The GHSA girls state track and field championship will get underway this afternoon in Albany, and for a handful of local girls, the ultimate goal is now within sight.
A total of 36 girls from area schools are now just one good jump, throw, or race away from a state title, and enough of those efforts could put some schools in position for a strong team showing.
Statesboro leads the way with 11 girls making the trip across the state.
The Lady Blue Devils dominated the Region 2-AAAA meet and filled 17 of the 36 state qualifying spots for the region.
“Hopefully, we can build off of the region meet and improve on last year,” said Statesboro coach Rico Campbell. “We had a lot of girls make it to state last season, but we didn’t get through some of the preliminaries.”
This season, many of the Devils will be back for another shot. With another year of practice under their belts and an appreciation for the competitiveness that can be expected at the state meet, this year’s qualifiers should turn in better performances.
“Our girls are very competitive, and I think that our times will drop when they see the talent that they’re up against,” said Campbell. “They learned a lot from last season, and I think that everyone will take things more seriously. They really want to get up on that podium at the end.”
Leading the way for Statesboro will be Raven Thomas and Alisia Jenkins, who finished first and second, respectively, for the high-point individual total at the region championships.
Each has qualified for four events, and will try to tack on as many points as possible to the team total.
Over in Brooklet, the girls from Southeast Bulloch also are looking to make some noise.
Six Lady Yellow Jackets will make their way to Albany to compete in four events.
Kiki Hendrix (800 meters) and Breanna Gates (long jump) each notched individual Region 3-AA titles while Dinesha Baker (400 meters) and the 4x400 relay team each qualified for state with second place finishes at the region meet.
SEB had just one senior competing on the team this season, and all of this year’s state qualifiers did so for the first time.
Regardless of the inexperience, the Jackets still have high hopes.
“They’re all a combination of nervous, excited and anxious,” said SEB coach Jolie Britt. “They haven’t been in this situation before, but they’re eager to compete. I’ve looked at all the times and we’re right in the middle of all the competition. I’m just looking forward to them running good races and getting some great experience since I know they can all go back next year.”
Another local team that is taking a big party to Albany is the Lady Eagles of Jenkins County.
In notching a runner-up finish at the Region 3-A meet, Jenkins County was able to qualify individuals or relay teams for eight different events.
Zandra Lake and Ayana Walker paced the Eagles through much of the season and have been the most consistent performers for Jenkins County.
Both participate on the 4x100 and 4x400 teams, each of which are just fractions of a second off the pace of the best times turned in by other state qualifiers.
Also sending girls to the state championships are Bryan County (6), Screven County (3), Claxton (2), and Metter (1).
Today’s events will consist mostly of preliminaries for the championships to be decided Friday and Saturday.
One area girl that will be running for a title tonight is Tiffany Howard, who will compete in the 1600 meter final for the Region 3-A champions from Bryan County.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.