WEST JEFFERSON — Hosting the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference Championship Meet at their home track, the Ashe County girls and boys track teams won their respective meets by a combined 165.5 points Tuesday, April 30. The boys team scored 201.5 points — 73.5 points ahead of second place North Wilkes — and the girls team scored 221 points — 92 points ahead of second place Alleghany.
Heading into the conference championship meet, head coach Alex Rollins said he was skeptical of his girls team, as they only had 14 participants.
“We couldn’t pluck that low-hanging fruit of sixth place and eighth place,” Rollins said. “That wasn’t going to be a (successful) path. Every time we did something right, Alleghany just did not perform up to what their standards were. If you had seeded that meet based on everybody’s events, Alleghany was a deeper team than we were. We just, for whatever reason, had a good day and outperformed them. We won a lot of events.”
The girls team had many participants make it to the podium in various events, including Macie Bowlin, who placed first in discus; Bella Potter, who placed first in long jump, third in the pole vault, second in the 100m hurdles and first in high jump; Bella Powers, who placed third in long jump, first in the 200m dash and first in the 100m dash; Holly Grant, who placed second in the triple jump and third in the high jump; Melena Howell, who placed first in pole vault, first in the 300m hurdles and first in the 100m hurdles; Mahaley Cronk, who finished first in the 400m dash, third in the 3200m run and first in the 800m run; and Malorie Eller, who finished third in the 400m dash and third in the 800m run.
The girls team also had three relay teams make the podium. The 4x800m relay team and 4x100m relay team came in first, while the 4x400m relay team came in second.
Many runners had to perform well in multiple events for the girls to pull off the conference victory.
“We all had to pitch in, and oftentimes we had to run a lot of events that we don’t normally run,” Cronk said. “I didn’t run the whole first half of the meet, but once my first race started, it was (one after the other).”
Cronk said, while not ideal, runners had a plan to make sure they were able to perform at their maximum potential whenever their races were scheduled.
“If you’re not doing anything for a couple hours, you have plenty of time to stay hydrated and eat a little bit before you run,” Cronk said. “In between your races, it’s important to jog around and stay loose, so you don’t get tight between your races.”
Aside from staying loose, Eller said teammate support is one of the most important ways to keep everyone positively motivated and engaged. Olivia Shepherd, a captain of the girls squad, agreed with Eller’s point.
“It’s really important, and our team is really good at cheering each other on,” Shepherd said. “If you don’t have a race going on, and you’re sitting in the bleachers, make sure you’re cheering on your teammates and encouraging everybody. It makes a difference when you hear that.”
Another reason the Huskies were able to pull off the blowout win was their flexibility among athletes, according to Rollins. He added that Bowlin, who placed first in discus at the meet, was in that position after she randomly asked to throw at one point during the season. Rollins gave her the green light, and she’s been launching the discus around 103 feet. He added that small schools begin offering scholarships to students when that distance hits 120 feet.
“There are always diamonds in the rough,” Rollins said. “We take those, and we polish them. Sometimes others schools miss that. They don’t let kids experiment around in different events. They try to pigeonhole them, and so, categorically, you hold kids back sometimes in those cases.”
As for the boys team, they were projected to win the meet from the beginning of the season, and those expectations never wavered.
“It was quite a lot of pressure,” runner Tafton Baker said. “If you look on MileSplit, you can see how everybody is ranked. You could see Ashe had almost every single race. Everyone is expecting you to do that, so you have to deliver.”
Rollins said he never doubted the boys would pull off the victory.
“We’re a very solid boys team,” Rollins said. “North Wilkes is a great boys team, and in any other year they would have been in contention. We’re just too deep in field events. The number of excellent athletes we have outnumbers anyone in the conference. Those numbers begin to materialize when you run a championship.”
Those athletes took center stage at the meet, as Carter Wilson placed first in discus and second in shot put; Tanner Kilby placed third in discus and first in shot put; Grady Rector placed first in the high jump; Torin Potter placed first in the pole vault; Josh Hardin placed first in the 100m dash, first in the 200m dash and first in the 400m dash; Baker placed first in the 1600m run, first in the 3200m run and second in the 800m run; and Jason Durr placed first in the 300m hurdles.
The Huskies also had four relay teams place, as the 4x800m team placed third, the 4x200m team placed second, the 4x100m team placed second and the 4x400m team placed first.
While other schools are often perceived as more athletic than Ashe County, Rollins said his students have worked hard to win conference championships year in and year out. Rollins added that the championships are the fifth and fourth consecutive for the boys and girls teams, respectively.
“If you look at the relative athleticism, you think of Wilkes Central as highly athletic,” Rollins said. “Tradition is Starmount has been really athletic. For whatever reason, our kids buy into the program. We get them as freshman and develop them.”
Participants are happy for their success, and Eller said she’ll look back on this season knowing the teams did it the right way.
“It took a lot of work, but I’m glad that we did as well as we did,” Eller said. “I wanted to win fairly. I wanted to work for the win that we got.”
With an estimated 60 percent of the team’s headed to the regional meet Saturday, May 11, the teams are enjoying their recent success, while keeping an eye on the upcoming regional and state competitions.
“It felt good to work for something that everybody cares about as a group and get that team experience of having these trials that you have to overcome,” Cronk said. “We were scared, but it only pushed us harder.”