Murfreesboro — The TSSAA track and field championships kicked off Wednesday with the Division II schools at Middle Tennessee State University's Dean Hayes Stadium in Murfreesboro.
While the team results weren't quite what area coaches and athletes had hoped for, there were still quite a few outstanding individual performances.
McCallie's Quindarius Dunnigan and Samuel Ligon led the Blue Tornado to a fourth-place finish in the AA boys' team standings with 109.5 points behind winner Brentwood Academy with 151.
Baylor finished sixth with 60 points.
Dunnigan got the day started for the Blue Tornado with a state title in the discus on a season's best throw of 154'8”. The senior also placed fifth in the shot put, while teammate Wyatt Hughes earned second.
“I was extremely nervous going into today because the distances were really close coming into the competition,” said Dunnigan. “I haven't been throwing to the best of my ability all season, and the wind was blowing pretty hard so everything was out of whack. But I just came through in the end.”
It was McCallie's Samuel Ligon who led the Blue Tornado's distance running, winning the 1600 in a time of 4:24.08, and placing third in the 3200. Ligon, a junior, beat out three Brentwood Academy runners to take home the 1600-meter championship.
“It was a rough race because it's really hot, maybe the hottest I've raced in all year,” Ligon said. “It's really fun to run with those three Brentwood Academy guys because they're really fast, and it's a lot easier when I'm the chaser instead of being chased. The last 300 meters I just felt that extra gear, and I was able to engage and take off. It was a lot of fun.”
Baylor's Jack Holcombe provided arguably the most drama of the day in the pole vault competition. The senior was one of four athletes that cleared 13 feet, but was the only one to miss at that height, clearing it on his second attempt. That put him in fourth place as the bar was raised to 13'6”.
After missing on his first two attempts at the new height, Holcombe cleared the bar on his third and final attempt while all three of his competitors missed, making him the state champion.
“It feels really good (to be a state champion), definitely one of the better feelings I've ever had,” Holcombe said. “It was really not, and definitely not one of the better performances I've had since I missed at nearly ever height. I knew I needed the one at 13 feet to have a shot, and obviously I'm very happy with the results.”
McCallie's Ti Thomas finished in a tie for second in the high jump and fourth in the long jump, while teammate Tyren Flowers earned second in the 100 meters and Raif Gork came in third in the 800 meters. The Blue Tornado 4 x 800 and 4 x 100 meter relay teams also placed third each. Michael May and Eric Rivers placed fourth and fifth in the high jump respectively, each with season-best jumps, while John Arrowsmith also placed fourth in the 3200 meters.
For Baylor, sprinter Riley Jenne placed second in the 200 and third in the 100, Wiley Pippenger earned fourth in both the 400 and 110-meter hurdles, and Jackson Collette placed fourth in the 800. The Raiders' 4 x 800 meter relay team also finished fourth.
In the girls' AA competition, Baylor's Makayla Packer had a busy day on Wednesday. After helping the Lady Raiders to a walk-off softball win over rival GPS, the speedster traded her softball cleats for track spikes and competed in the 100 and 200 meters, where she tried to defend her title in both from last season's state meet.
After a disappointing 100 where the junior gave up her crown to Lipscomb Academy's Mikele Vickers, Packer used the second-place finish as motivation in the 200.
“This morning I was in the softball mindset, so I couldn't worry about track,” said Packer. “Out here I'm just focused on myself and pushing myself. I was very upset after the 100, so in the 200 I had to just start over fresh with a new mindset. That loss lit a little fire in me.”
Although her 200-meter time wasn't her best, it was enough to secure the title with a time of 25.08. Packer also came from behind in the final leg of the 4 x 100 meter relay to help her team to a second-place finish.
Packer's teammate, senior Ally Craig, finished in second place in the high jump competition for the second straight year. Craig tied Ensworth's Zoe Williams at 5'2”, but had an extra miss at that height causing her to lose on the tie-breaker. Craig, who couldn't hide her disappointment after the medal ceremony, still walked away smiling at a tremendous high school career and is looking forward to playing collegiate volleyball for the University of West Alabama in the fall.
"There is a little bit of disappointment,” admitted Craig. “I've always dreamed of coming in first; I like to win. But everyone works really hard out there, so it is what it is.”
Baylor finished fourth in the team standings with 76 points, with Ensworth winning the title with 162 points. Ruthie Burnette (pole vault), Evie Culbreath (100 hurdles), and Autumn Seymour (300 hurdles) each finished fourth in their respective events. The Lady Raiders' 4 x 200, 4 x 400, and 4 x 800 meter relay teams each finished third.
GPS, who finished in sixth in the team standings with 33 points, had a pair of distance runners on the podium in the 3200 meters. Freshman Minah Sadrabadi finished second, while sophomore teammate Jane Eiselstein finished fourth in the event. Nicola Van der merwe also finished fourth in the triple jump.
Chattanooga Christian's Laura Beth Turner's state competition started last week in the Division II-A pentathlon. In eighth place heading into the fifth and final event, Turner won the 800 meters in a time of 2:24.52 to vault all the way to a second-place finish.
After a disappointing sixth-place in the high jump on Wednesday, Turner ran an almost identical time in the 800 meters with a 2:24.79 to again finish second. Having been a sprinter nearly her entire track career to this point, Turner, who just started competing in the 800 about a month ago, feels like she is beginning to understand the strategy that goes into what many argue is the most grueling race in track and field.
“I don't think I'm all the way there yet in the 800. I think I'm still getting there,” said Turner. “Being a sprinter, you want to just run the first part really fast, but I've learned that I just have to ease into it. I'm still adapting, but I really love the race. It is a different feel between the open 800 and the 800 in the pentathlon because the competition is a lot better in the open race.”
The CCS girls 4 x 800 meter relay team finished third as the Lady Chargers placed fifth in the team standings with 46.5 points. Webb School of Knoxville won with 140 points.
Chattanooga Christian's Jack Cotrell ran a personal-best 9:52.53 in the 3200 to place second, more than 25 seconds faster than his previous fastest time.
“I went into the race feeling great,” said Cotrell, a sophomore. “My goal was to get first, which was a pretty ridiculous goal seeing as how I was seeded fifth, but I felt like I had it in me. The race went pretty much as planned. I stayed with the leader the entire race. I took over first with about a lap to go, but I couldn't hold him off in the last 100 meters.”
The Chargers' 4 x 800 meter relay team finished third, and their 4 x 200 relay team placed fourth. Notre Dame's George Fillauer placed fourth in the discus. CCS finished ninth in the team standings with 32 points, while Harding Academy won with 119 points.