By Brian Paglia
Two years ago when the Riverdale boys track and field team finished second in the Class AAAA meet by just four points, they did it without a single athlete qualifying for any field event. Every point won was earned on the legs of the Raiders.
This year, five of the seven events the Raiders will participate in at the GHSA Boys State Track Meet at Memorial Stadium in Jefferson, Ga., which begins today, will be in the field.
"We started working on a lot of kids early, trying to prepare them, and it just worked out for us," Riverdale coach Dwight Callaway said. "It was my second year, so we started working on other areas that we saw as weaknesses."
Callaway envisioned a balanced program thriving both on the track and in the field, the kind of balance that Eagle's Landing takes into the Class AAA meet. The Golden Eagles will have a sprinter (Jamel Wood), a distance runner (Joe Cromer), a hurdler (Franc Floyd), two relay teams, a thrower (Shane Reed) and a jumper (Billy Wright) competing.
"They come from all different areas," Eagle's Landing coach Claud Spinks said. "We got some sprinters, distance, field events, jumpers. We've got some of everything in there."
Both Callaway and Spinks acknowledged seven events isn't enough to contend for a team title, even if the favorites in each event perform below expectations. Contending for first place takes true depth, and the only Southern Crescent team with that depth is Eagle's Landing Christian Academy.
Once threatened with a ban from the state meet due to a confirmed case of the H1N1, or swine flu, virus at ELCA, the Chargers were reinstated by the Georgia High School Athletic Association and will compete in 13 events in the Class A meet, the most of any school in the Southern Crescent.
The Chargers have potential with strong performances from Darien Hudson (200), Johnathan Riggins (800), Luke Baker (1600, 3200) and Luke Cathy (110 hurdles).
Here's how the rest of the state meets look:
There was no surprise at the Region 4-AAAAA meet when Mundy's Mill jumper Tyler Mickens handily won the long jump. It was Riverdale's Solomon Otoo that shocked everyone.
Otoo had been injured for most of the track season. The Raiders top long jumper up until that point had been junior Lavelle Westbrook. But Otoo came back from the injury in time for the region meet and finished second behind Mickens by just over an inch.
"He actually jumped 6-6 in the high jump also," Callaway said, "so he's just a phenomenal jumper."
Mickens, Otoo and Luella's Donell Bluaine should all figure into the compelling finals in the long jump, though only Mickens has a shot to win a title. With the third-best jump in the state at 23-4 feet, Mickens would still have to top 24 feet to threaten M.L. King's Damar Forbes.
· Riverdale's Sylvester Baisden could be the Raiders' best chance at earning significant points. The hurdler has the fifth-fastest time in the state in the 110-hurdle.
"He went to the state meet last year," Callaway said. "It was an eye-opening experience for him. He's just now getting to where he's dominating a little bit more so than last year."
· Lovejoy's D.J. Smith won a state title in the high jump last year and is one of the favorites again. Smith and Malcolm Davis of Norcross are tied for the best mark this season at 6-10, but Smith's state title experience last season should count for something.
· Union Grove's Josiah Stanton-Brooks owns the best time in the state in the 800, though not by much. Stanton-Brooks ran a 1:55.14 at the Henry County Meet, but Grayson's Billy Kovalczyk isn't far behind with his season-best at 1:55.53.
· Wayman Storey may be the only athlete from Morrow at the state meet this weekend, but he could have quite a showing. Storey has top-6 times in both the 100 and the 200.
Given the youth of his Stockbridge track and field team, Tigers coach Ron Williams tempered his expectations this season. In the end, the Tigers exceeded those expectations, sending six athletes into the state meet to compete in six events.
"Overall, I think we had a real good season," Williams said. "We kind of did better than we expected given the young team we have."
Now Williams expects the Tigers to advance to the finals in the 100, 800, 1600, 3200, 100 relay and 400 relay despite having just one senior.
"The goal right now is to get into the finals," Williams said, " and then we'll see what happens."
· Dutchtown will compete in five events, with a chance to advance into the finals in four. The Bulldogs' best chance is in the 200, where senior Joe Stewart has the seventh-fastest time in the state. Chris Austin could also earn points in the 110 and 300 hurdles.
· If Jonesboro's Wayne Hollis can add half an inch to his triple jump, which now stands as the fifth-best in the state, he could have a good chance of finishing on the podium.
Last year, Henry County's Jamal Patterson won a state title in the 110 hurdles and finished second in the 300 hurdles.
Now, Patterson enters the Class AA meet with the best time in the 300 hurdles and the second fastest in the 110 hurdles.
His main competition will be from Westminster's Stephon Shelton.