A strong finishing kick is essential for any individual track athlete or relay team member in any meet, and it’s just as important for teams in their competition.
The Gainesville boys and North Hall girls each came up with strong kicks down the stretch during the final day of competition at the 2023 Hall County championships to take home their respective team trophies Thursday at Chestatee.
The Red Elephants got a big day, and overall meet, from boys high point award winner Conner Proffitt and Markelle Cheek to lead a strong effort that ran down the leaders and gave them 177 points to run past runner-up Flowery Branch (135.5) and post their third straight county team title.
“We came into (Thursday’s finals) third, or maybe fourth,” Gainesville co-head coach John Corbett said. “ We (Corbett and co-head coach Deon Williams) both looked at the heat sheets and knew it was going to (basically) be a dual meet with Flowery Branch.
“We picked up a lot of good points early in the hurdles (events). I was certainly confident in Conner and John (Jessup), our two distance stars. I was going to push them into four events, and they scored 54 points (between them). That allowed us (Thursday) to say, ‘OK, if we get our points elsewhere, we know were getting them in the distances.’”
Proffitt, who won the boys 3,200 meters during Tuesday’s opening day of the meet, added titles in the 800 and 1,600 to sweep the distance events, and Jessup was runner up in the 800 and 1,600 after placing third in the 3,200.
However, Gainesville also got a boost from Cheek, who swept the individual titles in both hurdle events, including a meet record of 15.01 seconds in the 110 high hurdles, plus a runner-up finish form Daeon Neal in the 300 intermediate hurdles and a fourth-place showing in the 110 hurdles.
“Daeon Neal … doing what he did was big. We knew somebody had to do something that they hadn’t been doing,” Williams said. “Somebody had to step up.”
Those two performances, plus wins by the 400, 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams, helped push the Red Elephants over the top and overcome a strong day by Flowery Branch that included meet records by Ryan Gruss in the 100 meters (10.98 seconds) and 200 (21.72) and the Falcons’ 800 relay team on Tuesday (1:30.08).
Cherokee Bluff wound up third in the boys standings with 90.5 points, while North Hall (89) and Chestatee (73) rounded out the boys’ top five.
Meanwhile, North Hall took a large lead in the girls team standings into Thursday’s action before Gainesville and Cherokee Bluff slowly began to edge closer.
But big points from distance runners Clodagh O’Bryant, Harleigh Smith and MaKayla Jones in the 3,200-meter run helped the Lady Trojans hold off both challengers and pull away with 158 points for the Lady Trojans’ first team title since 2016.
O’Bryant outpaced runner-up Adison Myers of Cherokee Bluff to win the event in a time of 11:39.93, with Smith taking third (12:19.45) and Jones placing sixth (12:49.79) for 19 big team points.
With Abi Moore having won the 800 earlier in the day in a meet-record time of 2:16.99 and the 1,600 on Tuesday, the distance runners helped the Lady Trojans keep Cherokee Bluff and Gainesville at bay.
“The 3,200 was a big race for us,” North Hall head coach Reed Tipton said. “Clodagh really got off to a fast start. She’s dealing with some shin splints right now, but she’s a competitor. And (Tuesday), our jumpers – Eve Taylor, Genesis Satterfield, Kaithlyn Silos and Rachel Seid – scored a total of 58 points.
“Our distance and jumping are our strong suits, but we’re well rounded. Our relay teams can compete. We’ve got a couple of sprinters that compete. And our relay teams got us in good position.”
Gainesville eventually finished as the team runner-up with 135 points behind first place finishes from the Red Elephants’ 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams, the latter of which came in a new county record time of 9:52.24.
Cherokee Bluff was close behind in third place with 133 points, thanks in no small part to girls high-point award winner Olivia Owens, who set meet records to win the 100 (12.58) and 200 (25.75) and was part of a first-place 400 relay team, plus another meet record from Hannah Cheek in the 100 intermediate hurdles.
Chestatee (106) and Flowery Branch (76) rounded out the top five.
Other girls highlights from Thursday included meet records by the Flowery Branch’s Bella Brick in the 400 (59.88), plus a first-place finish by her Lady Falcons teammate Phoebe Brawner in the 300 low hurdles (37.70).
2023 HALL COUNTY TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS
1. Gainesville – 177
2. Flowery Branch – 135.5
3. Cherokee Bluff – 90.5
4. North Hall – 89
5. Chestatee – 73
6. West Hall – 64
7. Riverside Prep – 35
8. Johnson – 22
9. Lakeview Academy – 10
10. East Hall – 3
1. North Hall – 158
2. Gainesville – 135
3. Cherokee Bluff – 133
4. Chestatee – 106
5. Flowery Branch – 76
6. Lakeview Academy – 25
7. West Hall – 22
8. Lanier Christian – 18
T9. East Hall – 7
T9. Johnson – 7