By Tommy Keeler Jr.
RADFORD -- As Rachel Speaker stepped up to make her last throw in the Group A girls discus final, the pressure was off. She was the last athlete to make an attempt in the event and already had the top throw. She made the throw and then, as one-by-one people began to congratulate her, it hit her -- she was a state champion and the tears began to flow.
"[Strasburg throws] Coach [Tommy Simmons] told me, 'You might as well just go. You're a state champion,'" Speaker said of her final throw. "I didn't feel it until after my last throw. To go out with a state title for Strasburg -- we have such a strong tradition in the throws. To be able to keep that tradition going -- it just means a lot."
Speaker threw a 113-02 in her last throw of her prelims, and the throw held up throughout the final.
The Strasburg senior came in seeded second, behind James River's Alexis Brown. However, Brown struggled and finished fourth.
Speaker said she tried to have a good mindset throughout the competition.
"The gameplan was if I focus on myself and not worry about whatever everybody else is doing, I'll be fine," Speaker said. "If I just throw how I know how to throw, I'll be fine."
And Speaker was fine. While many of the competitors struggled with nerves, Speaker stayed composed throughout the event.
She said her experience -- she finished seventh last year -- helped her out.
"I know how this is run, which helped me out a lot this year," Speaker said. "I was nervous, but at the same time I was calm. And I think that helped me out a lot."
Speaker wasn't alone in the discus competition for the Rams. Strasburg's Taylor Showalter finished sixth (104-07) and Strasburg's Kymbryanna Jackson was seventh (102-06).
Showalter, a junior, finished 10th last year in the discus, and struggled at the start of this year's event. Her final throw of the prelims was good enough to qualify for the finals, and she moved up two spots in the finals to finish sixth.
"I got in the finals and I was happy," Showalter said. "I wanted it so bad, so I was like I need to get over what just happened, and I get three new throws so I can start over.
"I did the best that I could and it turned out well."
For Strasburg to have three throwers place and make all-state, made winning the discus even sweeter for Speaker.
"Three throwers from Strasburg placed in the top 8 -- that's amazing," Speaker said. "I'm so proud of them. We've all worked so hard this season. To come here to states and do that with this amount of competition -- it means a lot."
The Rams finished tied for 16th in the girls meet with 15 points. James River won the title with 62 points, while Wilson Memorial was second with 59. Stonewall Jackson was tied for 23rd with eight points, and Central placed tied for 33rd with three points.
Stonewall Jackson's Ashton Davis finished sixth in the 400 in a time of 1:02.24. Stonewall Jackson placed fourth in the 1,600 relay (4:14.83).
Central's Katie Ritenour was sixth in the 1,600.
For Speaker, winning the state title was the perfect way to end her high school career.
"I've put a lot of work in to get this far," Speaker said. "A lot of hours, and I've worked so hard for this and just to win it -- means a lot."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org