By Mike London
SPENCER — North Rowan’s women’s track team won the 1A Midwest Regional last June — then finished 11th in the state.
It was a bit like returning a kickoff from 98 yards and fumbling on the 1-yard line.
North repeated as regional champion Friday in a meet hosted by Davie County, and the Cavaliers plan to do much better than 11th at the upcoming 1A State Championships at North Carolina A&T. They are looking for the end zone this time.
“There are great teams there, and I don’t know if we can win the state, but I believe we have a chance,” North coach Phillip Bush said. “I think we are one of the best teams.”
North Rowan’s team is basically made up of sophomores who have matured from it since they were very young in 2021.
“Young people make youthful mistakes,” Bush said. “Tai’lah Ward would have won the 300 hurdles in the state, but she ran out of her lane and got a disqualification. She didn’t interfere with any of the other runners, but she ran out of her lane. Lesson learned. These girls have more experience now.
If you’re wondering how a team that finished fourth in the county and third in the conference can win a regional championship and entertain the hopes and dreams of a state championship, the key factor in conference and county fixtures is usually the number. If a school can put three people in each event, those points for fourth, fifth, and sixth add up over the course of a long day.
North can’t score like that. North has no numbers. When the Cavaliers get on the bus, there is room. There are only 11. Well, 12 if you count Bush.
What North has are special girls, elite athletes or on the verge of it. These are the kind of people who can win a state championship because they’re going to keep getting first, second, and third, even when the level of competition reaches its peak.
North got no distance points in the region on Friday, but those 800, 1600, 3200 and 4×800 points that can kill the Cavaliers in a six or seven team meeting are really spread out in a wide meeting of the size of the state. Forty-five different schools scored at the 2021 1A Girls State Championships.
Seventy-eight points won the 2021 title for Swain County. Fifty-two points allowed Pamlico County to finish second.
North amassed 109 points in the region on Saturday, and while points will be tougher in the state meet, it’s not hard to imagine the Cavaliers stepping into that 52-78 range as they have three people who will threaten to win multiple events – and they have solid stints.
Bush competed for Northern coaching legend Robert Steele. A versatile athlete who competed in hurdles, sprints and jumps, Bush won four individual state championships – two in the 100 meters and one in the 200 meters outdoors, plus an indoor long jump championship. He jumped 23 feet 6.5 inches, which will give you an idea of the type of athlete he was back in 2006-07.
Today, he transmits this know-how.
“Everything I know, I learned from Coach Steele and I try to give those things to those girls,” Bush said. “They make it fun to be around them. They work hard. They don’t complain. They make the honor roll, and those good marks mean everything. They have the talent to continue on the right path, and as long as they get the grades, they will have an opportunity.
Ward missed the county meet, learning another lesson of youth. Had she been there, she would have had a huge impact on all four events she was entered into. At Friday’s regional, she won both hurdles events, placed third in the 100 meters and helped put the 4×100 relay team in the winner’s circle.
Equally devastating is Aniya Brown, who finished second in two events at the 2021 1A State Championships. She matched Ward’s 26 individual points in the regional, winning the triple jump and running second to Ward in both hurdles events. Brown also helped make the 4×200 relay team a winner.
Brittany Ellis, who placed third in the shot put at the 2021 state meet, is throwing about 3 feet further now. She won the throw and discus at the regional for the second straight season.
The top four from the regional competition qualify for the state event. North qualified a lot of people. Rookie Jade Sankey finished third in the long jump. Azarea Miller provided the bronze medal as part of North’s 1-2-3 regional dominance in the 100m hurdles. North got 42 of his 109 points in the hurdles.
Miller also factored in two first-place relay teams, while the Goodlett twins, Bailee and Bloom, also had good days in the relays. The two raced the 4×100 and 4×200 winners.
North even qualified the 4×400 team with a fourth place finish. Bush smiles at this one.
“Bloom Goodlett ran a 1:10 or 1:11 in the 400m, but his split time on Friday was 1:04,” Bush said. “These twins showed up. All our girls showed up, they outdid themselves and we won a meeting with 27 schools. We didn’t back down from anyone and it was an amazing day for us. Now all that’s left is the grand ball.
The last state championship for North girls was in 2010. This group should have a chance for the next two seasons, as well as this one.
The Gray Stone daughters placed sixth in the 1A Midwest Regional. The Knights had quite a few state qualifiers.
Emberleigh Pauley-Brown was third in the 1600 and 3200. Anaston Trexler was third in the 300 hurdles. Autumn Misenheimer finished third in the shot put. Katherine Cupples was third in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump. Mallory Hill finished fourth in the discus throw.
Coach Aaron Young’s North Rowan boys nearly kept pace with the North girls. The Cavaliers scored 77 points and finished second to Albemarle in the area.
Amari McArthur had a big day with a second-place finish in the 200 and a third-place finish in the 100. He also raced in 4×200 (2nd) and 4×100 (3rd) relay teams that advanced.
Pharrell Hailey won the discus and was also a state qualifier in the shot put with a third-place finish.
Quintin Wilson won the 110 hurdles and took fourth place in the 300 hurdles and helped the 4×100 relay team.
Kemon O’Kelly had a third in the high jump and raced in both qualifying relay teams.
In the 3A Midwest Regional, also held in Davie on Friday, South Rowan’s Macy Miller won the high jump, clearing the bar at 5-foot-4.
West Rowan’s Katie Roberts qualified with third place in the 3200. East Rowan’s Peyton Whicker advanced to the State Meet with a third place finish in the 300 hurdles and helped the Mustangs score 28 points for ninth place .
Eli Julian won the 1600 and 3200 to provide 20 of South Rowan’s 27 points. The Raiders finished 10th.
Marcus Holloman finished fourth in the high jump to qualify for the state competition.
The East Rowan boys scored 30 points and finished ninth. Cole Eagle, second in the long jump, and Luke Heglar, third in the pole vault, qualified for the national competition.
In Friday’s 2A Midwest Regional at High Point, the Salisbury boys scored 34 points for eighth place. Marcus Cook was second in the triple jump, while Jayden Gibson was third in the 100 and Jalyn Smith was third in the 200. Three relays scored for the Hornets, with the 4×400 relay team placing third.
The Salisbury girls scored 37 points for eighth place, with Sutton Webb placing second in the 800 and 1600.
Webb also raced on the 4×400 first place team with Millie Wymbs, Dashia Canada and Kendall Henderson.
Wymbs placed fourth in the 1600.