By James Butler
MCDONOUGH Ga. –
Teams all over the Southern Crescent are looking forward to their athletes performing well at Saturday’s Sectional Track and Field Meets. One such team is the Union Grove girls. Coming off of the first region championship in his 14 years of being the girls track and field coach, and headed into the Class AAAAA Sectional Meet at Starr’s Mill, Union Grove’s Eric Benton is really pleased at the way his team performed in capturing the Region 4 Championship a week ago.
“They had a nice outing, nice showing,” Benton said. “They worked really hard and it paid off.”
The Wolverine girls set some school records in the process of bringing home the championship, but Benton thinks his group can better those marks.
“The 4×400 record was broken and the 4×100 record was broken, so we’re looking to try to make [those] even better and improve those times,” Benton said. “We’re looking forward to that. We know we got our work cut out for us, but our team is up for it.”
The 4×400 team, which consists of Na’ilah Allen, Ayannah Edmonds, Ebele Okoye, and Ellunde Montgomery, ran 3:59.68 to win the region title. While the 4×100 team, which consists of Edmonds, Okoye, Brianna Washington, and Courtney Reid, ran 49.31 to finish third behind the champions Woodland and second-place Stockbridge.
Also, Montgomery and Mckenzie Cromer finished first and second respectively in the 800 meters, while they went second and third in the 1600 meters. A Georgia Southern signee, the senior Montgomery has been on the big stage before, but this will be Cromer’s grandest stage on the track.
“She’s a freshman,” Benton said. “[It’s] going to be big for her.”
Union Grove also boasts Region 4 shot put and discus champion Megan Douglas amongst others. Overall, Benton thinks all of his girls are contenders to make it to state.
“Hopefully we’ll get everyone [qualified],” he said. “That’s the idea. That’s the goal. We know we got some stiff competition. We can’t look too far ahead. We can’t count out anybody. We have to pay attention and we have to take care of our business. I think if we take care of our business, focus on the things we have to do, we’ll be okay.”
The chief Southern Crescent team the Union Grove girls will have to fend off is host school and region rival Starr’s Mill. The Lady Panthers are especially strong in the field with Alexis Farley being the favorite in the long and triple jumps, while Madeline Hammond is the top seed in the high jump. Farley is the reigning state champion in the long jump.
Another Southern Crescent girl to keep an eye on individually is Alyssa LeClaire of McIntosh, who was the runner to top Montgomery and Cromer in the 800 meters at region. LeClaire is also a threat in the 3,200 meters.
“You have Starr’s Mill, they’re going to be pushing,” Benton said. “It’s going to be a really good preview of what the state meet will look like.”
In each sectional site, the races under 1,600 meters will run two heats with the top- two finishers from each heat and the next four fastest times comprising the eight qualifying spots for the boys and girls state meets. In the 1,600 and 3,200-meter races above Class A, the top eight finishers from each race will go to state. In the field events above Class A, the top-eight finishers from each event will go to state. Here is a look at some of the other top local contenders.
CLASS AAAAA BOYS
Union Grove and Starr’s Mill both have performers on the boys side that are expected to do well. Matt Moore won region titles in both the 100 meters 110-meter hurdles for the Wolverines. Moore won the Class AAAAA 110-meter hurdle state title last year and has the fastest 110-meter hurdle time (13.74) in the state this year. Starr’s Mill, on the other hand, has a wealth of talent in the field events and distance races. Defending state champions Ryan Spiecha is the top seed in the shot put, and Michael and Ben Runyan are two to watch in the pole vault. Also, Nick Nyam and Harrison Fultz will look to contend in the 3,200 meters and especially in the 1,600 meters.
Southern Crescent teams will be in both of the two Class AAAA sectionals Saturday as the teams from locally-dominated Region 4 will compete at Eagle’s Landing High School, and Sandy Creek, Fayette County, and Whitewater of Region 5 will compete at Carrollton. Michael Jones is a standout in both the 110 meter and 300-meter hurdles for the defending state champion Sandy Creek boys. He won region championships in both of those events, as did the Patriot boys 4×100 meter-relay team. Whitewater will come with ammo in the distance races as Parker Nail is the top seed in the 1,600 meters. Nail and Wildcat teammate Thomas Adkins are also contenders in the 800 meters, while fellow Whitewater boys Harry and Don Harp, will look to contend in the 3,200 meters. On the girls side, Fayette County’s Nailah Moore is the top seed in the triple jump. Moore and teammate Jessica Watkins will also look to qualify in the long jump.
Over at Eagle’s Landing, the host teams will look to their top runners to help propel them. On the boys side, two-time defending 800-meter champion Devin Dixon (pictured) is the top seed in the 400 meters, but is seeded third in the 800. His girls’ counterpart, Betty Jackson, is the top seed in the 800 meters with teammate Sophia Fabre being seeded second. Not surprisingly, both Dixon and Jackson are a part of their respective 4×400 meter relay teams who are expected to run some of the fastest times at sectionals. In the 4×100 meter race, the Hampton girls are a serious contender. Also, Mount Zion’s star basketball player, Tyeisha Juhan, is a threat in the triple jump.
REMAINING SOUTHERN CRESCENT ATHLETES
Competing in Class AAA, North Clayton has a basketball standout looking to jump her way to a state bid as well. A runner-up at state in the high jump in 2015, Moena Battle is the top seed in the event in the girls sectionals held at Gordon Central High School in Calhoun. Staying with the jumps, Lovejoy’s Kiayani Anderson is the top seed in the boys long jump in the Wildcats Class AAAAAA sectionals taking place at Roswell High School. Anderson’s season best of 24.3 feet is the top mark in Georgia this year.
In the Class A Private School Classification, defending girls state champions Our Lady of Mercy will have its hands full dealing with ELCA. The Lady Chargers will be strong in the sprints with T’Aja Cameron being a top contender in the 100 meters and 200 meters, where she is the defending state champion, as well as being on ELCA’s 4×100 and 4×400 meter relay teams. Cameron is also the defending state champion and contender in the triple jump. The two schools will likely duke it out in the 400-meter dash as Our Lady of Mercy’s Alion Belvin and Courtney Johnson will match up against ELCA’s Kayland Thomason. Belvin was runner-up at state a year ago. In the shot put, ELCA’s Abigail Rogers is another defending state champion. She looks to be among the nine that will go to state in the Class A Private School Classification field event. On the boys side, ELCA will feature strong sprinting as well, as Jeffrey Uzell will lead the way in the 100 and 200 meters, and the 4×100 meter relay.