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Southwest Georgia shines

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Joy, relief and a bit of redemption washed over Deerfield-Windsor's Reed Hancock as she felt herself sailing into history Friday evening -- literally.

She soared to a new state record, finished a personal three-year journey, and for a little icing on her big day, she went out for doughnuts.

"I was pretty excited,'' said Hancock, who couldn't stop smiling after she set a new state record in the pole vault in the GISA AAA girls state track & field state meet at Hugh Mills Stadium, which finishes up today. "We're going to celebrate. They're going to take me out for victory doughnuts. I'm not kidding. We're going to Krispy Kreme. I'm a on a pretty strict diet, and haven't had a doughnut in a long time. So that's how I'm going to celebrate.''

Hancock, a sophomore, finished third in the pole vault as an eighth grader and was third again last year. Not this time. She soared over 11-6 to set a new state record and win the title, and then just missed at 12-2, which would have been a personal best.

Hancock, who is a protege of legendary former world champion pole vaulter-turned-coach Charlie Polhamus, has cleared 12-1, but she can set her sights on even higher goals.

After all, she's only 16.

"I really wanted to win (the title). It feels good not to be looking up to other people,'' she said with a laugh and an amendment. "You know what I mean. It just feels good to finally finish one of the goals I set for myself.''

Hancock is one of those hard-nose workers, a kid who has attacked pole vaulting and made it a mission to succeed. She has traveled around the country to compete, and makes the long 90-minute trip to Fitzgerald three times a week and just about every ever weekend to train with Polhamus.

"It's worth it,'' she said. "I love it. It's something I want to do in the future in college.''

She may be vaulting all the way to Singapore this summer. Hancock recently competed in a nationwide event in Dallas, where she won and qualified as a nominee for the U.S.A. Youth Olympic team that will compete in Singapore in August.

"I'll find out in late May if I made the team,'' said Hancock, who started out as a gymnast then went on to play soccer before falling in love with pole vaulting as an eighth grader.

Most of her close friends are pole vaulters from other schools around Southwest Georgia.

"Yeah, we all know each other and hang out together,'' Hancock said.

They planned on getting together after Friday's meet -- over doughnuts, of course.

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Conway gets No. 10

There were several Southwest Georgia state champs crowned Friday, a day devoted to the field events, and a day that left several team titles up in the air.

If you like redemption, just look at the performance by Deerfield's Kelly Conway, who after having a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 1,600 on Thursday, came back to show the kind of character that has made her a 10-time state champ.

Conway reeled in No. 10 Friday morning, winning the 800-meter run in 2:22.01, and will try to win her 11th state title today when she runs in the 3,200. But her effort and performance on Friday was simply inspirational.

"I just tried not to dwell on what happened Thursday,'' Conway said. "I've been in so many races in my life that I know that you can have a bad day, and I know you have to get past that one and move on to the next one.''

And when she won, she showed it.

"I was very excited,'' she said. "Just to come out and do better. I really wanted to have a good race (Friday)."

And just how special was that 10th state title?

"It's special, but they're all special,'' she said. "They're all special to me.''

Hancock and Conway had little trouble winning state titles, but the race for the team titles for defending state champ Westwood boys and girls in Class A -- and for the Deerfield boys in Class AAA -- could come down to the wire today.

"I knew it was going to be close and it's coming down to just about the way I thought it would,'' said Westwood track coach Earl Ford, whose boys and girls teams have won the last three state titles.

Westwood's girls lead the Class A meet with 81 1/2 points, and Briarwood is close behind at 74 1/2 Randolph Southern's girls are sixth and Terrell Academy's girls, who have already won state softball and basketball titles this year, are ninth.

Westwood's boys are in an even tighter race. Covenant leads the field with 59 points, and Westwood is right there with 58. Bethesda Day, meanwhile, was third with 50.

"I knew the three of us would be a handful of points within each other,'' Ford said. "It could come down to the last event (today).''

That'll be the 4x400 relay race, and Ford said he wouldn't even know who his anchor would be until just before the race. He figures someone will step up and say, 'Coach, give me the last baton.'

"It might just come down to that,'' Ford said.

