JACKSONVLLE, Fla. – Da’Moni Kelly wasn’t a big fan at first.
Now, the Mandarin High graduate couldn’t picture it any other way.
The All-News4JAX girls track and field athlete of the year is a state champion with a state-leading throw in the shot put and bound for the University of Florida. She took fifth place in the discus as a senior, too, and plans on competing in both events — and perhaps adding the hammer — in college.
And to think that Kelly’s track and field career began with an emotion other than excitement.
“My cousin’s had just joined the track team and so my mom threw me in with them. And I hated running so much. And so, they’re just like, all right, we’ll just have you throw. And I wasn’t good at it. I just did it just to do it,” Kelly said. “But it was my third year and I just got so good out of nowhere to the point where I actually got first in the AAU Junior Olympics in Texas.”
Kelly’s foray into track and field came when she was 9 years old. The big jump came when she was 12 and in middle school and competing in club field events. She said using a heavier shot put in middle school (8.81 pounds) and then going back to a lighter weight in club (6 pounds) made her performances stand out. And that’s when things started to click for Kelly.
“I was just so much stronger from throwing the heavier weight and it just like the ball will just not stop going far,” Kelly said. “Just kept going. I definitely surprised a lot of people that year I would say.”
Once high school arrived, Kelly made the transition seamlessly. In the shot put, her best event, Kelly finished fifth in the Class 4A state meet as a freshman.
It was that performance in 2019 that cemented to Kelly that she could take her throwing talents and turn them into a future. Along with grades just as sterling as her distances — she graduated with a 4.58 GPA — Kelly parlayed that state finish into a career trajectory.
A girl who loathed track when she started and enjoyed the camaraderie with her cousins more than the actual competition, was hooked.
“I didn’t realize that I could go anywhere with it until freshman year in high school. I was kind of just using it as a way of like, ‘hey, I can go to college doing this.’ I can, you know, do really good great things with this. But I don’t really think I took it at that seriously until I got into high school, as far as making a career out of it or anything like that.”
Kelly won 11 of her 12 meets in the shot put this season, a massive jump in performance. As a junior, Kelly had similar numbers, taking 11 of 13 wins in the shot put. The difference was a big one though. Kelly’s best toss as a junior was 42-3. This year, Kelly’s worst throw was 41-6. She was better throughout the year and closed with a vengeance.
Her throw of 49-1 to win district led the state and ranks 10th in the country. Kelly won the region at 46-6 and the Class 4A state meet at 46 feet. In the discus, Kelly won eight of 11 meets and took fifth at state. Her throw of 146-3 in a runner-up finish at the Florida Relays ranks third in Florida at 61st in the country.
But Kelly said it was the performance of her team that was the sweetest part. Mandarin finished as state runner-up in Class 4A, tied with George Jenkins for that spot. And Kelly’s cousin, Terren Peterson, who she started track with when she was 9, won a state title in the 400 for the Mustangs.
“And I promise you, I was more nervous watching her run than I was like doing my own event,” Kelly said. “And I screamed at the top of my lungs when she actually won. ... Nothing can match that feeling.”
All-News4JAX girls track and field team
Event, Athlete, School, Class, Notable
100: Sydney Campbell, Creekside, Sr.: PR of 11.73 came in winning region. Took 4th in Class 4A state meet.
200: Terren Peterson, Mandarin, Sr.: Won region with a PR of 23.78. Finished 4th in 4A state meet. USF commit.
400: Terren Peterson, Mandarin, Sr.: Had a PR of 54.51 to win 4A state meet. Added district, region titles.
800: Leila Bata, Bolles, So.: Had a low of 2:15.06 to finish 5th in 2A state meet.
1600: Jillian Candelino, Bolles, Jr.: Class 2A state runner-up. Had a PR of 4:57.30 in the Bolles Mile Showcase.
3200: Jillian Candelino, Bolles, Jr.: Won 4 of the 5 events she entered, including 2A state championship. PR of 10:29.19 came in FSU Relays.
