Navarre and Pace State champions top T&F winners

The PNJ Spring All-Area season has arrived as the Pensacola area’s top athletes and coaches from baseball, softball, lacrosse and more will be honored throughout the week.

Superlative winners in a different sport will be posted daily until Saturday. The all-zone teams in each sport will be revealed on Sunday in print and online.

Today we take a look at our winners in athletics where three schools are represented. Pace and Navarre were each the proud home of individual state champions while Pine Forest produced a state runner-up.

Tomorrow, the region’s best softball tricks will be celebrated.

2022 NPC Spring All-Area:Who won men’s weightlifting and flag football player of the year?

2022 NPC Spring All-Area:Who were the Boys’ and Girls’ Lacrosse Players of the Year?

2022 NPC Spring All-Area: Who won Boys’ and Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year?


Girls Co-Athletes of the Year

Rachel Leggett, Navarra

Navarre senior Rachel Leggett poses for a photo after winning the high jump title at the Class 4A track and field championships Saturday, May 14, 2022 from the Percy Beard track on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville.

Leggett’s supreme skill and athleticism earned her multiple NPC Girls Basketball POY honors as well as a spot on the South Alabama women’s basketball team.

So it’s no surprise that his gifts and hard work translated well into the spring. A year after finishing second in the state in the high jump, Leggett topped the podium at the Class 4A State Championships with a game-winning jump of 5 feet, 5, and 3/4 inches.

With the win, the Raiders graduate became the first women’s state champion in program history.

Ava Grace Wheaton, Rhythm

Ava Wheaton

The junior has done double duty this spring. And despite being a key contributor to the region’s strongest flag football team, Wheaton did her best job throwing a javelin into orbit.

She picked up wins in Districts and Regionals before etching her name among the Pace greats. Wheaton reached that peak with a game-winning throw of 125 feet, 7 inches at the 3A State Championships. His mark was more than 10 feet further than the second.

Wheaton’s triumph propelled the Patriots to a 12th-place team finish at the state, which bested all local programs.

The rising senior is Pace’s first women’s state champion since Carol Martel scored 330 yards low hurdles in 1981.

Male Athlete of the Year

Kieantae Hill, pine forest

Kieantae Hill

Like Leggett, Hill made the smooth transition from hardwood to field. The 6ft 4in eagle soared through the air for poster dunks during the winter. And thanks to his hops, he proudly finished his high school career with medals wrapped around his neck.

Hill won district and regional titles in the high jump before taking second place at the state. His 6-5 1/2 mark was tied with Chiles’ Josh Shelley, but the Timberwolves eldest won the 3A title by reaching the mark in fewer jumps.

The Pine Forest skywalker landed the highest finish in any boys’ state qualifier in the region this season.

Coach of the year

Paul Bryan, Pine Forest

Paul Bryan

While Pace’s 12th place topped teams in the region, Bryan put together the deepest and most consistent program.

The Lady Eagles took second place in the District 1-3A meet and backed that up with a third place finish in the Region 1-3A meet. Highlighted by a third-place finish from junior Dezire Gee in the 300-meter hurdles, Pine Forest was tied in a three-way tie for 14th place at the state. Overall, the team sent eight girls to Gainesville, which tied with Pensacola Christian Academy’s women’s team for the most local qualifiers.

At the end of the season, five girls from Pine Forest signed their respective Letters of Intent to compete on the track collegially. It goes to show that not only can Bryan get his girls to do well at the high school level, but the veteran coach can take his athletes to the next level as well.

Patrick Bernadeau is a sports reporter for the Pensacola News Journal. He can be reached at (850) 503-3828, on Twitter @PatBernadeau or by email at [email protected]

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