By Dennis Atwood- email@example.com
HARRISONBURG -- Persistent injuries and one lengthy illness undermined the best efforts of four of the 10 area athletes competing in the State Group AA Track and Field Championship, held at Harrisonburg High's Dr. Walter F. Green, III, Field, on Friday evening and Saturday.
With the injured leaving it all on the field, the top results among the Sherando, Warren County, and Skyline participants were sixth place in the girls discus by Sherando's Alaina Combs, and sixth place in the boys 4x800 relay, also by the Warriors.
Hidden Valley took the girls team championship with 41 points, while E.C. Glass took second with 39, and Brunswick's 34 points earned third place.
The Brunswick boys were champions with 68 points, followed by Blacksburg (44), and Loudoun County (43).
Lisa Meneau, of Handley, set a new state tournament record in the girls 300 hurdles, with 42.82, to eclipse Handley alum Ayla Smith's 2006 mark of 43.43.
Matthew Zajac, of E.C. Glass, launched the discus 186-02, to break the previous record of 179-00 by Erik Kuster, of Liberty (Beford), set in 2007.
Defending state champion boys high jumper, senior Chris Smith of Sherando, carried the lingering effects of a weeks-long left (take-off leg) hamstring injury, which followed an earlier left knee problem, into the meet.
Smith was among 11 competitors unable to clear six feet in defense of his 2012 championship height of 6-05.
Final placements were determined by total number of misses, leaving Smith tied with three others in 13th place.
"[The hamstring] was bugging me, but I just worked through it," Smith said. "The [hamstring injury] happened at practice, when I was doing take-offs and starts and I did a take-off too fast. I didn't stretch well enough and I tore it, about four weeks ago.
"It bugged me more on each attempt and I tried pushing through it. On my last jump, the leg gave out."
Alaina Combs was uninjured and healthy as the Sherando junior competed in the discus and shot put.
Combs brought a seed and PR distance of 109-00 into the Friday evening event, with 10 competitors seeded ahead of her.
In the event that opened the meet Friday evening, Combs exceeded her seed distance by more than four feet, to take sixth place with a 113-05 toss.
"Before the final flight, we didn't think I was going to get in," Combs, reached by phone, said. "So I got really upset. I had done only a 106, and everybody after me was throwing really, really well. I got so upset that I literally walked off and told [throwing] coach [Mike] Marsh, 'Come and get me if I'm in the finals.'
"Coach Marsh grabbed me and said we need to talk. He told me I was in the finals, but that we need to get you ready for finals to get your placement. I kept saying, 'This is such a great opportunity, I can't believe I get to go to finals in the state meet'. I kept telling myself, 'It only takes one, it only takes one,' and after that I had more confidence and it went well. I improved on each throw in the finals. I couldn't believe I had actually thrown that far. I just wanted to do so well. I started crying [tears of joy]. When they announced the placements, I burst into tears again. To come that far, as a junior, is something remarkable for me."
"[Combs] qualified in at eighth place, then she threw three successive personal bests, by two feet, then three feet and four feet," Marsh said. "Three back-to-back PRs. You can't do much better than that. Her best last year was 95-00, so she's gained almost 20 feet. We'll definitely take that."
Combs was unable to repeat her success in the shot put ring on Saturday, failing to qualify for the final round.
Seth Chewey surrendered his usual anchor position on the Sherando boys 3,200 relay team to Ryan Hindle on Friday night, due to a foot injury.
With Chewey on the second leg, following Trevor Whiteside, and followed by Daniel Snapp, the quartet captured sixth place with a time of 8:12.33, shaving 1.84 seconds off their 8:14.17 seed time.
"I haven't got it x-rayed for confirmation, but my trainers told me that I have a stress fracture in my left foot, so I just wanted to get out here and finish strong," Chewey said.
Chewey appeared able to maintain his form through both the relay and his 800 run on Saturday.
"It was just pure will," Chewey said. "I wanted to give my team the best chance they could. The pain was irrelevant because I just wanted to win.
"We had our deepest year in the 800 I've ever been around. We had four guys that were right around that 2:03 or 2:00 mark, so a really good group of guys coming through this year."
Able to maintain his form, but not his speed, Chewey pulled 2:05.04, lagging his 1:58.7 seed time, to finish out of the medals in the 800.
Warren County jumper Matt Nicholson had the final event of his accomplished Wildcats athletic career, in football and basketball in addition to track, undermined by a persistent left groin injury.
Nicholson gave up baseball to commit solely to track and field this spring, and, like Sherando's Smith, was in the gaggle of 11 high-jumpers topping out at 6-00.
But Nicholson had fewer misses than Smith, and snagged the last of the medals, as the last of four leapers tied for sixth place.
Also competing in the simultaneously conducted long jump, Nicholson was able to land a 21-01 leap into the sand pit in a preliminary round, to take ninth place, just 1.25 feet short of the medal zone, and 10 1/2 inches short of his 21-11.5 seed distance.
In the final round, Nicholson was clearly favoring his left leg as he walked away from a 20-07 try, and spent a long time sitting in the infield after his last attempt.
"I gave it all I could, with my leg hurting," Nicholson said. "It bothered me in the high jump, too. It was hard to gain my speed to the corner [take-off zone]. I've had the injury for three weeks."
Although healthy, Warren County girls jumper Katy Harriman had a frustrating day, with a meet official's equipment error leading to a just shy of a medal ninth-place finish in the high jump (5-02), and tied for 10th in the long jump (16-06.75).
Ten competitors reached 5-02 in the high jump, but not until some got extra chances.
"After two attempts at 5-02, the bar was [uneven]," Harriman said. "[Jumps] coach Joshua Owens said it was two inches higher on the right side than the left. So they gave everyone who didn't make it on their third attempt another chance after discussion with [event officials]. So I made it on my fourth attempt."
Warren County 100-meter dasher Jasmain Ford had just one week of prep time after experiencing a month-long illness, was able to clock only 13.53, well below her 12.7 seed, and out of the medals.
Sherando had two girls hurdlers in the meet. Angelique Matthews took ninth in the 100 hurdles at 16.59, while Candice Banks came in 11th with 16.89.
Banks was also in the 300 hurdles, where her 49.42 lagged her 48.40 seed time, and put her in 17th place.
Matthews' day included the long jump, where she placed 20th (15-06.5).
Warriors senior Nisha Moore led end-to-end in the third of four 800 run sections, but her 2:23.97 placed her 11th in the final tally, and anchored the 3,200 relay team, which ran 10:11.81 to finish 14th.
Skyline's lone representative, Darius Schmitz, placed 15th in the long jump (20-02.75).