AUGUSTA — Jack Jowett had nothing to lose. The Erskine Academy track and field standout had already qualified at both the conference and state levels in the javelin, his signature event.

But even as he got ready to make his first throw at the I. Taylor Harmon Capital City Classic on Friday at Cony High School, the state title hopeful knew there was still plenty to gain.

“I want to compete against myself and get my personal bests in everything that I can, and that’s what everybody’s trying to do here,” he said. “We’re all competing against ourselves. Even if you qualify, you want to better yourself. This is a really good opportunity to better yourself.”

The last opportunity, in fact. For the 13 teams that made it to Alumni Field for Cony’s annual meet, Friday was the final stop on the way to the all-or-nothing conference and state meets. For the athletes like Jowett, who have long had their late Mays and early Junes booked, it represented a final tune-up, and a chance to make whatever tweaks were necessary to the form that they hope will lead to glory at the biggest meets of the year.

For the myriad athletes that hadn’t qualified for conference meets, however, the stakes were higher. After the Classic, there were no more chances to punch their tickets. Athletes could either find those extra seconds, inches or feet they needed, or the season was over.

“I think some of them do (feel pressure). I think the kids that are really striving for that goal (know) there’s this kind of finality that if you don’t do it tonight, your season’s kind of over,” Hall-Dale coach Jarod Richmond said. “I really tell the kids, it’s not about that. It’s about the experience, are you better now than you were at the beginning of the year? And if you have your best jump, run or throw of the season tonight, then you’ve had a great year.”

Still, for those on the bubble, it was hard not to look at the implications in play.

“This one definitely has more tension, because I want to make MVCs this year,” said Hall-Dale’s Declan Edgecomb, who began the afternoon two-and-a-half feet shy of a qualifying shot put throw. “I’m going to try a lot harder in this one than in the other ones. … I try to turn (the urgency) into energy.”

“I think it matters who you’re talking to,” said Cony’s Jillian Brown, a KVAC hopeful in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. “Some kids are doing track just for fun, and some are really competitive.”

The higher stakes and increased pressure lead some to make sure they put everything into the Classic. Winthrop’s Zak St. Germain, needing to shave one second off his personal best time of 5:21 in the mile, opted not to run in the event in a meet Tuesday — thereby giving up a valuable chance to qualify — to make sure he was at 100 percent for Cony, where there would be plenty of qualified runners with whom he could pace himself.

“We knew the fields would be deep here, we knew the fields would be better, they’d be more likely to have people to chase and to pull him to that time,” Winthrop coach Ed Van Tassel said. “He kind of said ‘Yeah, let’s put all of our eggs in one basket and go for it.”

On the sidelines waiting for the event, St. Germain acknowledged there was a layer of tension to the race.

“This is a big meet, so there’s a lot of pressure. Last meet I was one second off of qualifying for MVCs, so I’m determined to get it,” he said. “The earlier meets feel more like practice meets for a big meet like this. There’s a lot more excitement (today).”

Some of the bubble athletes flourished under that pressure. The most notable example may have been Cony’s Jake Dacus, who came into the meet with a personal best of 77 feet in the discus — only to shatter it with a throw of 116 feet that easily cleared the KVAC requirement of 110 feet.

“I kind of got pumped up,” Dacus said. “It was just the pressure from everyone here, last chance to qualify. … Embrace it, for sure. You’ve got to get pumped up for it. I was pumped up all day for it, couldn’t wait for it to get here.”

Even for the athletes who had cleared the conference barriers, however, the pressure wasn’t off entirely. Much like a team that has clinched a playoff berth but can still gain homefield advantage, qualified athletes still had seeding position they could improve.

“It’s still good training and practice with a lot of the kids I’m going to be racing against in states,” said Maranacook’s Janika Pakulski, a state qualifier in the 100, 200 and pole vault. “There’s not pressure from my coaches, there’s not pressure from my team, it’s all about me wanting to do the best I can, always. Because there are still chances to break a PR and seed higher.”

And sharpen that form for when those meets arrive.

“Definitely. Not so much in the 100, it’s mostly just starting and building up that endurance,” Pakulski said. “But especially for events like pole vault and other field events, it’s super important.”

And still, plenty of the athletes that were on the outside looking in entering Friday stayed there. Even the ones who didn’t qualify, however, could make the day worthwhile.

“It’s kind of a last hurrah, especially for people who haven’t qualified,” Jowett said. “It’s a really good meet for them to get their reps in and get what they need to get done done, so they can come back better next year.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

dboni[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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