WINSTON-SALEM — Most of the area’s top track and field athletes are busy with other sports during the winter and don’t compete in the indoor season, but Ryan Eldridge, Sarah Brown and Kathlyn Mauck are glad they did.
The three local competitors wrapped up their indoor seasons on Friday afternoon in the 1A/2A state indoor track and field championships at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, and all of them walked out as 2018 individual state champions.
Surry Central’s Brown, the bronze medalist at the outdoor state championships last spring, took her title from the No. 2 seed. Leanna Seagraves, a junior from Draughn, was the favorite going into the competition with a season best vault of 11’3”. Brown was seeded second after a season best of 11 feet even.
In the finals of the event, East Henderson sophomore Pearl Ballard surprised everyone with a vault of exactly 10 feet, 18 inches better than she had ever done before, and the final rounds came down to a battle between her, third-seeded Lakelyn Bass of Hobbton, Brown and Seagraves. Ultimately, Brown, only a sophomore herself, was able to match her season best at 11’0”, while Seagraves could only manage 10’6” in the final. Bass and Ballard both did 10 feet even, with Bass placed third on a tiebreaker.
In the finals, Brown never even attempted a vault until the bar was raised to 10 feet, while all of her competitors had begun much sooner. This gave her an advantage if the event had come down to a tiebreaker where the fewest misses had determined the winner.
The Lady Bears’ Mauck bettered her previous season best by six inches, vaulting nine feet to come in eighth. But this was a bit of an anticlimax for her, because at the same time this was happening, she was pulling off a stunner in the high jump. The sophomore was seeded 24th out of the 31 competitors who made it to the championship round. Her best performance this season had been 4’6”, while the top seeds had done up to 10 inches better. In fact, it took at least Mauck’s qualifying performance even to earn a spot in the championships.
This is, of course, why you play the games, or hold the meet in this instance. Kennedy Conner of 2A Franklin High School was the top seed with a season best of 5’4”, and she was two inches shy of that on a day when only four athletes even reached the five-foot standard. Hannah Angel, also representing Franklin as the second seed, was one of the others, and Hayley Herndon of Midway topped her season best by an inch, also hitting five feet even.
No one expected what Mauck did, except maybe herself. She bested her qualifying performance by a whopping eight inches, equaling Conner at 5’2”, beat her in a jump-off and became the state champion. She made every height up to five feet on her first try, while all four of the main competitors missed twice at 5’2” before she and Conner made it on their third attempt. Neither could make it at 5”4, so it went to a jump-off, with the officials lowering the pole by an inch until one jumper cleared and the other failed.
“Kathlyn was actually going back and forth between the pole vault and the high jump,” said Mount Airy coach Clarence Cropps. “She’d actually done five feet in a meet at Surry Central and it had somehow not made it into the seedings, but I didn’t know she had a chance to win it.
“She made it all the way to five feet without a miss. When she ended up tied with (Conner), she stepped up to the plate and surprised us all.”
North Surry senior Eldridge entered the championship round as the favorite and delivered. The senior was fifth at last year’s outdoor championships at Greensboro, behind four seniors who graduated a month later. He followed that up with a bronze medal at the State Games during the summer, and won the USA Track and Field Southeast Regional title in July. In the fall, he found time to be an All-Conference offensive lineman for the Greyhounds’ football team as it won a conference championship.
He arrived in Winston-Salem on Friday as the odds-on favorite to be state champ, as the No. 1 seed with a season best of 52’3”. Eldridge immediately threw down the gauntlet to the competition, bettering that by two inches in his first put of the finals. There were only two other 1A/2A shot putters who had bested 50 feet all season, Keizia Everett of Farmville Central (51’11.5”) and Jerome Bass of Red Springs (50’10”). However, neither could make even that mark at JDL, although Everett’s put of 48’7” earned him bronze. Abe Christensen of Andrews took the silver with a season best of 50’1”, but this was still 26 inches short of what Eldridge had achieved. In fact, Eldridge bested the 3A state champ by 20 inches.
A handful of other local competitors took part in events. For Mount Airy, Madeline Mayfield ran in the 55-meter dash and 300-meter dash and came in 14th in each event. Her basketball teammate Jo Snow took part in the 1000 meters and was 15th. Hanne Cooke posted a 12th place in the 1600 meters for the Lady Bears.
Mount Airy qualified teams for the 800-meter relay, with Haley Moser, Kamaya Rose, Mayfield and Breauna Moser placing 14th overall; and in the 1600-meter relay, where Mauck joined Mayfield, Snow and Cooke in placing 10th overall.
Erick Ramirez-Ramos of Surry Central claimed a bronze medal in the men’s 3200-meter run, where he bettered his previous season best by more than five seconds and beat a number of runners who had been seeded higher. Nathan Richards of Franklin and Ben Armentrout of Atkins took the first two spots. This performance came right after Forbush’s Dakota Mendenhall had romped to victory in the 1600, posting a new 1A/2A state record time in the process.