team because you make everybody better,” the head coach said about everyone who received the trophy.

“In case you did not know, sixth graders are not supposed to score too many points for us,” Coach Barret said. “Thankfully, nobody told these guys because they had all the events and they like to score for us.”

He awarded Helena DeLuca as the “Super Sixth Grader” for the girls and Tayvyn Shugarts for the boys on Thursday but also described Taylor Earl by the same descriptor before the ceremony. The pair took second and third in the mile at meets behind Mercer. The duo also “shined” in 4 x 400 and 800.

The Navigators have been fortunate to feature talent year in and year out going back to the Kanaar sisters. If it had not been for COVID-19, Coach Barrett feels his girls’ team could have gone undefeated for seven years in a row, and they are still not done. Seventh-grade sprinters Aurianah Whittaker and Kinsley Peters will look to take over Challenger’s sprints and Peters competes in distance events in AAU as well.

Two of Barrett’s eighth graders, Mercer and Soults, will both be going to Springstead, while Howland will attend Weeki Wachee next year. Savarese plays volleyball and basketball, and was on Challenger’s inaugural flag football team that won their league. She will also be enrolling at Weeki Wachee next year.

Despite losing multiple upperclassmen to high school, Coach Barrett and the Navigators will be having “a lot of returning speed for next year.” With only nine eighth graders from the girls’ track team graduating, the coaching staff are excited yet again for the future of Navigators’ track.

“We have been pretty lucky to have some awesome kids,” Coach Barrett said.

Head Coach David Barrett gives Lainee Mercer an award on Thursday. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Head Coach David Barrett gives Lainee Mercer an award on Thursday. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Challenger's girls and boys track teams show off their awards on Thursday at Challenger K-8. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Challenger’s girls and boys track teams show off their awards on Thursday at Challenger K-8. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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