FLOWERY BRANCH — West Hall junior LeNiesha Kearse has been winning a lot of events this season, but none at a meet as big as Friday’s Battle at the Branch Invitational.
So she was ready for the challenge of competing against 18 other schools in the third annual event at Falcon Field.
“I like this competition,” she said. “It gives me a more realistic view of where I am.”
After first-place finishes in the triple jump (34 feet, 4.5 inches), 100-meter hurdles (14.89 seconds) and 300-meter hurdles (47.70), Kearse felt a little better about how she’s progressed this season as she aims for a state title.
She’s of the same mind as her West Hall teammate, sophomore Maia Booker, who added wins in the 100- and 200-meter runs as the two led the Lady Spartans to a Hall County-best third-place finish at the event.
Booker, still recovering from an upper-thigh injury, nonetheless blew away the competition with a 12.17-second run in the 100 and a 25.43 run in the 200.
With 71 points, West Hall finished behind meet winners Collins Hill (86) and Greenbrier (78).
Booker felt good about her times, even as she limped off the track after each race.
“I feel comfortable about where I could be placing at state,” said Booker, who finished second in the 100 and third in the 200 at state last season. “This year I want to win both of them.”
Both Lady Spartans are well on their way to getting that shot this season.
But for Flowery Branch senior Austin Eckenroth, the Class AAAA defending state champion pole vaulter, a win Friday at 14-6 was just the beginning as he attempted to surpass the Falcon Field record of 15-6.
Eckenroth fell short, but he still has an even bigger goal for this season. Not only is he looking to defend his state title, but he’s intent on breaking the state record.
“I need to work on my speed and strength training and stay healthy,” he said.
Eckenroth was one of two home-field athletes to finish first in an event — Katherine Randolph cleared 17-8 in the long jump, nearly a foot longer than the second-place finisher, to grab the win.
The Flowery Branch girls finished seventh overall and the boys 10th, but coach Jimmy Sorrells was still pleased with the event, which was bigger than ever before with 20 different teams competing.
The fifth-year Falcons coach is intent on highlighting track and field in the county.
“Track and field kind of gets put on the back burner, so I’m just trying to showcase our athletes in Hall County,” he said.
North Hall showcased just how well the school’s successful cross country programs can become a solid foundation for track and field.
The North Hall boys tied for fourth with 51 points behind Greenbrier, Collins Hill and Athens Christian, and the girls finished sixth (47).
Each team was led by cross country stars. Senior Luis Gonzalez won the 1600-meter run in a time of 4:25.76 and finished second in the 800 in 2:00.38. Tucker LoCicero won the 3200 with a time of 10:03.42.
For the girls, Victoria Rogers blew away the field in the 3200 (11:53.25) and nipped West Forsyth’s Taylor Roeck at the line to finish second in the 1600 in a time of 5:39.83.
Rogers said she had spent much of the early season getting back into form after cross country season, but she might be turning the corner.
“I always have had a hard time getting back to where I was,” she said. “But I feel like after today I’m getting better, not just getting to where I was.”
North Hall teammate Gabrielle Hoffman finished second in the pole vault and the 100 hurdles, and a number of other area athletes stood out Friday, including a win in the shot put by Habersham Central’s Tanisha Somnerour with a throw of 39-2.
Johnson was led by a second-place finish in the triple jump courtesy of Latavia Cheeks, Brittney Wells finished second for the Lady Falcons in the 800, Kiki Harris finished third for Gainesville in the triple jump and Colton Quinones finished third for the Red Elephant boys in the discus. Imani Cross helped North Hall with a second-place finish in the shot put, and Taylor Fiorello finished third for the Falcons in the 3200.