All aboard for Albany
A large contingent of White County High School athletes will spend some time in Albany at the Class AAAA state track meet.
The Class AAAA meet has been held at Berry College in Rome for the past two years, but returns to South Georgia along with the Class A Public and Class AAA meets. The state championships begins today, Thursday, May 9, and run through Saturday, May 11.
WCHS will have Grant Pulliam, Nix Burkett, Dasha Cannon, Evelyn Vanderbunt, Noah Rapert, Maddie Stephens, Rachel Lovell and Jaelen Alexander compete in individual events, along with the boys' 4x400-meter relay team made up of Rapert, Jay Lepkoske, Cameron Quinn, Dominic Stevens, and alternates Karson Crowe and Cody VerSluis.
“Everybody is healthy and ready to go,” WCHS head coach Jake Cantrell said Wednesday morning. “We're taking 13 kids down there, and we have some kids that can compete for a state championship. But (Class) 4A is tough, you have to go out there and compete at a high level to win a state championship. But the pressure is off, we've made it to state. Now we have to go out there, relax and perform. Just perform like we've done all year.”
The Warrior contingent earned their state spots during the Class AAAA B Sectional last weekend at North Oconee High School. The meet featured athletes from Region 3, 4, 7 and 8. The top eight finishers in each event qualified for the state meet in Albany.
After competing the past two years at the state meet in Rome, Cantrell said the team has mixed emotions about heading to South Georgia today.
“They held the girls state meet in Albany forever,” Cantrell said. “When the GHSA decided to combine the boys and girls meets, we were fortunate to get sent to Berry College in Rome the past two years. Berry was a much more fan, athlete, and coach-friendly facility. Teams were allowed to set up tent up there, but in Albany, you can't have tents. So it will be different down there. But the state meets have always been well-run down there and I expect it to be the same this year. It's just a long way from home.”
In the sectional meet, the WCHS squad did extremely well on the pole competition. On the boys' side, senior Grant Pulliam and junior Nix Burkett tied for the top spot. Pulliam and Burkett both cleared 12-06, with Burkett sitting a personal record in the event. For the girls, Stephens, the Region 7-AAAA pole vault champion, cleared the bar at 9-06 to finish fifth and move onto the state meet.
“This is the first time I've taken three to state in the pole vault, and that's a testament to how hard they have all worked,” Cantrell said. “It would be awesome to have all three of them get on the podium. We've never had a boy and a girl place at state in the same year. We have a great chance to do it this year.”
The Lady Warriors had three athletes excel in other field events as well. Cannon had the fourth-best throw of the meet in the discus competition, posting a mark of 101.06, while Vanderbunt was fourth in the shot with a mark of 34-03.50. Lovell earned a spot in the high jump field with a height of 5-02, tying with West Hall's Kinsey Wilson.
“In the girls' field events, we expect a strong showing with Dasha, Evelyn and Rachel,” Cantrell said. “All three of them have a chance to get on the (medal) podium, but they know they have to do their very best.”
Rapert will compete in a pair of individual events at the state meet. He finished fourth in the boys' triple jump with a mark of 44-02.50, and was seventh in the 400-meter race with a time of 50.01.
“Noah has been battling a knee injury, but he has the capability of getting in the 400-meter final and he should compete for a podium spot in the triple jump,” Cantrell said.
Alexander turned in a time of 2:22.34 to finish seventh in the 800-meter race at the sectional meet. Alexander won the state title in the event as a sophomore, and Cantrell's expects her to turn in a stellar effort in her final high school meet.
“She's a state champion; she's been in the fire before and she knows what to expect,” Cantrell said. “It's an extremely loaded field and she'll have to have her best race. But I know she will lay it all on the line and we have high expectations for her.”`
The Warriors' 4x400-meter team of Lepkoske, Rapert, Quinn and Stevens earned a state spot with a sixth-place finish, recording a time of 3:26.13. VerSluis and Crowe are the team's alternate runners.
“As a a program, we take pride in doing well in the 4x4,” Cantrell said. “It's good to have our boys' team make it to state in the 4x4, and our girls' team just missed it.”
Lepkoske competed in the shot put, finishing 11th at 42-09, and was 10th in the 100-meter race at 11.28.
Cody VerSluis finished 12th in the long jump at 19-08, and was 15thi in the 110-meter hurdles at 17.75.
The Warriors' 4x100-meter relay team finished 12th with a time of 43.99.
Ellie Gearing finished 10th in the girls' triple jump with a mark of 33-04, and was 15th in the 400-meter race at 1:02.84, while Lily Gearing finished 10th in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 49.44.
Kylie Johnson was 12th in the long jump at 15-08.50. Lily Gearing was 10th in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 49.44.The Lady Warriors' 4x400-meter team posted a time of 4:13.34 to finish 11th.