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Let the games begin

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Not that there's any pressure on Deerfield-Windsor's boys 4x400 relay team, but the way the GISA AAA state track & field meet looks this year, the team title could come down to the final event on Saturday.

That team is made up of Casey Rhodes, Tony Zenon, Davis Moore, and Taylor Withers running the anchor for the mile relay which might have to decide the meet.

The three-day GISA state track & field meets -- for boys and girls -- start today at Hugh Mills, where local powerhouses DWS will try to defend its boys title and Westwood will be trying to win its fourth consecutive Class A titles in both boys and girls.

There aren't too many coaches who have won six state titles in three years, but as Westwood coach Earl Ford likes to say: "Not too many coaches have the kids I have.''

A long list of area schools will take part in the annual private school meet, including AA Sherwood Christian, which hopes defending 3,200-meter state champ Katie Meagher, who won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at region last week, will lead the girls, and shot put and discus region champ Derinique Daniel, who owns the school record in the discus (127-11), will lead the boys.

Randolph Southern's Kevin Melton won Region 3-A titles in the high jump and 110 and 300 hurdles, and Randolph Southern's Brooke Taylor was the girls region champ in the 800 and 1,600-meter runs.

But Deerfield and Westwood will highlight the three-day event. The DWS boys have Zenon, who will be bolting for Georgia Tech and football after this season, but not before he tries to defend his state titles in the 100-meter dash and long jump. Zenon will try to add a 200-meter title as well. He also runs on both relay teams that won state titles last year. DWS returns three runners on each team, including Justin Webb, who will try to win another title in the 300 hurdles while adding a 100 hurdles title this year, and Moore, who won the 400-meter region title last week.

The Knights will need all those points and more this year.

"I see it being a really close, tight meet,'' DWS boys coach Craig Rhodes said. "I don't think anyone will run away from it. I think there's four teams: Stratford, Mount de Sales, George Walton and us.''

But Deerfield won't be the front-runner -- at least not when the meet begins.

"By what I've seen from the times in the other regions, we won't be the favorite,'' Rhodes said. "But that's on paper, and they don't run the race on paper. They run it on the track. It doesn't always happen like it says on paper.''

DWS will be confident because Rhodes has the bulk of his team back from last year, and because no one knows what kind of times the Knights will run when they are pushed this week.

There's also another factor -- a giant one.

"This is the healthiest we've been all year,'' Rhodes said. "It's the first time all year we've been entirely healthy. I feel like we've got a chance.''

Rhodes is hoping some of his younger kids can get some points on Friday in the field events. Last year, DWS was trailing by 31 points after Friday's field events before sprinting to the title.

DWS will know exactly what to expect in the girls state meet, where Kelly Conway will give a farewell performance before running off to Clemson. Conway has already won nine individual state titles and could add three more -- the 400, 800 and 1,600 -- as well as lead both relay teams to victory.

"She's won a bunch of state titles,'' Rhodes said. "But I don't think she's done.''

As for Westwood, Ford also hopes his girls and boys teams aren't finished winning team titles, either. He lost three girls from his state title team of a year ago simply because they are now seniors and don't want to run any more. But Ford has found a way to replace them with talented young girls, who will have a chance to write their own legacy.

Two sophomores will lead the way. Hope Bailey won region titles in the triple jump and 400, and Virginia Vereen won region titles in the high jump and in both the 100 and 300 hurdles. Both girls run on Westwood's region winning 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. Senior Kaitlyn High won region titles in the shot put and discus and Ford's daughter Gillian, a senior, was second in those events. Westwood has won the shot put title for the last five years.

"We feel we are stronger this year,'' Ford said. "They are more mature and mentally I think we're a little tougher this year.''

Ford expects to score points all over the meet in both the girls and boys events, and is looking for a big meet from Mason Worsham in the 100, 200 and long jump, Jake Edore in the triple jump, and 110 and 300 hurdles, and Tayler Boone in the 100 and 200.

"I think Tayler is poised for a big weekend,'' said Ford, who added he expects a dogfight this year in both meets. "I don't think you could say we're the favorites. Briarwood's girls have a tremendous team, and Bethesda (Savannah) and Covenant (Macon) are the favorites in the boys. I don't think we're far behind them, and I do think we're capable of beating them.''