100 hurdles: Brittney Jennings, Sandalwood, So.: Had a 13.92 to finish 3rd in 4A state meet.
300 hurdles: Amelia Coker, Ponte Vedra, Jr.: Had her best time (43.92) in finishing 7th in 3A state meet.
High jump: Sasha Gregory, Nease, Jr.: PR of 5-3 came in the Tocoi Creek Toro Shodown. District champ finished 13th at 4A state meet.
Long jump: Nya Russell, Oakleaf, So.: Had a jump of 18 feet to win Ridgeview Panther Invitational.
Triple jump: Arianna Eason, Oakleaf, Sr.: Class 4A state runner-up. Went 39-5 to win district.
Pole vault: Vivian Stovall, Bolles, Jr.: Went 11-5 twice (Bolles Bulldogs Classic, FSU Relays)
Shot put: Da’Moni Kelly, Mandarin, Sr.: Had state-best 49-1 at district. Class 4A state champ. Florida signee and All-News4JAX athlete of the year.
Javelin: Emily Rohan, Bolles, Sr.: Went 135-1 to win 2A state title. Won 9 of 10 events this season.
Discus: Da’Moni Kelly, Mandarin, Sr.: Had a 146-3 at the Florida Relays. Won 8 meets, including district title and finished 5th in 4A state meet. Florida signee and All-News4JAX athlete of the year.
400 relay: Sandalwood: Finished 5th in 4A state meet in 47.87.
1600 relay: Bishop Kenny: Class 2A state champs had its best time (3:55) in state meet.
3200 relay: Bolles: Class 2A state champs turned in top time (9:20.77) in championship.
Event, Athlete, School, Class, Notable
100: Kayla-Jadyn Cleveland, Parker, Jr.: Ran an 11.78 in the Bolles Bulldog Classic. District champ and region runner-up. Took 6th in 3A state meet.
200: Sydney Campbell, Creekside, Sr.: Region runner-up with PR of 23.91. Finished 6th in 4A state meet.
400: Sydney Campbell, Creekside, Sr.: Went 55.36 to PR in runner-up effort at district. Took 3rd at 4A state meet.
800: Kennedi Proctor, Baldwin, 8th: Ran a 2:15.75 to finish 6th in the 2A state meet.
1600: Lindy White, Ponte Vedra, So.: Ran a 5:02.43 to finish 6th in 3A state meet.
3200: Annie Loehle, Mandarin, Sr.: Had a PR of 11:02.81 at FSU Relays. Took 4th in 4A state meet.
100 hurdles: Selena Robinson, Paxon, Jr.: Won region with PR of 14.57. District champ, too. Took 8th at 2A state meet.
300 hurdles: Serenity Wade, Paxon, Sr.: Had PR of 47.5 to finish 10th in 2A state meet. Also district champ.
High jump: Zoe Whaley, Ridgeview, Sr.: Cleared 5-3 to finish 5th in 3A state meet.
Long jump: Aaleiyah Bonner, Atlantic Coast, Sr.: Covered season-best 17-8 in winning Stanton meet.
Triple jump: Tristen Evatt, Yulee, So.: District champ had PR of 37-6 to finish 3rd in 2A state meet.
Pole vault: Maya Till, Creekside, So.: Had a best of 11-3 at Florida Relays. Took 5th in 4A state meet.
Shot put: Torryence Poole, Palatka, Jr.: Eight meets, 8 wins, including PR of 42-9 to take 2A state title.
Javelin: Alexandra Bohanon, Nease, Fr.: Had best throw of 131-7 at Tocoi Creek Toro Showdown. District champ, region runner-up and 4A state champ.
Discus: Zee Curtis, Bolles, So.: Class 2A state champ with a best of 123-9.
400 relay: Oakleaf: Time of 48.19 came in 3rd-place finish at region meet.
1600 relay: Sandalwood: Time of 3:55.47 was in 4th-place showing at 4A state meet.
3200 relay: Mandarin: Time of 9:30.10 came in 4th-place finish at 4A state meet.