First time for everything

Westover’s Craig Reddix, left, and Bainbridge’s Alton Miller race to the finish line in the 400 final Saturday during the 23rd annual Smith and Benson Relays at Hugh Mills Stadium. Reddix finished second, picking up key points for the Patriots, whose boys team won the meet for the first time, while Bainbridge came in second. In the girls meet, Shaw won and reigning champ Monroe was third. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Westover’s Craig Reddix, left, and Bainbridge’s Alton Miller race to the finish line in the 400 final Saturday during the 23rd annual Smith and Benson Relays at Hugh Mills Stadium. Reddix finished second, picking up key points for the Patriots, whose boys team won the meet for the first time, while Bainbridge came in second. In the girls meet, Shaw won and reigning champ Monroe was third. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — Finally!

If one word could wrap up the sentiments and feelings of joy for Westover’s boys track & field team Saturday afternoon, then “Finally” would probably do it.

On a cold, wet, miserable day, the Patriots were beaming after winning the 23rd annual Smith and Benson Relays.

After all, there was more history than rain drops falling at Hugh Mills Stadium, where Westover won the prestigious meet for the first time in 23 tries.

“Finally,’’ said Westover Athletic Director Harvey Calhoun, who oversees the track programs along with head coach Lewis Smith. “We never won the Smith and Benson Relays, and now we have finally won it. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I can’t even tell you how many times we have been second. There were three years in a row when the boys and girls teams both finished second every year. We’ve always been second. Coach Smith and I are excited. We’re very excited.’’

The victory had a special meaning for Smith, whose father was a legendary coach at Monroe. The meet is named for his father, L.C. Smith, as well as Winfred Benson, two former local track & field coaches who made their names golden at Monroe. Ironically, the founder of the meet is current Westover principal William Chunn, who coached football and track at Monroe.

“It is special to win this meet,’’ Lewis Smith said Saturday after the long-awaited victory. “It’s a big meet, and we had never won it. It’s big every year. It’s always big and we’ve always wanted to win it.”

“It’s nice to be at the track meet and to be in the track meet,’’ Smith added with a smile. “We’ve been doing well this year, but this is the first big track meet at home. It’s great to win this meet.’’

While Westover’s boys were making history beating second place Bainbridge, 149-111, and running away from the field, the Monroe girls team was having one of the longest days in years. The four-time state champs and defending Smith and Benson winners finished third with 92 points behind Shaw of Columbus (112 1/2 points) and Class AAAAAA Valdosta (105 1/2 points). The Lady Tornadoes hadn’t lost in the Smith and Benson Relays — their home meet — since 2008.

It upset many of the members of the team.

“This is an eye-opener,’’ said Akeema Miller, a junior and the captain of the team, which does not have any seniors. “We aren’t mature enough, and we have to change. We have to step up. I’m the captain, and I’ve got to get strict with them. There’s no other person to do it. I don’t like losing — and in our home meet at that!’’

Monroe’s leader on and off the track had been Mimieux Land, who won nine individual state titles while leading Monroe to four state team titles in a row. She is now at Clemson, where she was just named the ACC’s Indoor Track & Field Freshman of the Year.

“The girls who are gone left it up to me,’’ said Miller, who was fourth in the 200 and sixth in the 100 and she led the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. “I’m going to push everybody. I don’t like this. If Mimi was here she wouldn’t like it. We’ve got to step up. This meet is an eye-opener for where we are and where we need to go.’’

Monroe’s Chakeriah Fletcher, a junior and one of the team’s top runners, won the 300-meter hurdles with the best time in Class AAAA this year, a personal record of 44.70, and she was winning the 400 when she suffered an ankle injury. She limped home to finish sixth in that race.

“She finished the race,’’ Monroe coach LaToyia Johnson said. “That shows she has a lot of heart. She won’t run next week. I would rather this happen now than later at state.’’

Monroe’s girls also got points from Nardesia McKinney (second in the 300 hurdles and fourth in the 100 hurdles), Candace Clyde (third in the 100 and 200) and the two relay teams that finished second. Arnesia Bell was third in the high jump.

Monroe could see Shaw, a Class AAAA school, at the state meet, but the Lady Tornadoes have plenty of time to improve and the team is full of youth.

So are the Westover girls, who finished fourth, right behind Monroe, with 81 1/2 points. The Lady Patriots were without Ericka Taylor, one of the top distance runners in Southwest Georgia. Her nickname is “Doughnut” because she loves to eat them, and Calhoun summed up Westover’s fourth place finish.

