By Katherine Wright
Everyone has high expectations for the Hall County track and field championships.
For the Riverside Military boys and Flowery Branch girls, it’s all about trying to stay on top.
On Wednesday and Friday of the last week of March, nine schools in the county will converge on Cherokee Bluff High to see who’s best. On Day 1, field events and 3200-meter relay finals will be contested, along with preliminaries for all the remaining running events. The final day is when championship heats will be contested for the county’s fastest runners.
Bears head coach Matthew Brick believes this is a significant event for the new school, and unprecedented territory for the program’s coaches. But the teams are ready to add recognition to their clean slate.
Brick identified a few girls with the ability to bring home victories in Cherokee Bluff’s first Hall County Championship. Junior Sierra Wainer, one of the top distance runners in class 3A, will run the 1600 and 3200-meter race, while junior Daysha Mills and sophomore Megan Butler will compete in the hurdles.
Several coaches in the county had a few things to say on the new program.
“Cherokee Bluff is not a normal first year school with their talent,” Gainesville High coach PJ Davis said.
Fellow Gainesville High coach John Corbett added, “They are unpredictable.”
Plenty of advantage can lie in an unknown competitor, and Cherokee Bluff is ready to embrace that fact.
Riverside Military Academy
The Eagles have several returning athletes from last season’s championship team, making them the favorite to win numerous events.
One of the best athletes in the county, according to Cummings, is senior Isaac Teasley, the top-ranked 200-meter sprinter and triple jumper in Class A.
Cummings expects Gainesville High, North Hall, Cherokee Bluff and Flowery Branch to be the biggest challengers for his reigning championship team.
Every year, the Eagles have the same goal — to secure the “triple crown:” win the county, region and state championships. Cummings said the school’s indoor facility gives his team an advantage over the rest of the county, especially with wintry conditions still present. Fellow county coaches have noticed the difference.
“Coach Cummings has done an outstanding job at Riverside getting those boys in tiptop shape,” Davis said.
Still, Cummings remained grounded regarding his highly touted squad.
“We’re not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but we know we’re trying to get there,” Cummings said.
Riverside Military Academy is expected to be a top contender in next week’s events, but the team still has its disadvantages. Basketball players generally make successful track and field athletes, with both sports incorporating similar forms of physicality. That being said, the Eagles have a few basketball players on the track and field squad. Hoops season ended less than a month ago, preventing the two-sport athletes from focusing solely on track and field. Cummings said the basketball players joined the team in “decent shape but not track shape.”
Coach Steven Williams will call on senior Avana Anderson to lead the overall inexperienced girls team. She consistently wins meets in high jump. Senior Cady Copous will compete in the triple jump, long jump and long distance runs. Freshman Asya Scott will be productive in the 200-meter race, along with freshman Zion Martinez in the 1600-meter and sophomore Makira Nash in the hurdle and 400-meter relay.
Williams believes the boys will make strides in the 1600-meter relay.
The Red Elephants entered the season under new leadership. Corbett and Davis inherited a young program of about 70 kids with about 10 being contributing seniors. After months of preparation and in-school recruitment, Corbett sees not only potential but also progress, specifically saying the girls can compete for the title.
Gainesville’s youthful team is anchored by senior leader Byankha Covazos, who contributes to the 400 and 1600-meter relays and hurdles.
“She’s a positive influence to everyone on the team all the time but especially in practice,” Davis said.
Junior sprinter Dominic Holland is a leader for the boys team, which is expected to place in the top two or three in the 800-meter race thanks to sophomore Donangelo Marshall, who’s also the anchor of the 1600-meter relay team.
Senior Miguel Lopez is Gainesville’s top distance runner with past county and region championships to his name. Sophomore Juan Cavazos, brother of Byankha, is the Red Elephants strongest high jumper. Freshman Ian Mallard, sophomore Jimmy Mai and sophomore Lauren Ware are the framework for the Red Elephants pole vault event, along with a strong shot put candidate in junior Makius Scott.
Corbett says he feels good about both his boys and girls 3200-meter relay teams.
Head coach John Brimer has a lot of faith in Skylar Abbot, the defending Class 4A state runner-up in the hurdles. Brimer believes sophomore distance runner Luke Gattis should be very competitive in the 1600 and 3200-meter runs, while strong performances from sophomore sprinter and jumper Emma Easterwood and sophomore sprinter Christian Charles are expected.
Middle distances (400 meters up to one mile) are the Knights biggest strength, according to Cole. Senior Johstin Reyes is one of Johnson’s top athletes on the boys side, while junior Taylor Farmer and senior Sadie Houston anchor the girls team.
Three schools stood out to Spartans head coach Ben Parnell when asked which programs would be his team's greatest competitors.
"Gainesville is always tough," Parnell said. "Flowery Branch has a lot of depth. Chestatee is better in spots that we are not."
But Parnell believes his own one-two-three punch — junior sprinter Aaliyah James, junior high jumper Kinsey Wilson and senior high jumper John Stoecker, who joined the team in August — will be enough to seriously contend with county rivals.