The Deerfield-Windsor boys are trying to defend their state title, and they're going to have to have big day today to do it after ending Day 2 in fifth place overall with 30 1/2 points -- which was 10 points away first-place Stratford Academy.

But when you're talking the comeback kids from Deerfield, that deficit doesn't mean much. The Knights were down a staggering 31 points on the final day last year, and managed to capture the state crown after dominating the running events on Day 3.

DWS fell behind Friday because it didn't have any state champs in the field events.

"Our strength is on the track," DWS coach Craig Rhodes said. "I really believe it will be a tight race for all those teams at the top. We'll see how it plays outs."

Matt Miller was second in the discus, Tony Zenon finished third in the long jump, Reggie Brown tied for third in the high jump and Taylor Withers finished third in the 800-meter run, the only running final of the day. Gaughf Ivey finished sixth in the pole vault. Mount de Sales went 1-2 in the 800 meter run to grab a quick 20 points and led the entire day before falling to second place overall after a late surge by Stratford.

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CLASS AA: AKINS WINS STATE IN SHOT PUT FOR SHERWOOD

The only state champ in the AA meet was Sherwood Christian's Darren Akins, who won the shot put (47-5 ) and was seventh in the discus. SCA's Derinique Daniel was third in the shot put and second in the discus, and SCA's Stephen Cannady -- last year's state champ in the high jump -- finished a disappointing second place.

There were no local state champs in the girls AA meet, but Sherwood Christian's Katie Meagher, who will defend her 3,200 meter title today, was seventh in the 800, her weakest event. She was the state runner-up in the 1,600 on Thursday. SCA's Princess Williams was seventh in the discus. Southwest Georgia Academy's Kyndal Andrews was sixth in the triple jump and Sarah Oliver was seventh in the high jump.

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CLASS A: WESTWOOD, RANDOLPH SOUTHERN AND TERRELL ACADEMY STARS ALL BRING HOME CROWNS

Westwood's girls demolished the field events. They went 1-2 in the shot put, where Kaitlyn High won her third state title (34-4) and Kyndall Tomlinson was second. Westwood has won the last five state shot put titles, including one by Tomlinson two years ago.

The Lady Wildcats also went 1-2 in the discus, where High won again at 100-2, and Gillian Ford was second, and they went 1-2 in the pole vault, where Miller Singleton won at 8-0 feet, and Toni Hall was second at 7-6. Hall also finished third in the high jump. Hope Bailey was second in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump while Sumner Watson finished seventh. And Virginia Vereen, who has a chance to win both hurdles races today, finished fifth in the high jump.

Randolph Southern's Madison Ragan finished fourth in the shot put and seventh in the discus, and Randolph Southern's Lexie Fulgham was fourth in the high jump.

Westwood's boys dominated the long jump with the "Masons" as Mason Jones won the state title at 19-7 and Mason Worsham finished seventh. Nathan Jones also won a state title for Westwood in the triple jump, and Riley Anderson won the pole vault title at 12-1. Westwood's Mitch Good, meanwhile, finished fifth. Dustin Harrell was fourth in the shot put and Andrew Adams was fifth in the high jump.

Randolph Southern's Alex Weeks won the high jump at 6-0 and Kevin Melton, who has a chance to win in both hurdles races today, finished third.

Weeks said he had never competed in the high jump until this year.

"I didn't even qualify for anything in the state meet last year,'' Weeks said. "I didn't high jump until this year. I didn't know how to, and then coach Kevin Prisant told me he would help me learn. It never occurred to me that I would win a state title. It never crossed my mind until about five minutes ago when I went over the bar and won it.''

Terrell Academy's Nick Beaver won a state title in the discuss (121-8), and finished second in the shot put (41-9 ).

"I've been throwing (the discus) for four years and made it to state three times -- so it was good to finally win one," said Beaver, who added he knew his throw was likely going to be state-title caliber when it left his hands. "It was a good throw. I started low, exploded and when I came up the discus was flying good. I was just glad to get a good throw in because of all the rain. I was slipping all over the place."

Randolph Southern's Garrett Sands was second in the discus.