By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
RADFORD -- Saturday's Group A state track and field championship had its share of dramatic moments.
The meet produced six individual champions and one team state champ as well as a little revenge, a razor-thin victory and a couple of acts of heroism by area participants.
Last fall, Appomattox eliminated Clarke County in the second round of the Region B football playoffs, and was heavily favored to beat the Eagles on Saturday at the state meet. However, that didn't happen. Clarke County edged the Raiders 68-49 and avenged their loss in football to win the boys state title.
"It feels just awesome," Clarke County coach Andre Kidrick said. "We have an awesome group of seniors, and they provided the leadership that made the difference. We got points from a lot of people, and all of them were important.
"Appomattox came into this meet as the favorite. I'm also a football coach, too, and I sure did notice who we were up against."
It was not only a big day for the Eagles but for the Bull Run District. Manassas Park (56) won the girls title and George Mason (third, 38), Clarke County (fourth, 34) and Strasburg (11th, 15) made their presence felt. While Clarke County won the title, Manassas Park (fourth, 33) also had a strong finish.
"It's really great to see all of the teams in our district do so well," Kidrick said. "It's a measure of the kind of competition we race on a regular basis."
While the Eagles were soaring in the team competition, Stonewall Jackson faced a daunting task in repeating as the state's best 1,600 relay team. The Generals didn't score a single point in the 400-meter run, and their lead-off man, Trevor Warner, was nursing a pulled groin. It was questionable whether he would be able to finish his leg, much less give his teammate the baton anywhere near the top teams.
"What can I say?" Stonewall coach Dick Krol said. "What's nice about working with these kids is that they do whatever you ask of them. Trevor knew what he had to do, and he did it. It's a real pleasure to work with kids who have that kind of dedication."
Not only did Warner finish his leg, but he handed the baton to Christian Frost with a commanding 30-yard lead. While Warner withered in pain on the sideline, Frost, Cole Shaffer and Dylan Shirley took Warner's lead and turned it into a state championship, edging Radford with a time 3:47.64.
"I'm so happy," Shirley said. "I started my leg with a pretty good lead, but I could feel the guy from Radford closing in on me after the final turn. I was determined not to let him catch me. I just couldn't let that happen after the race Trevor ran. He ran his heart out."
Clarke County sprinter Andrea Gaither had a similar problem. After establishing herself as the state's premier sprinter with a state title in the 100 and a runner-up in the 200 last year, she was the odds-on favor to repeat in both events.
Unfortunately, the Clarke County junior blew out her knee during basketball season, and showed up at the meet in a giant knee brace that she'd nicknamed "Betsy." She's scheduled for anterior cruciate ligament surgery on Wednesday, and the prospects of her injuring it further or finishing poorly were great.
"I could tell that all of the other sprinters were looking at me and expected me to win everything because of last year," Gaither said. "But I knew better. I knew that I was facing surgery and that this might be my last time to do this. I was determined to go out there and do the best that I could."
But as her teammates, parents and coaches held their collective breaths, Gaither took off "Betsy" and surprised everyone by finishing third in both the 100 (12.30), and the 200 (25.81).
"Of course I'm not satisfied," Gaither said. "But I'm never really satisfied. But considering everything, I'm very proud of where I finished."
Her teammate, Catlin Lake, although not facing Gaither's problem, was forced to wait for what seemed a lifetime for the results of her 100 hurdles race. After taking an early lead, Lake found Sussex Central's Shanice Johnson closing fast, and the finish was too close to call.
"I got a good start, and then I heard something," Lake said. "I really didn't notice that she was so close until the last possible moment. After the finish, I thought I had really blown it."
After several nervous minutes, the results were finally announced and the Eagles sophomore had edged Johnson, 15.99 to 16.00.
"That was really exciting and a big relief," Lake said. "I can't wait to get back to work now, and do it again next year."
Clarke County began its quest for the state title early with a win in the shot put. Hilton Morgan Jr. won with a throw of 51-10, and the Eagles had strong finishes by Billy Parker (5th, 143-05) and Caleb Hartsook (6th, 139-05) in the discus.
"I was really nervous, and I didn't do well with my first couple of throws," Morgan said. "Then I saw [Cumberland's] Jule Rich throw it 50 feet, and I really didn't want to lose to him. I got a 51-and-something on my next throw and that held up for the title."
Adam Owens kept the Eagles' momentum going with a win in the 1,600 (4:32.41). Teammates Paul Myer (third, 4:38.28), Steven Trayer (seventh, 4:41.33) and Dylan Morey (eighth, 4:41.89) weren't far behind.
Colin Brown clinched Clarke County's third state title in the boys competition when he won the 800 (2:01.58), and the Eagles' 1,600 team closed the meet strong (third, 3:32.20).
Central's Lindsay Toothman (34:02.25) produced a state champion for the Falcons in the girls triple jump, and had solid finishes in the high jump (third, 5-01) and long jump (sixth, 15-09.75).
"This is really exciting," Toothman said. "I was pretty confident coming here, but the competition was so good. I still think that I could have jumped better, but it was good enough to win, and that's what counts."
Strasburg's girls did well in the throws, with Taylor Cockerville in the shot put (sixth, 33-05.25) and Alyssa Bain in the discus (seventh, 100-0).