One of the surprise winners or the biggest breakthrough performer at the Florida Relays in the high school events belonged to Hagerty junior Miguel Pantojas taking first place in the 800 meter run dropping 3 seconds from his personal best with a 1:52.71.
After winning the FLRYA Middle School 3K state track title in 2019 as an eighth grader, Pantojas spent the next two years which would be his high school freshmen and sophomore year opting to not run with a high school team while living locally in Oviedo, Florida and instead training by himself and remotely coached by his prior club coach in Puerto Rico before he moved to stateside.
It somewhat was no different than most high school runners during the 2020 outdoor season since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the official FHSAA high school season in Florida, but last year as a sophomore it become apparent without anyone to train with and tough finding quality meets consistently throughout the year to compete in that he needed to ultimately join a high school team of training partners with a coach to work in person.
He found a few racing opportunities to run unattached to compete locally at Florida high school runners in the Set Goals Not Limits Distance Showcase in the mile (4:31) in the middle of the season as well as in the post-season at the Golden South Series in the mile (4:28), but largely had to sit on sidelines watching high school sanctioned meets with great competition happening throughout the spring of 2021. Pantojas also won AAU Club Championship titles hosted at Satellite High School later in the summer in the 1500 (4:08) and 800 (1:58) for his age group.
Nonetheless, Pantojas found himself in a similar situation growing up as a youth in Puerto Rico knowing there was a next level for him and needing to make a change for his running to ultimately move with his family to the mainland United States and Florida.
Pantojas certainly picked a good school and program to attend in Hagerty High School with their head coach as well as athletic director in Jay Getty, one of the more respected coaches in the state as the head of track & field for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association (FACA). Hagerty also has two outstanding distance runners already on their roster in current state leader at 1600 meters in junior Brayden Seymour with a 4:11 mile PR and sophomore Jonathan Leon, who was consistently running sub 16 minutes for 5K this past cross country season.
The new training environment has certainly made a huge impact on the times drop for Pantojas on nearly a weekly basis as even before the Florida Relays weekend had run season best and personal best times of 1:55 for 800 meters, 4:18 for 1600 meters, and 9:31 for 3200 meters.
At the Florida Relays, Pantojas found himself in third position and rolling thru the first 400 meters in roughly 56-57 seconds. On the back stretch of the bell lap, he made a move for the lead and the win. Coming off the final turn, one of the top runners from Alabama and the top seed coming into the race in Alex Leath of Vestavia Hills appeared to make a move and shift into a kick for the win. Pantojas was able to summon one last burst to nip Leath at the line for win and the statement making the performance. Only state leader and Florida top 5 all-time performer Rheinhardt Harrison at 1:49.25 has run faster this season in Florida.
The original Florida Relays schedule had the 800 on Thursday and the 1600 meter run on Friday, but rain and bad weather pushed all of day 1 events into day 2 events in an altered and condensed meet schedule. Pantojas could have easily called it a day or meet with his lifetime best race in the 800 meter run, but instead he was willing to toe the line again on Friday afternoon in the 1600 meter run.
His teammate Seymour won the race in a state leading time of 4:13, but Pantojas was only 3 seconds behind him gutting up 4:16 for sixth place in the deep field and his second personal best time of the day.
Cannot help to think about Andres Arroyo with the similar Puerto Rican ties, who set and still owns the Florida high school 800 meter record at 1:47.79 from the 2013 Florida Relays. Pantojas has similar aspirations as Arroyo to potentially represent his home island someday in international competition. After his 1:52 run as a junior at the Florida Relays, could we potentially see Pantojas by this same time next year become only the 10th Florida high school runner to break 1:50 for 800 meters?
Certainly seems possible. The talented mid distance runner simply needed to find the place that he belongs and seems that has been found at Hagerty.