STARKVILLE — Starkville High School senior Alex Ross found one of his true passions in life by accident.
Ross joined the Starkville High track and field team his eighth-grade year to stay in shape for soccer. Five years later, he will compete Saturday for the final time for the Yellow Jackets in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A, 4A and 6A state championships at Pearl High. The MHSAA Class 1A, 3A, and 5A state meets will be Monday.
“This will be meaningful,” Ross said. “It’s special because you are competing against guys for a state championship. But really Saturday for me is all about competing for the last time in high school — and possibly ever — so that makes this real special.”
Last Saturday at the Class 6A North State meet, Ross won the 1,600 with a time of 4 minutes, 37 seconds. He placed third in the 3,200 (10:02).
At the North State meet, the top four finishers in each category advanced to the state meet. At Pearl High, there will be eight competitors or groups of competitors in each event.
“This is the first time since I have been involved with the track program here that everyone who advanced to North State was also able to advance to state,” Starkville girls coach Caroline Woomer said. “We are excited about this group of athletes and how hard they have worked to get to this point.”
Other Starkville High participants Saturday include Charlie Henderson (pole vault) and Christian Kingery (400) on the boys side and Kate Mattox (1,600, 3,200), Walker Mattox (1,600, 3200), Emily Woomer (400), and the 4×400 relay team on the girls side. The relay team includes Woomer, Taylor Rogers, Shanika Musser, Kate Mattox, and alternates Catherine Buffington and Kennis Kingery.
For Ross, training for the state championship has been a long time in the making after he placed second in the state finals last season.
“The main thing for me is relaxing,” Ross said. “I try not to get stressed and instead I try to stay loose. I just want to leave it on the track. When I first started running track, I did it to stay healthy and stay in good playing shape for soccer. Then quickly I learned how much fun I could have and I really enjoyed the competition.
“That is what makes this upcoming meet so special. You are competing against the other seven fastest guys in the state for a championship. I have been fortunate enough to get better each year.”
Starkville High boys track coach Steven Griffin said hard work has helped Ross make this season.
“When you are an athlete, you want to compete against the very best,” Griffin said. “If you are to be the best, you want to beat the best competition possible. For Charlie, Alex, and Christian, that is the opportunity you have. Really Saturday is about all the hard work you put in before the season started and not about the last couple of weeks.”
Ross said the opportunity to perform among the elite is what will make Saturday special.
“It is more meaningful when you have competitors,” Ross said. “If you go into a race seeded No. 1 and there is no competition, you don’t get as much out of it. When you go into a race knowing there are three or four guys good enough to beat you, then the race has added meaning.”
Ross said the biggest thrill he still gets in track is setting personal bests. The times recorded at the North State meet came close as each were just two seconds off his career bests.
“It is a great sense of satisfaction when the hard work pays off,” Ross said. “I have had a really memorable track career. Placing second last year has really motivated me to go get first this year.”
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.