Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

ALBANY -- Better.

That's what drives Reed Hancock, what sets her sails in the wind, what lifts her up and beyond.

Or better yet, up, up, up and beyond.

That's where Hancock lives, up there in rarefied air, dancing on the wind, soaring to new heights and breaking down old barriers.

She smashed one Friday, right there at Hugh Mills Stadium, high above the crowd and the noise and the frenzy of the GISA state track & field meet.

It didn't matter that it was her own state record that fell as softly and as predictably as Hancock fell herself, floating back to earth after the best pole vault in the history of the GISA girls state meet.

On the way down, Hancock couldn't help herself, and the noise that came from her told the story -- the whole story.

"Yeaaaaaaaaah!''

That's what it sounded like and felt like for Hancock, whose long, deep, sweet shout on the way back down put a vocal exclamation point to her record-breaking vault.

"I wanted the record, real bad,'' she said. "I wanted it really, really, really bad.''

Hancock, who has given new meaning to girls pole vaulting at Deerfield-Windsor, set the GISA Class AAA state record a year ago when -- as a sophomore -- she cleared 11 feet and six inches, wanted to go higher, wanted to be better...

She cleared 11-9 on Friday.

"It didn't matter that it was my own record,'' she said. "I really wanted to break it. It's like going against another person. I feel I have to think that way in order to win. It's another thing that drives you to go through all you need to do and not give up. You tell yourself you have to do it. You just have to do it.''

Hancock could teach a graduate course in drive.

"I always have to push myself,'' she said. "I like to push myself.''

She loves it. It's like she has a secret -- a secret she knows and so many never find, that ability to find something more in yourself, to dig a little deeper, to want a little more, to strive always -- always to be better.

"I could have won the state title with a vault of 10 feet, and some people say 'why don't you just do that and win,' '' Hancock said. "But I wouldn't have been happy to just have won. I always want to be better.''

Her nerves might have been a little on edge when she missed the first two attempts at 11-9, but when she lined up for her final run at a new record, she felt a puff of wind on her back. Not enough to mess her hair, but just a wisp of wind, just enough to stir her confidence.

"You hate it when there is any wind in your face,'' she said. "When I felt that wind at my back, everything felt right. Sometimes you just pick the pole up and know it's going to be OK. When I got ready (for the third and final attempt) it just felt right. I had the wind behind me. It was just working..."

It was a thing of beauty, Hancock sailing over the bar and the crowd sailing with her.

"I love it here,'' she said. "I go to all these meets by myself, and I don't know anybody. In this meet I'm with my team, and my friends are here and the crowd is with you. It's just fun.''

She has won two state titles, and she's just a junior, but Hancock's horizons are so much more. Last summer she represented the USA in Singapore in the Junior Olympics and vaulted against the best in the world in her age group.

There's no meet in Singapore this summer, but Hancock plans on being up in air in US, competing in meets in Georgia and Florida and hoping to qualify for the USTAF Junior Nationals in Oregon in July.

"It's going to be a busy summer,'' Hancock said.

And if you didn't know any better, you could have sworn there was a puff of wind just behind when she said those words...

CLASS A

While Hancock was sailing to a new state record in the Class AAA meet, Westwood's boys and girls teams were taking the lead in the Class A meet, where Earl Ford's kids made the most of the field event day and stormed into the lead.

The running finals are today, back at Hugh Mills, where they'll start with the 3,200 meter run at 9 a.m, and where Ford hopes by mid-afternoon to have won a couple of more state titles. His boys and girls teams had each won three in a row before the streak was snapped last year when both teams fell just short.

Westwood's back, and winning again.

The Westwood girls racked up 95 points and have a big lead over second place Randolph Southern (58) and the rest of the field. David Emanuel is third with 48 points, followed by Thomas Jefferson (33), Twiggs (23), Crisp (19), Brandon Hall (7), John Hancock (5) and Nathaniel Greene (2).

Miller Singleton won the her second state title in the pole vault (8-6) and Westwood's Toni Hall was second. Hall also finished second n the high jump, and eighth-grader Morgan Singleton was third.

Hope Bailey won the long jump (15-9 1/2) and eighth-grader Liz Delk was second, and Bailey was fifth in the triple jump. Virginia Vereen was third in the triple jump. Vereen owns the state record in the 300 hurdles and will try to break it today, and she will also run in the 100-meter hurdles today.

Westwood's Ivy Foister finished second in the shot put and fourth in the discus, and Hannah Hinesley was third in the shot put. Mary Parker Westbrook finished second in the 800-meter run, the only running event of the day, and Morgan Singleton was fifth in that race.

The Wildcats lead the boys with 96 points. Thomas Jefferson is in second with 76, and Randolph Southern is in third with 40 points.

Mason Jones defended his title in the triple jump (40-10 1/2) and Jake Edore was third. Jones finished second in the long jump to teammate Mason Worsham.

The Wildcats went 1-2 in the pole vault as Riley Anderson came back from a hamstring injury and defended his title (12-2) and Mitch Good finished second. Good was also second in the high jump. Matthew Hilliard was sixth in the high jump.

Westwood went 2-3 in the shot put as Daniel Hayes took second and Jamie Davis took third, and they went 1-2 in the 800-meter run as Brody Collins won the title (2:16.75) and Jake Kotter was second.

