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Area athletes will take on state's best at Junior Olympics meet
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USATF Junior Olympics

Georgia state meet

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Starr’s Mill High, Fayetteville

The first time Chestatee rising senior Brandon Thompson competed at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics Track and Field state meet, he wasn’t expected to go much further.

Yet he did.

“I made it to region, made it to finals. I was expecting to be last place, but by some miracle I made a top-three spot,” Thompson said.

That was the first time he reached nationals. Now, with the state meet starting Thursday at Starr’s Mill High in Fayetteville, he’s going for a third straight appearance.

State and regionals still stand in the way, even if he’s no longer an underdog.

“Just to get to that regionals meet is such a big success,” he said. “It’s such an honor just to get to regionals.”

To get to the region meet (July 5-8 in Newport News, Va.), and be on his way to a third consecutive nationals appearance, Thompson will need a top-six finish this weekend.

He’s not alone. A number of area athletes will be competing in Fayetteville for the chance to advance, including Buford sprinter Ronald King and a host of Gainesville High athletes, led by star rising juniors Marcquel Woodard and Sara Hayes.

All are also a part of the Major Impact Sports running club based out of Alpharetta, a club that Red Elephants track and field coach Wayne Jones decided would be a good fit for his athletes after the high school season.

“It helps tremendously, because nine out of 10 times track athletes are just starting to peak when track season ends,” Jones said. “Summer track is best, because coaches are catching them at their peak. When you’ve got athletes like Marcquel and Sara, you want to put them in good hands during the summer.

“With (Major Impact coach and co-founder Candida) Coulson, I know what Sara and Marcquel will be getting.”

Jones said Major Impact gives diverse training beside distance running, and with Hayes looking to qualify for nationals in the seven-event heptathlon this year, a diverse training was essential.

Hayes will compete in the 100 hurdles, high jump, long jump, 800 meter, 200 meter, shot put and javelin. Last year she won state in her age group.

It’s an event her coach got her into after seeing her talents, although she competed in the five-event pentathlon, due to her age group, until recently.

“My coach thought that I would be good at pentathlon because I’m mid-distance, and it’s a really fun thing to do,” Hayes said. “And then I discovered that I was really good at jumping, and I was all right at throwing, so I just got really into it.”

So Jones wanted to find a summer program where Hayes and the rest of Gainesville’s top athletes could train and compete in events like the Junior Olympics.

“I looked into the club and I talked to coach Coulson. She can give Sara and Marcquel what they need to succeed,” Jones said. “They’ve got people from around the metro area, so now she can compete against other great athletes.

“That was the major thing, and then the college connection.”

The summer meets, most notably the Junior Olympic meets, are a great place for high school track and field athletes to get noticed, Jones said, especially if you reach nationals, which will be held this year in Baltimore.

“Going into your junior year, this is your money season,” Woodard said. “This is when all of the college coaches notice you.”

Woodard hasn’t yet been to nationals, although he qualified last year, but he plans to make the trip this time if he makes it. So far, a trip north looks promising as he is the state’s No. 1-ranked runner in the 800 for his division.

Woodard said he wants to attend Louisiana State University, and his determination to reach the college level has pushed him even more.

“Coach Jones, he was a big part of me realizing that I had the chance to go to college for this, so I just worked really hard to get better and it’s starting to pay off for me,” Woodard said.

His goal for this season’s Junior Olympics?

“I want to place first at regionals in the 800, at least place top 10 at nationals, but of course I want to win.”

He’s far from the only one.

Thompson, who started out focusing on football before realizing his skill in the sprints, is taking nothing for granted despite his past success.

“I’ve always been fast, but I never really knew my full expectations until I started training,” he said. “I’m taking my God-given abilities, and I’m expanding them.”

Regional events