Before the season began, West Hall girls track and field coach Cindy Herford felt good about her team’s chance at a Region 8-AAA title.
Then the injuries hit.
It started with an injury during the very first meet, and included lingering injuries to a few of the top Lady Spartans athletes, the ones Herford needed if West Hall was going to win region.
“We hoped that we would be able to win region again, but once we started we had a lot of injuries, so it was a struggle,” the longtime West Hall coach said. “Luckily we got it together for region.
“The girls have so much heart. I really wasn’t expecting to win before we got there, but they have so much heart they just worked through the pain for the win.”
The Lady Spartans captured the region crown ahead of Monroe Area after being tied with just three races to go, getting solid performances from the still recovering stars, including rising seniors Taylor Long and LeNiesha Kearse and rising junior Maia Booker.
For Herford’s efforts leading the squad, she has been named The Times All-Area Coach of the Year.
“She’s like a second mom to everyone, she really tries hard,” Long said of her coach.
“She makes everyone try harder than we think we can; she definitely pushes us.”
For Herford, it was a year unlike any since she started at West Hall in 2001, thanks to all of the injuries. Long dealt with a slipped disc, Booker had ankle and calf injuries in addition to a broken tailbone, and Kearse had trouble with her knee all season.
“It was just such a tumultuous year. It was just up and down,” Herford said. “The year before it just came a little easier, and this year it was holding your breath with each meet.
“Never have I had a season where the main runners were injured the whole season; it’s a different thing to have to deal with.”
And still, West Hall entered the final three events of the region meet, the 1600 relay, the 300-meter hurdles and the 800, with a chance at a win. First, the relay team set a new school record and finished second, putting Kearse on the spot in an event she’d had trouble with all year.
“I said you really have to win this heat,” Herford remembered.
Kearse won not only the heat, but the event, and West Hall took the title.
“I was so proud of them that day,” the coach said. “I said, ‘here’s what has to happen the last three events to win,’ and they said, ‘we’ve got this.’”
After taking the team through the new state sectionals competition in Macon, Herford took the squad’s top athletes down to Albany for the state meet, where Kearse and Long finished fourth in the 100 hurdles and 3200 run, respectively, and Booker came in second in the 100.
Now, with another region title under their belts and all but three of the athletes returning, the Lady Spartans will be looking to parlay this season’s success under pressure into an even better season in 2013.
“I totally did not expect to win region that day,” Herford said. “But afterward, I was thinking maybe we might win region again and go higher in state next year considering how much of a struggle this year was, and we still won region.”
Long, West Hall’s top distance runner, agrees.
“I’m hoping we’re going to be pretty legit,” she said.