ALBANY — The Bulloch Academy girls fended off the challenges from bigger schools and bigger teams to win the GISA Class AAA state track and field championship Saturday at Hugh Mills Stadium.
The Lady Gators netted 108 points to win the title, which is their first since moving to the association’s highest classification three years ago. Stratford Academy was second with 99 points and Tattnall Square Academy was third with 81. Deerfield-Windsor took fourth (80) and The Heritage School was fifth (79) in the 16-team meet.
“We knew that they (Stratford, Tattnall and Deerfield) could only score so many points,” said BA head coach Barbara Conner. “The biggest thing was for our girls not to falter and lose any points that we were counting on. Coach (Beth) Burke and I had calculated that we had a five-point window. But a couple of the girls were able to pull more points than expected and give us a little more cushion. To be one of the smaller Triple A schools, we are pretty strong and the girls showed it over the course of this meet.”
Seniors Anna Newton and Mary Margaret Reeves and sophomores Pate Lomax and Ashley Burke combined to run a 4:13.73 to win 4x400-meter relay state championship. Bulloch also had two seconds, two fifths, a sixth, a seventh and two eighths in the victory.
“I am so very proud of them,” said Conner. “They could have buckled under the pressure, but they didn’t. When one girl had a setback, someone else picked it up and came through. That’s the definition of a team.”
The Gator guys scored 44.5 points to finish sixth in the 19-team meet. Stratford won the state team title with 135 points, followed by Deerfield-Windsor (107.5) and John Milledge (70). The foursome of seniors Themba Twala, Forrest Spence and Harrison Averitt and junior Daniel Hendrix ran a 3:31.45 to take the 4x400m relay state title. Bulloch also had one second, three fourths and a seventh.
A cool, overcast and damp morning turned into a cold, dreary and rainy afternoon as showers swept through the Albany area, making conditions barely tolerable for the athletes, spectators, coaches and meet officials. Most events were run in a light-to-moderate rain while the final race, the 4x400m relay, took place during a gully-washer.
The foursome of Reeves, Newton, Lomax and Burke led their race from the start and never looked back. The Lady Gators number-two team of junior Danielle Atkinson, sophomore Page Spence, freshman Mary Peyton Freeman and eighth grader Averitt started off strong but faded for an eighth-place finish (4:30.47).
For the boys, the number one team of Twala, Spence, Hendrix and Harrison Averitt also led from the start to finish to win the school’s second consecutive boys’ 4x4 championship. Last year, the team of Twala, Spence, Averitt and Bailey Smith won the title with a 3:32.46. In Saturday’s race, the number two squad of seniors Smith and Loy Waters and juniors Christopher Williams and Matt Sheppard and Bailey Smith turned in a time of 3:40.22 for fourth place.
The Bulloch girls had two state runner-up finishes; Burke in the 3200m run (12:24.04) and Newton in the 400m dash (1:02.34). The Gator guys also had a state runner-up as Spence was edged out at the line in the 300m hurdles. He was forced to settle for the second spot with a time of 41.35. Spence also had a fourth in the 110m hurdles (17.37).
Other finishers for the BA boys were the 4x100m relay team of Waters, Twala, Averitt and Matt Sheppard (fourth, 45.01) and Hendrix (seventh in the pole vault, 9-6).
For the girls, the 4x100m team of Newton, Lomax, Reeves and junior Chelsea Oglesby finished fifth (52.99) and Reeves was fifth in the 400m dash (1:04.1). Spence was sixth in the 300m hurdles (51.72), Newton was seventh in the 200m dash (28.73) and sophomore Heather Jacobs was eighth in the 3200m run (13:36.08).
“We didn’t have any superstar on the team but we just kept working hard and picking up points,” said Conner. “To have only two individual state championships (the 4x4 and Oglesby’s title in the shot put), that says a lot about how solid and deep we are.”
Newton, Burke and Lomax were eighth, ninth and 10th respectively in the individual high-point calculations. For the meet, Newton scored 21.75 points, Burke had 18.75 and Lomax netted 17.75 among the 80 athletes who scored points. Forrest Spence led the boys with 14.50 points, finishing 10th among the 90 male point-scorers.
In Class A girls’ meet, Robert Toombs Christian Academy tallied an overwhelming 172 points to win the state title. Thomas Jefferson was second with 124 points and and Twiggs Academy was third (48). The TJA boys also overwhelmed their opponents, netting 135. RTCA was second with 82 and Highland Christian was third with 73. In Class AA girls’ meet, Gatewood won the title (136), followed by Brentwood (117) and Trinity Christian School of Dublin (83). TCS won the boys’ meet (120) over Gatewood (108) and Brentwood (96.75).