By Mike London
SPENCER – Throwing in high school seems pretty simple.
Pick up a heavy object, spin around in a ring and throw it as far as you can, right?
Well, not exactly. There is more than that.
Like most track and field events, exceptional pitchers live at the intersection of athleticism and technique. There is science as well as brawn and sweat involved in championship lifts.
There is physics. Torque, angles, balance, acceleration, speed – they are all taken into account.
Not that you want to think about it too much. Just do it.
Basically, to excel in shot put and/or discus, events that are as similar as a tiger and a zebra, you have to be really strong and really explosive. If you have these two physical attributes, you can master the science with a strong work ethic and enough practice hours.
The Post’s female athlete of the year in track and field is a pitcher. It’s unusual. It’s an honor that almost always goes to one of those gals who charge down the runway.
Shot put and discus are events conducted in a remote corner of the field. If you want to see the Rowan County Championship pitches well, you have to hike. It’s much easier to find a seat near the finish line and watch those glamorous racers arrive in droves.
But North Rowan sophomore pitcher Brittany Ellis has held her ground this season. In the Cavaliers’ four major track meets, she’s taken out the broom every time, with four sweeps in the throws. Double champion of the department. Two-time Central Carolina Conference champion. Two-time 1A Midwest Regional champion. Two-time winner of 1A State Championships.
“Any time someone wins a state title, it’s really special,” North Rowan coach Phillip Bush said. “To win two events in the second year, make it even more special.”
Ellis’s throwing sweep at the state level put her in the county history books. She is the first girl from the North to win an NCHSAA discus championship. She is the first girl from the North to win the shot put since Tara Clinding went to 2A back-to-back in 1998-99.
Ellis is the first Rowan County girl from any school to win a state championship in throwing since Salisbury star Alisha Bradshaw won three times – two discus championships (2010-11) and a shot put title (2011).
Rowan’s all-time list for NCHSAA throwing champions isn’t that long. The others are Ellen Miller (South, discus, 1986); Tracy Connor (South, shooting and disc, 1992); Jordan Huffman (Est, disc, 2004) and Rachel Karriker (Est, disc, 2005).
With twin sophomore titles, Ellis obviously has a shot at becoming the most decorated Rowan County girls pitcher of all time.
Her drive distances aren’t quite there yet with the girls who won state championships in higher rankings at the time. Bradshaw passed 129 feet in 2010.
But the thing about Ellis is that she’s young and a long way from her discus ceiling.
“She got better with every encounter this season and was still getting better when she ended,” Bush said. “She works so hard at it. She will still improve.
His steady and impressive drive progressions for the outdoor season looked like this – county meet (93 feet, 3 inches); CCC Championships (97-9); 1A Midwest Regional (106-6) and 1A State Championships (107-3, a personal best).
In the shot put, his progressions were – county meet (33 feet, 8 inches); CCC Championships (35-0), 1A Midwest Regional (36-7.25) and 1A State Championships (37-2, another PR). Bradshaw, Connor and Clinding were throwing the shot in the 39s as seniors. Ellis could hit that plateau next season.
“Brittany’s (Ralph Ellis) grandfather is a great athletic trainer, he got her started early in AAU competition and she was pretty good at throws even when she was 9 or 10.” , Bush said. “There will never be a sound of her. Just calm and humble girls, very consistent. But she’s a tough competitor and won’t back down from anyone from any school. We went to a big meet on Saturday at Marvin Ridge at the start of the season so our girls and boys could see what the 3A and 4A athletes were like. It was almost like a state championship meet for us. We competed hard and I think that gave us a lot of confidence as the season progressed.
Ellis is a sturdy girl, but she doesn’t have the height or weight of some of the big shot putters she competes against. She compensates with the explosion and flexibility that come with her second sport, basketball. She had a strong second season for the Cavaliers in the gym and averaged in double digits. She can shoot and make up to five 3-pointers in a game. She’s also after. She had five interceptions twice.
While she’s giving it her all in North’s hoops, there’s no doubt that Ellis’ future is in athletics. She devotes her summer to AAU athletics meetings.
“I’ve seen her play basketball, and she’s really good at it,” Bush said. “But the track is where it can be very special.”
Ellis is an honor roll student, so there should be a scholarship waiting for the two-time state champion down the road.
“I know she loves UNC Charlotte, but she has time,” Bush said. “This junior year is the most important as far as on-track recruitment is concerned. The bottom line for many of our girls now is to maintain those grades and continue to improve their times and grades.
While Bush could count on Ellis for two wins and 20 points each game, the Cavaliers had a lot more going for them. The team won the 1A Midwest Regional for the second straight season and finished second (80-77 to Swain County) at the 1A State Championships.
North sophomore Tai’lah Ward won 1A state titles in both hurdles and added a fifth-place finish in the 100 meters.
Unfortunately, she missed the Rowan County Championships.
“Tai’lah would have been 40 points for us in the county meet,” Bush said.
North sophomore Aniya Brown is another special all-around athlete and can compete at the state level as a hurdler, jumper and sprinter. She didn’t win a state championship this year, but she racked up two individual seconds, a second in the relay and a third in the triple jump. That’s 30 points in a state meet.
North doesn’t have a big track team, but there’s extra strength in the relays (4×100 and 4×200 regional champions), so they’ll be on the hunt for team state championships for the next two school years.
“Brittany Ellis and Tai’lah Ward picked out their championship rings the other day, and you’d be amazed how much of a difference something like this can make,” Bush said. “Girls see these rings and they’re interested in coming out for the track team. We’ll add a few girls who can make a difference. We’ll have more options next year. State Championships “Will never be easy, but we’ll be competing there for some. We’re starting to look to win the indoor track next winter. That’s our next goal.”
It’s been a good year for Rowan’s daughters on track.
Salisbury won the regional championship in the 4×400. Sutton Webb finished second in the 2A State Championships in the 800.
South Rowan’s Macy Miller placed third in the 3A State Championships high jump.
East Rowan edged Carson (119-114) for the county title.
All Rowan County
The basic criteria for All-Rowan County is first or second in an individual event at the Rowan County Championships or first in a relay.
The Post also recognizes girls who win a conference championship, even if they aren’t in the top two in that event at the county meet. State qualifiers are also honored.
All Rowan County
South – Macy Miller, Mesiyah Howell, Bethany Rymer
West—Cyanah Barger, Marion Blake, Katie Roberts, Katelyn Lentz, Jenna Wheeler
East – Peyton Whicker, Meredith Bonner, Jasmyne Brown, Jadyn Featherstone, Iyanna Berry Lynch, Sadie Featherstone
North – Brittany Ellis, Aniya Brown, Tai’lah Ward, Bloom Goodlett, Azarea Miller, Mikayla Ortiz, Bailee Goodlett, Jade Sankey
Carson — Aliayah White, Zoe Holbrook, Holly Stowe
Salisbury—Sutton Webb, Kimora Chawlk. Dashia Canada, Kendall Henderson, Allanah McArthur, Millie Wymbs
Coaches of the Year – North’s Bush and East’s Cris Leckonby