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High school track and field: Second straight state runner-up finish leaves Cherokee Bluff's Hannah Cheek more determined than ever
Hannah Cheek 1.jpg
Cherokee Bluff junior Hannah Cheek finished as a state runner-up in the girls 100-meter hurdles for the second straight season with her second-place finish at the Class 4A state championships last weekend in Albany. Submitted photo by Cherokee Bluff Track and Field

At first glance, it would appear that Hannah Cheek’s high school track and field season this spring was something of a lateral move when compared to her 2022 campaign.

After all, the Cherokee Bluff junior’s state runner-up finish in the Class 4A girls 100-meter hurdles was the exact same as she posted in Class 3A just a year ago.

In addition, the sole opponent she finished behind this year’s event final Saturday at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany, Westminster’s Grace Smith, was the same one who stood in her way to a for a state title a year ago.

However, the way Lady Bears coach Cam Jackson sees it, while Cheek holds herself to a very high standard, this season was another step up the next rung on her figurative ladder toward the top heading into her senior season next spring.

“She’s really driven when it comes to putting in the work for it,” Jackson said of Cheek. “She’s always at practice. … She does extra work with a personal trainer on the side, as well.

“(Hannah) can beat Grace, but she’s just never had a perfect race in which everything lined up. … In her mind, … I think she’s like, ‘I can get first.’ So, I think going into next year, there will be even more of that (dedication) for her to perform and hopefully end up with a win.”

Not that Cheek holds any grudge against Smith, nor does she trivialize her own accomplishment of finishing as state runner-up in her main event two years in a row.

Still, coming up just short both years, as well as her eighth-place state finish as a freshman in 2021, has filled her with a resolve to do what it takes to give her the best shot and the one goal that has eluded her so far.

“It just motivates me even more,” Cheek said. “It makes me even more hungry to get first place. It makes me want to train harder. I stayed really consistent with my training. Very consistent, no days off.”

The consistency Cheek spoke of has already paid dividends for her this season.

She cut her time in the 100 hurdles by two-tenths of a second from last year’s second-place time of 14.81 seconds to 14.63 seconds in the preliminary heat at state last Friday, and to 14.64 in Saturday’s final.

And she also cut down the margin between herself and Smith from last year more than in half.

Cheek gave a lot of credit to her coaches – from Jackson and the Cherokee Bluff staff to her aforementioned personal trainer Eli West – to help her close the gap.

“I think the coaches and the training they were giving (the team was the biggest difference this season),” said Cheek, who also qualified for the 300 hurdles for this year’s state meet, but didn’t make it into the finals. “In the beginning, I really wasn’t getting it. My endurance wasn’t there, but towards the end, I was building it. I was getting better.”

Jackson agrees that the work he and the rest of Cheek’s coaches did aid in some of the strides she made this spring.

But he was quick to point out that she is talented enough and enough of a self-starter that any necessary adjustments to her training were really only minor tweaks.

“She came into this year so solid already,” Jackson said of Cheek. “One thing that we did talk about a lot with her … is that the finishes were the hardest part for her. It seems like she would start off really quick and was really good out of the blocks, and then in the last few hurdles, she would kind of die off.

“Over the course of the whole year, Coach Eli, … he helped her a lot with the technical work about finishing strong, attacking the hurdles more than she has before. But like I said, she’s one of those athletes who you don’t have to really do a whole lot with because she’s already so good.”

That may be so, but Cheek says there’s always room for improvement.

To that end, she plans on doing more work during the summer US Track and Field season to make sure she does everything she can do to be the best runner that she can be.

“This summer season and training season, I’m really going to be focused on speed endurance, holding my speed for a longer time,” Cheek said.
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