Warriors place four on medal stand at state track meet
Four White County High School track athletes made their way to the medal podium during the Class AAAA track meet last week in Albany.
The Warrior contingent of Nix Burkett, Grant Pulliam, Noah Rapert and Rachel Lovell all posted Top 5 finishes during the three-day event at Hugh Mills Stadium.
Burkett and Pulliam finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the boys' pole vault, while Rapert was fourth in the triple jump. Lovell was the lone WCHS female athlete to earn a spot on the medal stand, finishing fifth in the high jump.
The Warriors were also represented by Rapert in the 400-meter race and Rapert, Jay Lepkoske, Cameron Quinn, Dominic Stevens, Cody VerSluis and Karson Crowe in the 4x400-meter event at the state meet, while Maddie Stephens (pole vault), Jaelen Alexander (800-meters), Dasha Cannon (discus) and Evelyn Vanderbunt (shot put) represented the Lady Warriors' squad.
“As athletically gifted as this group is, it doesn't compete to what kind of people they are,” Cantrell said. “We have a great group of seniors. I never had to wonder if they are doing the right thing. They were always ready to roll. The character of this group is one of the best I've ever been around.”
Burkett and Pulliam became the first WCHS duo to place in the top five in the same event in the history of the track program.
Burkett and Pulliam both cleared the bar at 12-feet, with Burkett finishing fourth due to one less miss. Both WCHS athletes entered the competition at 11-06. Burkett cleared the bar on his first attempt while Pulliam needed two attempts to clear the height. Burkett and Pulliam both cleared the bar on the first attempt at 12-00, but both missed on all three attempts at 12-06.
“Nix is one of those kids that just come to work every single down, and he's made himself into a fantastic pole vaulter,” Cantrell said. “He has the ability to stay locked in on what he's doing. Some people mentally check out at times, but he's not that kind of kid. His goal was to make it to state, but his goal changed (during the season) and he wanted to get on the podium. It's good to see his hard work pay off. Grant made it to state last year, but he's had to battle an injury, he hurt his back, so we weren't able to pick up where he left off from last year. He's had some tough days and he's had some good day, but he kept working and got back on the podium.”
Madison County's Scott Fagan won the pole vault title at 13-00, with Woodward Academy's Christian Houston and Heritage-Catoosa's Wes Lozano both clearing 12-06, finishing second and third, respectively.
Central Carrollton's Sidney Stone (12-00), Joshua Teague (12-00) and Gilmer County's John McDaniel (11-06) rounded out the Top 8 in the event.
In the triple jump, Rapert had a solid opening jump during the preliminary round, posting a mark of 44-06 on his first attempt. Rapert's first jump was third-longest during the opening round and all but locked in a spot in the finals. In the finals, which included the top nine athletes from the preliminary heats, Rapert posted his best mark of the day with jump of 44-07 on his second attempt. He fouled on his final attempt in the finals.
Columbus' Ian Rome was the competitor in the 16-man field to exceed 47-feet, finishing with a mark of 47-06 to win the state title. Chapel Hill's Jayden Braxton was second at 46-01, followed by West Hall's Terrence Robinson at 45-05.25. Oconee County's Dashawn Elder (44-03.5) was fifth, with Madison County's Tamaris Gaines (43-11), Chapel Hill's Jaylen Slade (44-07) and West Laurens' Daniel Dorsey (43-04.25) finishing off the podium group in the event.
“Noah had a knee issue during the season, and he wasn't able to jump as much as he wanted, but he cranked it back up when region came around,” Cantrell said. “He's a special athlete. He works hard, has a lot of confidence and he takes a lot of pride in what he does.”
Rapert also competed in the 400-meter race, finishing 12th and missing out on the state finals. Rapert posted a time of 50.38. Sandy Creek's AJ Hale won the event at 47.50, followed by Chapel Hill's Shawn Langley (47.71) and St. Pius' Robert Jared Williams (48.78).
The Warriors' 4x400-meter relay team of Lepkoske, Quinn, Rapert and Dominic Stevens posted a time of 3:28.19, finishing 12th, but did not qualify for the finals. VerSluis and Crowe served as alternates in the event.
“We've got five seniors in the 4x4 group, so it would special for them to make it to state,” Cantrell said. “They all give us unbelievable effort and they are high character kids.”
Chapel Hill won the state title with a time of 3:18.421, followed by Sandy Creek (3:18.65) and Eastside (3:20.77).
