Tori Mullinax and Sarah Beth English spend a lot of time running side-by-side, with most of their opponents behind them.
The two Chestatee distance runners finished first and second in both the 1600 and 3200-meter races at the Region 8-AAAA last weekend, clocking less than a second apart in each race. It’s been like that for several races this season, the teammates pushing each other to keep pace with one another and record quality times.
“We usually try to stay together, because we run together every day and we train together,” Mullinax said. “But there’s always those days when someone has a better day and one has a worse day.”
For today’s state sectional meet, all bets are off.
Only the top eight competitors in each event from each classification’s east and west sectional meets earn a spot at state, intensifying the level of competition from last week’s region meets. This season is the second to include sectional meets after it was introduced by the GHSA last year. The state meet for the boys starts Thursday in Jefferson, while the girls state meet opens May 9 in Albany.
So while both Chestatee runners took it easy at region and finished multiple seconds off their personal-best times, the case won’t be the same tonight. The same goes for any athlete competing at sectionals.
“Our sectionals has a lot harder competition, because a lot of the girls are ranked higher than us,” said English, who is ranked one spot behind Mullinax in the 1600 (10th) and 3200 (5th). “If we work hard enough, we’ll be fine.”
Mullinax’s 3200 time is expected to be closer to the 12-minute mark, possibly under, with English not far behind. Both are also in the 5:30 range in the 1600,
Their best times are only seconds away from the lowest sectionals time, meaning that a state-qualifying finish is likely within reach for both runners in each event. They might stick together in race, but Chestatee distance coach Wes Wessely says either one could take off and possible contend for first place in the final stretch.
“Sectionals, they may still stay close,” Wessely said. “At state, it’s going to be everybody for themselves. For the two mile, pull each for a mile and a half, then whoever has it wins the race.”
Chestatee is also looking for an improved performance from sprinter and University of South Carolina signee Brandon Thompson, who finished second in the 100-meter dash at the region meet with a time of 10.94 seconds.
The 2012 state placer has a personal best of 10.61, which would have been the fastest time at sectionals. But a hamstring injury has sidelined Thompson for the past month and set him back in the training process.
“Our goal for him this weekend is 10.7,” War Eagles coach Matt Mays said. “(His PR) is probably not attainable until state. Our goal for him this weekend is 10.7 and then beat that at state, whether it’s 10.6 or 10.5. In his mind, he’s probably thinking 10.4 or 10.5.”
Other area athletes didn’t hold back during their region meets, and hold high rankings entering sectionals. Ten Hall County competitors are even ranked first.
North Hall has four of them, three of whom sit atop field events. Gabrielle Hoffman is the pole vaulter to beat with a region measurement of 10 feet, three inches. The mark is more than two feet higher than the second-place performer entering sectionals.
The Trojans have three solid throwers making a bid for state titles, all of whom set PRs at last week’s Region 7-AAA meet. Shot put specialist Patrick Chappell enters sectionals after recording a heave of 51-2 at region, and discus throwers Destin Bryant (174-6) and Drew Bryant (174-0) will battle each other for a top seed in Class AAA.
North Hall’s Witt Nix enters sectionals as the fastest 3200 runner after logging a time of 9:48 at region, three seconds faster than teammate Tucker LoCicero, who enters sectionals as the No. 2 runner in the event.
The White County girls are also strong in the distance events. Fresh off a team region title, the Lady Warriors hold three No. 1 spots in the longest races. Jenna Gearing holds two of them, with the top spot in the 1600 and 3200. Teammate Kristen Mitchell is ranked first in the 800 and second in the 1600.
West Hall’s Jarlissa Latimore enters sectionals with the girls shot put throw to beat at 39-6. LeNiesha Kearse holds the fastest time in the 100 hurdles at 15.22 seconds.
Other area No. 1 athletes are Skylar Toney of Riverside Military in the boys pole vault at the Class AA level and Buford’s David Curry in the pole vault at Class AAA. From Commerce, Dekerrio Ramsey ranks first in the long jump,
Micah Eason leads the shot put and Zoey Forrester is No. 1 in the 100 hurdles of the Class A public sectional.
All Hall County teams will be represented at the sectional level from Class AA-AAAAA.