"We've had a good two days,'' Ford said. "Our guys stepped it up a little bit. We got a little more than even we expected. The boys are a little further along than we expected.

"The girls had a real good day. I was excited to see Miller win the pole vault. We went 1-2 in the long jump with Bailey winning it, and we went 2-3 in the high jump. That was significant, and went 2-3 in the shot put. We needed that.''

Ford said he wouldn't need to dig up a pep talk before today's finals.

"We feel good about where we are,'' he said. "We're halfway through (eight events), and we're in a good place.

"There won't be a pep talk. I'll just say: 'remember what you're here for, and remember whose uniform you're wearing.' This is why we're here. We want to hang banners.''

It was a big day for Randolph Southern's Madison Ragan, a freshman who won the shot put (32-5 1/4) and the discus (98 feet) state titles.

"I started in sixth grade,'' said Ragan, who is one of the top softball pitchers in Southwest Georgia. "They saw me in softball and thought I would be good at the shot put and discus. I like it. But I don't love it as much as softball. That's where my heart is.''

Ragan paced Randolph Southern, which also had big days from Hannah Peavey (third in the 800), Destiny Tier (fourth in the 800), Macy Ford (fifth in the long jump), and Elizabeth Lumpkin (fourth in the shot put).

Randolph Southern's boys were led by Daylon Blanton (second n the high jump), Blake Martin (fourth in the discus and fifth in the shot put), Tristan Smiley (seventh in the shot put and eighth in the discus), and Zach White (fourth in the pole vault).

CLASS AA

Terrell Academy's Casey Jones won the discus state title (125-8) and was sixth in the shot put. TAE's Blake Grimsley (third in the high jump) Seth Garland (eighth in the discus), and Todd Beaver (seventh in the long jump) scored for the Eagles. Alex Barfield led the TAE girls with eighth place finishes in the triple jump and high jump, and Britanny Spillman was third in the shot put.

Southwest Georgia Academy's Taylor Tabb shined (third in long jump and seventh in the triple jump), McKinley Chambliss (eighth in the high jump), and Madison Bridges (eighth in the 800) scored for SGA.

CLASS AAA

Sherwood Christian Academy's Darren Aikens won the shot put title (136-5) and was third in the discus to lead the Eagles while Deerfield Windsor's boys picked up points from Matt Miller (second in the discus), Nick Michas (fifth in the discus and eighth in the shot put), Alex Berry (third in the triple jump), Tyrone Culbreth (seventh in the high jump), Taylor Withers (fourth in the 800), and pole vaulters Gaughf Ivey (fourth) and Mac Lanier (sixth).

The DWS girls racked up points in the pole vault where Hancock won and eighth-grader Bailey Strom was sixth. Hancock also finished seventh in the long jump. Sabrina Curry (seventh in the discus), Catherine Leggette (fifth in the triple jump) and Micaelo Cuneo (eighth in the 800) also picked up points for DWS.

Here are the team results:

Girls

A

1) Westwood School 95, 2) Randolph Southern School 58, 3) David Emanuel Academy 48, 4) Thomas Jefferson Academy 33, 5) Twiggs Academy 23, 6) Crisp Academy 19, 7) Brandon Hall 7, 8) John Hancock Academy 5, 9) Nathaniel Greene Academy 2.

AA

1) Gatewood Schools 99,2) Brentwood School 48,3) Robert Toombs Christian Academy 22. 4) Flint River Academy 20, 4) Harvester Christian Academy 20, 6) Valwood School 16, 7) Brookwood School 14, 7) Briarwood Academy 14, 9) Terrell Academy 13, 10) Curtis Baptist High School 10, 11) Covenant Academy 9 11) Heritage School 9 13) Fullington Academy 6, 13) Edmund Burke Academy 6.

1) Trinity Christian School 74.5, 2) Bulloch Academy 41.5, 3) Tattnall Square Academy 34, 4) Dominion Christian High School 30.5, 5) Mount de Sales Academy 28, 6) Deerfield-Windsor School 25, 7) Pinewood Christian Academy 19, 7) Augusta Preparatory Day School 19, 9) Stratford Academy 13.5, 10) Holy Spirit Preparatory School 10, 11) Mount Vernon Presbyteria 4, 12) Atlanta Girls' School 3.5, 13) Westminster Schools Augusta 3, 13) Westfield School 3, 15) Tiftarea Academy 2.

BOYS

A

1) Westwood School 96, 2) Thomas Jefferson Academy 76, 3) Randolph Southern School 40 4) David Emanuel Academy 37, 5) John Hancock Academy 25, 6) Nathanael Greene Academy 10, 7) Brandon Hall 8, 8) Crisp Academy 4, 9) Twiggs Academy 1

AA

1) Covenant Academy 41,2) Brentwood School 34.5 3) Central Fellowship Chr. 33.5 4) Flint River Academy 28 5) Gatewood Schools 25 6) Terrell Academy 24 7) Briarwood Academy 23.58) Curtis Baptist High School 23, 9) Robert Toombs Christian Academ 17.5, 10) Southwest Georgia Academy 14, 11) Heritage School 13, 12) Edmund Burke Academy 8, 13) Brookwood School 7, 14) Harvester Christian Academy 6, 14) Cottage School 6, 16) Windsor Academy 5, 17) Valwood School 3.