PEARL — Starkville High School boys track coach Cleveland Hudson never lost faith in his team”s chances to defend its Class 5A state championship despite consecutive second-place finishes in the division, region and North State meets.
That”s because Hudson had Tavaris Tate on his side.
Tate accomplished something that had never been done before in Class 5A by winning the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes, and then pulling the 4×400 relay team through to victory as Starkville scored 66 points to overcome second-place Meridian”s 60.
“All year long it was about getting the quality points and it paid off,” Hudson said. “What we were good at, we stayed good at it.”
Going into the 4×400, Starkville trailed Meridian 58-56 and after three legs of the relay, the Yellow Jackets were in third place.
Tate took the baton and turned on his sprinter”s speed to make up the difference and Starkville won with a time of 3 minutes and 20.15 seconds.
“The only thing when I got the baton was I was thinking this is my last meet of my high school career,” Tate said. “I never ran as hard as I did (Saturday) in my life. My team was depending on me and I had to do what I could.”
Tate”s individual success led to four of seven event state titles for the area.
Chansica Lanier, of Columbus, won the gold medal in the triple jump with a leap of 38-04.00, which was the best in all Class 5A, 2A and 1A.
Lanier said the key to winning was working hard and never missing a day of practice.
“I”ve been working all year and I finally got it,” Lanier said. “I”ve been running the bleachers and my coach always motivates me to do this. She has been with me ever since my 10th grade year.”
Columbus girls track coach Yvonne Hairston was excited to see the fruits of her hard work result in a first-place medal.
“Chansica is really easy to work with and she works hard all of the time,” Hairston said. “She was (young) when she first started jumping so we just try to enhance what she does.”
The other champions came from the Starkville camp with the girls 4×200 relay team of Reshequia Henderson, Shay Bonner, Consuela Fason and Asche Catledge (1:42.70) and Quartez Rogers in the 800 meters (1:56.01).
Rogers came up short with a second-place finish in the 1,600 meters (4:35.22) and a third-place finish in the 3,200 meters (9:51.79).
“I got a blister after the 3,200, but I came out and ran the 1,600, did my best, tried to win, but couldn”t do it,” Rogers said. “I wasn”t going to be denied (in the 800) so I ran my hardest, went for it and got it.”
Henderson, Bonner, Fason and Catledge fell short of the 1:40 goal they set for themselves, but they will take the win for now.
“We were two seconds away,” Henderson said. “We could have done better, but I”m very excited we won.”
Catledge said working together and running with heart was the key, while Fason, a sophomore, will use the experience to help her improve the time in the future.
“Since I”m the youngest, next year we”re going for 1:40,” Fason said. “It”s pretty good to have them, but we have to work with what we”ve got to get that 1:40.”
Starkville girls coach Mitchell Evans said the 4×400 team left everything they had on the track and was very proud of the effort.
Tate won the 100 meters (10.48), the 200 meters (21.73) and 400 meters (45.71). Donta Oliver, a Columbus High School junior, took fifth in the 400 (50.52), while Arthur Gardner, also of Columbus, was fifth in the 100 meters (10.95).
After battling a stomach virus all week and losing 10 pounds, Tate gave all credit to God for helping him overcome the illness to be able to run.
“I haven”t practice a day this week and the Lord has just been with me all day,” Tate said. “I couldn”t have done this without Him.
“My goal was to come out here and give it all I had. I didn”t care about the stomach virus. I didn”t care about the crowd. I just wanted to come out here and put points on the board for my team and meet my goals and my times.”
Tate bettered his nationally-best time in the 400 meters of 45.78 that he ran at the Class 5A, Region 1 meet on April 25.
At the Mobile Challenge of Champions in Mobile, Ala., Tate ran a 20.89 in the 200 meters on April 4, which was second in the nation to of Dentarius Locke, of Chamberlain (Fla.) High School (20.81). Tate had the fourth best time in the indoor 200 meters at 21.41, which was set on Feb. 21 at the UK High School Invitational.
Wesley Pendleton, of Natchez, has the state”s best time in the 100-meter dash at 10.49 with Tate running a 10.57 at the Class 5A, Division 2 meet on April 16.
Tate” dedicated his performance at the state meet to his grandmother, Hannah Tate, who serves as motivation for him.
“I was satisfied with all my runs,” Tate said. I knew the devil had no victory so I pressed through. I made it my personal goal to come out and win the 100. I knew if I could win the 100, I would be able to win all three.”
Troy Taylor, Billy Shed and Kelsey Thomas, Tate”s teammates in the 4×400 relay, gave credit to each other and the coaches for reaching the top.
If there was another squad in the state that worked harder than the Yellow Jackets, Taylor wants to see it.
“Coach (Russell) Tate and coach Hudson had us out there every day running like Olympians,” Taylor said. “To perform like champions, we had to train like champions.”
Starkville was not going to let only having six runners at state be an excuse for not getting the points with what it had.
Thomas said it took heart, while Shed compared it to a puzzle with all of the pieces fitting together.
It was the first time the Yellow Jackets had ever won back-to-back state championships and it was the third overall for the school.
After winning the 200 meters, Tate knew Starkville was back in the hunt for the team crown.
“We may be small, but we”re mighty,” Tate said.
The Starkville girls 4×400 relay team of Bonner, Fason, Henderson and Verlyncia Leonardo finished second (4:06.95).
Leonardo said working together and counting on each other led to the strong finish.
Bonner captured second in the 100-meter hurdles (15.91) and third in the 300-meter hurdles (46.32).
She had to fight through nerves because of a sore knee from an injury sustained at the North Class 5A meet.
“I prayed that it would be OK so I could at least place,” Bonner said. “I didn”t feel my knee at all, but my hamstring was tightening up. I had to push through it. I feel good about state this year. Next year, I”ve just got to work on my knee and get stronger.”
Miracle Taylor, of Columbus, was fourth in the girls 800 meters (2:29.65), while Marquella Wells came in sixth in the girls discus (106-07). Starkville”s Josh Henley was seventh in the boys shot put (43-08.00).
In the Class A portion of the meet, West Lowndes High School was well-represented on the medal stand.
Leronn Gregory was second in the triple jump (41-07.00), while Donald Henley was third in the boys 110-meter hurdles (16.53) and the boys 4×400 relay team of Gregory, Denzel Weatherspoon, Kevin Hargrove and Brandon Clark were second (3:41.34).
Clark ran the final leg of the relay and had to rally from fifth place to reach medal contention.
“I knew the boys were depending on me so I had to do it for them,” Clark said.
Weatherspoon was really hoping for first, but wasn”t complaining about second and thanked God, while Hargrove felt the goal was met for the race.
Henley said he has come a long way in the 110 hurdles and Gregory was happy to contribute for the Panthers in his first time at the state meet.
The West Lowndes 4×100 relay team placed sixth (46.95) as the boys finished 20th in the overall team standings with 25 points.
Shanettric Phinizee, an eighth-grader for the Lady Panthers, was sixth in the girls 200-meter dash (28.09), and Arthur Gillespie, a freshman from East Oktibbeha, was fourth in the boys 400-meter dash (53.48).
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