St. Pius took the boys' team state title with 81 points, while Chapel Hill was the runner-up among the 36-team field with 72 points. Sandy Creek (49), Mary Persons (37.5), Woodward Academy (34), Oconee County (29.5), North Oconee (22), Eastside (19), Westover (18.5), Denmark (18), Shaw (18), Columbus (18) and Blessed Trinity (18) rounded out the Top 10 teams.
Lovell turned in a solid effort in the high jump, earning a spot on the medal podium.
She cleared her first two heights of the meet at 4-10 and 5-00, before missing on her first attempt at 5-02. Lovell bounced back and cleared 5-02 on her second attempt to lock up a spot in the Top 5. She had three attempts at 5-04, but couldn't clear the bar, leaving her in a tie with Sandy Creek's Jania Hodges and Burke County's Kianni Westbrook. Hodges and Westbrook both had only three misses, while Lovell had four, leaving Hodges and Westbrook in tie for third, and Lovell in fifth-place.
“Rachel has been to state before, but I think her nerves got to her a little bit in the past,” Cantrell said. “This year, you could just see the maturity and confidence. She stayed cool and she knew what to expect. It's great to see her have this kind of success after she's spent so much time working at the high jump mat.”
Luella's Jada Blanton was the state winner in the event, clearing 5-06,while Baldwin's Mollie Speights was the runner-up at 5-04.
Druid Hills' Angelia Allen (5-00), Woodward Academy's Sarah Olatidoye (5-00) and Heritage-Catoosa's Zauren Burton (4-10) rounded out the Top 8 in the event.
Stephens just missed getting on the podium in the pole vault. Stephens and Blessed Trinity's Coco Camerieri both cleared 9-00, but Camerieri finished eighth and got a spot on the podium thanks to one less miss during the competition.
Madison County's Journey Gurley easily won the state title with a height of 12-06, while Woodward Academy's Molly Devinney was second at 10-00.
“Maddie cleared a height high enough to be on the podium, but the scratches just got her,” Cantrell said. “She's done a great job all year; she's improved so much. She was good enough to be on the podium.”
Alexander's stellar high school running career came to an end with a 10th place finish in the 800-meter event. Alexander, who won the 800-meter title as a sophomore, missed the state finals in her final appearance at the state meet.
Alexander turned in a time of 2:23.68 during the preliminary heats, missing out of a Top 8 spot by less than .66 seconds.
Sandy Creek's Gabriella Grissom won the state final with a time of 2:14.86, with Gilmer County's Naomi Combs (2:17.57) and Oconee County's (2:18.29) finishing second and third, respectively.
“Jaelen has had an unbelievable year,” Cantrell said. “She just ran into some girls that threw down some really, really fast times in the 800. This wasn't the outcome she wanted, but when you look back at her high school career, she's done some amazing things. She's going to run at the college level and we're expecting big things for her.”
Cannon posted a Top 10 finish as well, placing 10th in the discus competition. Cannon fouled once and had throws of 92-02 and 95-11 during the preliminary competition, but did not advance to the finals. Chapel Hill's Kassidy Amerson-Fox won the state title with a mark of 125-04, followed by North Clayton's Kakalya Burrell (124-05) and Southeast Whitfield's Haylee Terry (118-03).
In the shot put, Vanderbunt finished 13th, and did not make the finals. Vanderbunt had marks of 31-07, 32-01 and 31-10.5 during the preliminary round.
“Dasha threw it pretty well, it was her first time in the state meet, and you have to get used to it when you are competing on such a big stage for the first time,” Cantrell said. “Evelyn was here last year, and she had a pretty good day too. The thing about track is that you have to have your best day on biggest day (state meet). We just didn't have our best throwing day on the biggest day, but they both competed well and I'm proud of them. Being in the Top 16 in Class AAAA is a pretty big accomplishment in itself.”
Amerson-Fox completed a sweep in the throwing events, adding the shot put title with a mark of 40-03. Cartersville's London Shaw as second at 40-01, and Carver Columbus' Shania Riles finished third at 40-00.
Amerson-Fox's dominance in the throwing events helped Chapel Hill claim the team title with 85.5 points in the 34-team field. Sandy Creek was next at 60.5, followed by Woodward Academy (44), Marist (42), Blessed Trinity (36), Westover (31), Burke County (29.5), LaGrange (27), St. Pius (27) and Oconee County (24) to round out the Top 10.