“The girls had a real good day, but I would have liked to have had a doughnut,’’ he said with a smile, knowing Taylor probably would have scored 20 points by herself in the 1,600 and 3,200 runs.

Westover’s Ahyanna Mitchell was the top points person in the field, scoring 20 points by winning the discus (118-3) and the shot put (36-8). Monroe’s Ashley Harrell finished second in both events.

Monroe’s Kevin Williams was the top scorer in the field for the boys with 18 points. He won the long jump (22-7 3/4) and was second in the high jump (5-10) Westover’s Kel Miller was third in the high jump.

Westover’s boys racked up 58 points in the field to build a lead against Bainbridge, the team Calhoun said Friday was the one to beat, and the Bearcats simply couldn’t catch the Patriots.

Jackie Childs, who ran personal records in both the 300- and 110-meter hurdles, all but wrapped up the team title when he won the 110’s in 14.78, giving Westover a 30-point lead at that point in the meet. His time of 40.14 was good enough for third in the 300s.

“Winning this meet is important,’’ Childs said after he won. “It shows us where we are, especially with all the different classes of schools and the variety of teams that are here. We always want to win this meet. Winning this meet just shows how hard we work.’’

Craig Reddix, who was second in the 400, could have added some points right after Childs’ win, but he pulled up with an injury in the 800 and settled for sixth.

The Patriots, meanwhile, owned the field events.

Westover went 1-2 in the pole vault as Tyler Sheffel (9-0) and John Craig Collins (8-0) combined for 18 points, and Brenton Wimberly won the shot, while Don Mills finished sixth. Mills was second in the discus, and Westover’s Antravious Parks was third. Scott Sanders was second in the long jump and sixth in the triple jump.

Clay Sheffield finished fourth in the 3,200 while Gyasi Young was fourth and Young was fourth in the 1,600, while Westover’s Tevin Mack was fifth. Tyler Sheffeld finished second in the 800, while Westover’s Marquis Jones was fourth and John Wakefield finished fifth in the 100 and 200 to get Westover crucial points.

Westover put an exclamation point on the day by winning the final two relays as Erric Sampson, Jaelon Benjamin, Miller and Kendrick Hurley won the 4x200 relay, and Sheffel, Jones, Chris Divra and Sanders won the 4x400 relay.

Bainbridge’s team of Terry Lewis, Justin Baker, Greg Cooper and Marshal Mack won the 4x100 relay. Lewis won the 200 (23.07) and was second in the 100. Craig Cooper won the high jump (6-0). Chase Harris won the 3,200 (10:10.36) and was second in the 800. Alton Miller was third in the 400. Joshua Sheard was third in the discus and Aquavious Carroll (fourth) and Jamez Harris (fifth) picked up points in the shot put to help lead the Bearcats to the second-place finish. Albany High’s Juwon Young won the shot put (47-5).

Monroe’s boys got points from Marquise Martinez (second in the triple jump), Reshawn Robinson (third in the 1,600 and 3,200) Kevin McCauley (third in the 800), Brentavious Glanton (sixth in the shot put).

Lee County’s boys team finished 11th with 20 points. Emmanuel Eafford was third in the 200 and fourth in the 100, and Titus Davis was third in the triple jump. Holly Ebbets finished second in the pole vault (11-6) to lead the Lee girls team. Albany High’s Faith Evans was sixth in the pole vault.

Dougherty’s girls were led by Quannesha Gatlin, who was second in the 400, and Dougherty’s boys were 10th with 26 points, scoring with its relay teams and getting points from Tylandis Chester (second in the high jump).

Westover, which is full of youth, made a run at the title by getting points from all over the track. Freshman Briana Harp was second in the long jump, third in the 800 and sixth in the triple jump. Freshman Bryshea Jackson was third in the triple jump and sixth in the 200. Toiannah Campbell was third in the 1,600 and fourth in the 3,200. Jessica Burnette was third in the 100 hurdles and sixth in the 300 hurdles. Caitlon Cainion was third in the 3,200.

“The girls had a great day. We missed Taylor, but we had a great meet,’’ Calhoun said. “The boys stepped up. It was important to them to win this meet. The weather didn’t make a difference. It didn’t bother them. They really had a great day. We finally won this meet.’’


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