GREENSBORO — The performance of the Mount Airy boys’ and girls’ track teams on Friday morning and afternoon gave new meaning to the term ‘Bear market.’
In a stunning tour de force, the Granite Bears and Lady Bears took to the Ike Belk Track at N.C. A&T University and turned it into Wallace Shelton South, capturing six individual and relay event state titles, two individuals who became double state champions, the MVP of the boys’ half of the meet, and last but not least, the NCHSAA 1A state boys’ track championship on a dramatic sprint by senior Cordell France to end the final event of the meet, the 4×400 relay.
Mount Airy actually led both the boys’ and girls’ halves of the meet through 10 events, but the girls were overtaken by three other schools late in the meet, mainly due to events in which the Lady Bears didn’t have any entries. They still came in fourth overall.
The boys didn’t know if they had finished first or second for quite some time after the meet was over. The Bears’ biggest challenger for the title was conference rival North Stokes, which overtook Mount Airy for first place by scoring a whopping 16 points in the pole vault from a 2-4-5 finish. Each team had just two events left in which it could score points.
Enter France, act one.
The senior had the fourth-best qualifying time in the state in his penultimate event, the 200-meter dash. But with the Bears needing every point they could get, France exploded down the stretch run and nearly took the championship. The event’s top seed, Josh Polk of Hobbton, held him off at the wire, 21.82-21.88. Still, the win provided eight points for Mount Airy and vaulted it back into the overall lead.
Stokes regained the lead with a 6-7 finish in the boys’ 3200, earning the Vikings five points and a half-point edge on the Bears. The state championship would be decided in the 4×400, an event in which both schools were entered. The task for Mount Airy was simple — finish in the top eight, thereby scoring points, and beat North Stokes. It was up to Grayson Corbin, Gregory Green, Austin Tumbarello, and France to do the job.
Neither task was easy. Both teams knew what the standings were and what they had to do. After three laps, North Stokes’ Zack Chesnet was staked to a lead of close to 20 yards on France, running anchor for the Bears. The Vikings were sixth, Research Triangle Charter seventh, and the Bears eighth.
France launched a furious pursuit of Chesnet that appeared to be fruitless for 200 yards, as the Stokes runner held his own. But as they came onto the second turn, France closed the gap dramatically, and made the turn for home in seventh place, ahead of Chesnet. He ran out the final leg and actually got past RTC as well, giving Mount Airy High School the most meaningful sixth-place finish in its history.
“Cordell is a fighter,” said Mount Airy coach Clarence Cropps. “That’s what I like about him. He is going to give you 110 percent. If he can win, he is going to win. We’re really going to miss him next year.”
Because the relay final was run in two heats, it took some time for the official scorers to tabulate and double-check the results. However, none of the teams in the first heat were in the top eight, and it was enough for the Bears to win their first-ever team track championship, 57.5 points to 56. Walkertown and Atkins made it a 1-2-3-4 finish for the Northwest Conference by scoring 30.5 and 30 points each, respectively.
“We were sweating it out all day,” Cropps said. “It was so close, I couldn’t stand it. As far as I know, this school has never won a state championship in track and field (the NCHSAA’s records confirmed this).”
Gabriel King was named the MVP of the 1A boys’ meet. King won the shot put by 2.5 inches over conference rival Ross Lucia of North Stokes, then beat Lucia again in the discus, this time by nearly 13 full feet, 156-1 to 143-2. King’s teammate Malcolm Malone made it a 1-3 finish in the discus by following Lucia with a throw of 128-2.
“It was only three inches in the shot,” King said. “It took my last throw to get it out there and beat him. I’d put a lot of stress on myself today and it was a relief to win.”
Donovan Greene also contributed to the Bears’ point total in the field events, finishing tied for fifth in the high jump.
France’s two tremendous performances at the end of the meet weren’t his only scores of the evening. Seeded just seventh in the boys’ 100 early in the meet, he ran an 11.15 into a strong head wind to finish third, just .11 second out of first place. He was also a member of the winning 4×200 relay team, about midway through the meet. Mailk Frost, Corbin, Greene and France defeated Wayne County’s Rosewood High School by .85 second to extend their points lead into double digits at the time.
Six events later, Corbin contributed a much-needed point to the cause with an eighth-place finish in the 400, at a time when the pole vault was nearing completion and it was known that Stokes might soon take the lead.
The Lady Bears didn’t come away with the title, but they sent an immediate message that they were a force to be reckoned with, winning the very first track event of the meet, the 4×800 relay.
This event pitted Mount Airy’s Hanne Cooke, Shelbey Taylor, Jessica Bevard and Jo Snow in what amounted to a match race against defending champ Swain County. Cooke led Swain’s Shelby Hyatt throughout the opening two laps, but the Maroon Devils took the lead about 120 meters into the second leg and appeared set to hold it until Bevard drastically reduced the lead from 12 meters to about two before passing the baton to Snow, who had Swain’s Emma Pindur right where she wanted her. Snow, who prefers running as a stalker, hung right on Pindur’s heels until the last 180 meters, then surged ahead. Pindur desperately tried to catch back up, but collapsed just short of the finish line and had to stagger over for second place.
“That’s right where I wanted to be, right behind her the first lap and kick it in the second lap,” said Snow.
Snow’s second state title was won in similar fashion. She was the top seed in the girls’ 1600, but two other runners challenged her. For three laps, South Davidson’s Hannah Cranford set the pace and Snow let her, hanging just off the lead. Then, on the homestretch of the third lap, Michaela Gammon of Lincoln Charter made a move and passed both Cranford and Snow. Nonplussed, Snow overtook Cranford and stalked Gammon for almost 300 meters before surging past her and winning the race by 2.25 seconds. Cooke also finished strong to place fifth in that event for the Lady Bears.
“It was exactly like the (4×800),” said Snow. “I was where I wanted to be. (Gammon) came out of nowhere, and I knew I had to go with her. I wasn’t expecting that, but I stayed with her and was able to get past her too.”
On the strength of those performances and a fifth-place from Eliya Harvey-Brown in the girls’ shot, Mount Airy led by as many as 12.5 points in the middle part of the meet. Sophomore Madeline Mayfield finished fifth in the girls’ 400 to extend the lead, but it didn’t seem likely that the Lady Bears would be able to hold off the greater depth of teams like Swain and Winston-Salem Prep. Earlier in the meet, Mayfield had finished tied for fifth in the high jump, but she missed a points-paying finish by a few tenths in the 200.
Eventually, Swain ended up as girls’ champ with a total of 65 points, the first-ever team title for the Lady Maroon Devils. North Stokes finished second with 56.5, Prep third with 54, and Mount Airy fourth with 36.5.
The 3A boys’ and girls’ championships were held simultaneously with the 1A meet. The Jacksonville boys and Eastern Guilford girls claimed those titles.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.