Of all the athletes from Southwest Georgia today through Saturday at the girls GHSA State Track & Field Championships, one of the best shots to win a state championship lies with Westover distance runner Ericka Taylor, who enters the annual meet at Hugh Mills Stadium as one of the favorites to win the crown in the 1,600 and 3,200. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Want To Go?
WHO: Top public school track & field athletes in Georgia.
WHAT: Girls GHSA State Track & Field Championships.
WHERE: Hugh Mills Stadium.
MORE INFO: Full schedule of events on Page 2B.
ALBANY — Ericka Taylor, Holly Ebbets, Ayanna Mitchell, Quannesha Gatling, Chakeriah Fletcher …
That’s a unique role call of the top girls from Southwest Georgia who have a great chance to win individual state titles this weekend at the girls GHSA State Track & Field Championships that begin today at Hugh Mills Stadium.
Taylor has a chance to win two.
“I really want to win both races,’’ said Taylor, a senior at Westover who will have a chance in the 1,600-meter run and the 3,200 in the Class AAAA meet. “I have a lot of confidence. I know this is my last meet, and I want to leave high school with a state title in both. I want to leave with a state title in cross country and a state title in the mile and the two-mile in track.’’
Taylor won the state cross country title as a sophomore and has been trying to win a track title ever since she finished sixth in the state as a freshman. She has been in the top eight every spring that she has been healthy and admits she is anxious and ready to go this weekend, knowing it’s her last chance.
“I’m nervous, but I’m confident,” she said.
Taylor isn’t seeded No. 1 in either race and knows it will take the best run of her life to win a title in either race.
Marist’s Morgan Ilse is seeded No. 1 and has run a 5:17.94 in the 1,600 and a 11:38 in the 3,200. Taylor’s best time in the 1,600 is 5:18 and her best in the two-mile race is 11:32.
“I know I will have to (run a personal record) to be able to win each race,’’ Taylor said. “But I know if I win, it will be a PR. But I’ve been training all four years for this last chance to win a state title in track, I’ve been training hard the whole track season for this. It’s very important to me. If I win, it will be like an ending to a fairy tale.’’
Gatling has her own fairy tale story to tell this weekend.
She could make history.
“No one at Dougherty has ever won a girls state title in track,’’ said Dougherty A.D. and track coach Donald Poole, who believes Gatling can change that. “I just want her to get to the finals on Saturday. The rest will take care of itself.
“It would mean a lot for her to win,’’ he said. “She’s worked hard and she has a chance, but win or lose I just want her to do her best. I always say if you give it your best, that’s all you can ask for.’’
There’s no doubt Gatling, who is arguably the most versatile and talented girls athlete in Southwest Georgia, will run through a brick wall if she has to this weekend. She is the ultimate versatile athlete and has already been named to The Herald’s All-Area softball team and The Herald’s All-Area basketball team. When The Herald’s All-Area track & field team is released next month, Gatling will be there, too — a three-sport star in an era when high school athletes specialize.
Gatling will compete in the triple jump Friday, but her best chance is in the 400 — a race she has dominated in this part of the state, winning the Region 1-AAAA title. A state title would mean the world to her and Dougherty.
“It would mean everything,’’ Gatling said. “To be the first one to win a state title for Dougherty would mean so much. If I win a state title, I would feel like a legend.’’
Gatling wants to be legendary, and Lee County’s Ebbets wants a state record. Her older brother, Caleb — who is now at UGA — set the boys state record in the pole vault three years ago, and now Holly wants to break the girls Class AAAAA record this weekend. She’s the defending state champ and is seeded at the top of the field with a vault of 11 feet, 6 inches. She has come painfully close to clearing 12 feet this spring, and that’s her goal this weekend.
“I know I can get 12 feet,’’ she said after winning the Region 1-AAAA title. “I know I’m going to do it.’’
Westover’s Mitchell will compete in the shot put and the discus, and she has all but vowed to take home a state title.
“I’m going to win the discus and I’m going to PR when I do it,’’ she said at practice this week. “I’m going to get it. It’s been my goal all year to win a state title and now (the time is here).’’
Fletcher will be running for more than a state title when she lines up to run the 400 and the 300 hurdles this weekend. She will be running for Monroe.
The Lady Tornadoes have owned the state meet and they carry one of the most impressive streaks in Georgia track & field history into this weekend. They have won four state titles in a row and are the only large school program in the state to hold such a streak. That streak could end this weekend. Monroe isn’t even close to being favored to repeat. Teams from Marist, Redan and Shaw are loaded and those three are all at the top of the list to win the girls Class AAAA state team title.
Still, Monroe could be in the hunt.
“It ain’t over till it’s over,’’ said Monroe assistant coach Paul Jones, who has known the Monroe kids for years because he also coaches the Albany Ruff Riders Track Club, which competes nationally. “I know (Redan, Shaw and Marist) are the teams to beat on paper, but we’re going to be there. We’re going to be there to compete (for the title).’’
Fletcher leads the group that includes freshmen Kandice Clyde, who will run in the 100, 200 and on both relay teams, and Nardesia McKinney, who will run n the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles and also run on both relay teams. Fletcher will also run on both relay teams. Ashley Harrell cold get Monroe points early in the meet in the shot put and discus Friday.
The running prelims will be run today along with the 3,200 final. The field event finals will be held Friday and the running finals will be held Saturday.
Westover could score points early in the meet with Taylor and Mitchell, and Kayla Kirkland has a chance to win the Class AAAA pole vault. Westover qualified two relay teams, and hopes to get one — if not both — in the finals.
“It looks like Marist is going to be the favorite to win the meet,’’ said Westover A.D. Harley Calhoun, who oversees the track & field program with girls coach Lewis Smith. “I think we can get into the top five.’’
“I think Erika has a chance to win it, and Ayanna has a chance. She’s the No. 2 seed in the discus, but it’s her time and she believes she can win it. Kayla is the No. 2 seed in the pole vault, so we will see what happens. It’s their time to win it and they know it. This is their time.’’
All six classes will compete this weekend, and Terrell County is sending a strong team in the Class A state meet. Coaches Carlos Diaz and Terrence Moon have done wonders at Terrell County, where the boys team all but won the school’s first state team title last week in Jefferson.
They also have a solid girls team this weekend.
Tynesha Bellamy (1,600), CaDesia Hill (discus), Destiny Mitchell (3,200), Tiera Lewis (300 hurdles), Timarius Whitning (100 and 300 hurdles) and Brittany Williams (400) all have a chance to pile up points for Terrell County, which also qualified its 4x100 relay team.
Baconton Charter’s Kimmie Davis has a chance to win the 100, and Baconton has three girls in the 3,200 — Abigail Finn, Juana Juarez and Lauren Swanson — as well as Jenny Colson in the 1,600.
Randolph-Clay will send the Thornton sisters to state. Kobi Thornton qualified in the high jump and Briana Thornton is competing in the shot put.
Miller County’s Mallory Diamond will have a chance to win the 100 and 200, and she will also run on both relay teams that made it to state. Mitchell County’s Akerian Florence also has a chance to win the 100 and 200 and she anchors the 4x100 relay team.
Early County’s Justice Lee will compete in the 200, 400 and high jump, and she will also run on both relay teams in the Class AA meet. Early’s Latoya Eaford (800) and Tiara Lindsey (200) also qualified for the state meet.
Pelham’s Cheyenne Brooks and Hannah Wilson will compete in the Class AA pole vault, and Raniesha Florence will run in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles for Pelham.
Bainbridge’s only entrant, Raven Burney, will compete in the Class AAAAA long jump.