Hall County Track and Field Championships
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22
WHERE: Flowery Branch High
Gainesville High track and field coach Wayne Jones acknowledged the ultimate goal this season is to have his athletes prepared and healthy for the region meet, where they can punch their tickets to state competition.
All the better if they can win a county championship along the way.
The Red Elephants boys and girls teams know the feeling after placing first and tying for the top spot, respectively, at last year’s Hall County Track and Field Championships. The event returns today to Flowery Branch High, giving the area’s best athletes a shot at bragging rights for the next year.
“The experience means a lot,” Jones said. “(Winning at the county meet) means so much to the kids. I don’t have to worry about them getting up for this meet. … We have won region meets and have won several events, but county to them is everything.”
Throwing events begin at 4:30 p.m. today in Flowery Branch, while the 1600-meter race will kick off the running events at 5:15 p.m.
After winning the boys competition by 45 points and tying with the North Hall girls in a down-to-the-wire finish at last year’s meet, Gainesville will face a stiff challenge from the other local schools seeking to stake their claim as Hall County’s best.
On top of that, Jones said his squads are “a little banged up” and that athletes who played for the school’s boys basketball team that reached the March 9 state championship game are still getting up to speed.
The Red Elephants, however, know they can rely on Devonte Mize, one of the team’s four senior captains who at last year’s county meet won two individual events and was a part of two first-place relay teams. Jones said Mize, the top 110-meter hurdler in Class 6A, will likely participate in five events today due to Gainesville’s rash of injuries.
“I hate putting that kind of pressure on a kid, but with injuries, sometimes you have to put a kid there,” the coach said. “That’s where your captains have to step up.”
North Hall and host Flowery Branch figure to also be in the hunt for the county championships.
Georgia signee Erika Plummer is the reigning county champion in both the 1600-meter and 3200-meter runs for the Lady Falcons, who won the meet in 2015 before slipping to third place in 2016 and fifth last year.
“She’s focused on her senior year, and she is competing very hard and very aggressively and doing well, very well,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “I’m pleased with where she’s at. She’s running faster than I’ve ever seen her (run).”
Sorrells said the Falcons, who are two years removed from a county title, have more depth than usual thanks to football coach Ben Hall encouraging his players to participate in spring sports.
Though the North Hall girls lost Olivia Bradley, who recorded three first-place finishes a year ago, to graduation, they’re aiming for at least a share of the county title for the third straight season. On the boys side, North Hall is trying to break through following back-to-back second-place finishes.
Riverside Military’s boys, meanwhile, are trying to return to the top after winning their first and only county championship in 2015.
Coming off a first-place finish at a 15-team meet March 16 at North Oconee High, the Eagles hope to use that momentum to dethrone Gainesville. Coach Tim Cummings’ group edged the Red Elephants by 1 ½ points for second place at the East Jackson Invitational on March 3.
“We’ve got great respect for them, and I’ve got a ton of respect for Wayne Jones, who I’ve coached against for a long time,” Cummings said. “Somebody asked me today, ‘What’s this meet about?’ This meet is about respect and a little bit of bragging rights in the county.
“The county has some great track programs, so if you can go in there as a Single-A team and compete and hang in there with them, that’s great for your program. That’s what we hope to do.”
Cummings returns most of the athletes who helped Riverside Military finish third last year, like Charles Dimnwaobi and Isaac Teasley, who won an event apiece. The Eagles will have to overcome some youth in the distance races, but thrower Harry Kim and hurdler Orlando Stevens supplement what Cummings called a “special” and well-rounded core of athletes.
Chestatee, East Hall, Johnson and West Hall will also be looking to improve on their finishes from last year’s county meet.
But Gainesville is standing in their way, even after the graduation of pole vaulter Hunter Mallard, who now competes at Georgia Tech. The Red Elephants can make up for his departure with a group of sprinters Jones said are among the best in Class 6A.
For now, he just needs them to be the best in the county.
“Our goal is to be healthy for region, but county is big and very important to the kids and coaches,” Jones said. “ … It’s still going to be a blast. I can’t wait to get out there and see what we can do.”