Photo: Etowah High’s Alex Howard displays his first-place gold medal in the discus event at the Class 5A state track and field meet last Saturday (May 5) in Gulf Shores. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Several area athletes earned medals and a number of others received points at the Alabama High School Athletic Association state track and field meets this past weekend.
At the Class 4A through 7A meets at Gulf Shores, Etowah High junior Alex Howard won gold in the 5A discus with a throw of 150-08. He also came in eighth at the state meet in the shot put (45-08.75).
Southside senior Nick Shirley won his second straight title in the javelin with a first-place effort of 195-08. He captured the bronze medal in the javelin as a sophomore. Shirley recently signed a track and field scholarship with the University of Montevallo.
After barely qualifying for the discus event after an eighth-place wildcard showing at the sectional meet, Howard knew he had to make every throw count at state in order to qualify for the top eight in the finals. His throw in the first heat was for 141 feet, very close to his personal record.
“I knew that would give me a spot in finals, so for my next two throws, I was going to experiment a little bit and try to change the spin and throw farther. I was in fourth place after the second heat, so I went back to my original motion for the finals.”
Howard threw for 130 feet in his first attempt, then tossed for 18 additional feet in the second heat to set a new personal record. Howard then threw for two more feet in his third and final attempt, five feet longer than silver medalist Isaiah McCauley of Lee-Huntsville.
“I felt pretty good mentally going into the finals,” said Howard. “I knew from sectionals that I couldn’t let my mind get to me. I had to be really focused. The more you’re there mentally, the better form you’ll have.
“It was a really humbling moment when I won, from doing so bad at sectionals and getting the chance to get to state.”
Howard, who began competing in the discus and shot put last year as a sophomore, noted that the extra practice time he put in both on the field and in the film room.
“Me and [Etowah track and field] coach [Blake] Hudson would video my throws, and then we’d watch the film and critique the things that I was doing wrong. I think that’s the thing that really made me better from last year.”
A change in equipment also figured into Howard’s success. Through the regular season until the state meet, he wore an old pair of tennis shoes. After his subpar performance at sectionals, however, he was willing to try something different.
“I’m really superstitious when I throw. I got into a groove with the old shoes and I felt that I’d have a good chance sticking with them. After sectionals, a friend of Coach Hudson gave me a real pair of throwing shoes, and I feel like those [shoes] really helped me a lot at state.”
Shirley, who recently signed a track and field scholarship with the University of Montevallo, earned his gold medal on his second throw of the qualifying heats, which eventually turned out to be 22 feet longer than that of silver medalist Jaylen Stinson of Opelika. Not only that, but that 195-foot throw was a new personal record.
“It definitely was special to get a PR on in my last event of my high school career,” said Shirley. “It was 12 feet farther than I’d have ever thrown, so it felt good knowing that I had [the gold medal] pretty much wrapped up right there.”
It was quite a different emotional mindset than last season, when Shirley won the javelin gold by a mere four inch-margin on his last throw of the finals.
“That was a nail-biter all the way through,” said Shirley. “It was nice to get to relax a little bit this time around. Plus, the atmosphere is just at a whole other level with so many people and so many really good athletes. No matter what, there’s always going to be a good crowd there.”
Shirley’s success in the event did not come by accident. With Southside lacking a track and field facility on campus, Shirley had to hit the road to get in his extra training.
“Every Sunday, I had a coach that I trained with in Birmingham, and that was during the summer, during football, during the winter and during the track season.”
Shirley said that he turned down several scholarship offers from bigger colleges in favor of the Falcons.
“Staying close to home is really what it boiled down to,” he said. “Montevallo’s a good school and has a really good track program, so with the short distance from home, it checked off everything I needed.”
Winning the second-place silver at Gulf Shores were Etowah’s NyNy Davis in the boys 200-meter dash (21.94). He also was a member of the Blue Devils’ second-place 4×100-meter relay team along with Emaje Graves, Deaundrea Williams and Ollie Finch (42.54). Davis also won the third-place bronze in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.70.
Hokes Bluff’s Haleigh Cashman took home the silver in the girls 4A triple jump (38-04.00).
At the Class 1A-2A-3A state meets at Cullman, Westbrook Christian’s Mitchell Cook finished second in the 2A boys 800-meter run with a time of 2:00. Gaston’s Sidney Oliver earned the silver in the 2A javelin with a toss of 102-06, while Coosa Christian’s Evan Delp’s time of 23.39 was good enough for the silver in the 1A boys 200-meter run.
Cook earned a pair of bronze medals for the Warriors – one in the 1600-meter run (4:39.23) and another in the 3200-meter run (10.27.63).
Also winning the bronze was Glencoe’s Antony Williams in the 3A boys 100-meter dash (11.44).
The Etowah boys finished seventh overall, while the Glencoe boys came in 10th and the Westbrook boys 11th place.
Earning points for their teams were Hokes Bluff’s Meghan Cashman in the 4A girls long jump (fourth, 15-10); Sardis’ Josh Maynard in the 4A boys 300-meter hurdles (fourth, 40.98); Gaston’s Amayiah Hill in the 2A girls shot put (fourth – 32-01.50); Glencoe’s Antony Williams in the 3A boys 200-meter dash (fourth – 22.97); the Gadsden City 7A girls 4×100-meter relay team of Lauryn Williams, Brittaney Watts, Jalonshae Frazier and Karissa Spade (fourth, 48.27); the Westbrook Christian 2A girls 4×800-meter relay team of Mary Reid Goodwin, Clare Goodwin, Maggie Morgan and Lauren Taylor (fourth, 11:47.41); Etowah’s Zaniya McKenzie in the 5A girls shot put (fifth – 33-07); Hokes Bluff Hayden Lipscomb in the 4A boys high jump (fifth, 5-10); Glencoe’s Abby Vice in the 3A girls 400-meter dash (fifth, 1:02.10); Coosa Christian’s Evan Delp in the 1A boys high jump (fifth, 6-00); Hokes Bluff’s Cody Harp in the 4A boys discus (fifth, 132-01); Glencoe’s Zackery Hare in the 3A boys 300-meter hurdles (fifth, 42.25); the Westbrook 2A boys 4×800-meter team of Mitchell Cook, Stuart Douglass, Jordan Cowart and Jackson Martin (fifth, 9:17.10); the Glencoe 3A girls 4×800-meter relay team of Anna Beth Giles, Abby Vice, Ashley Morgan and Anna Grace Goodwin (fifth, 10:55.24); Glencoe 3A boys 4×100-meter relay team of Easton Foreman, Antony Williams, Zackery Hare and Ethan Foreman (fifth, 45.12); Etowah’s Trevon Caldwell in the 5A boys triple jump (sixth, 43-00); Glencoe’s Katie Giles in the 3A girls 3200-meter run (sixth, 12.49.16); Sardis’ Abby Burns in the 4A girls triple jump (seventh, 33-03.25); Hokes Bluff’s Gracie West in the 4A girls javelin (seventh, 101-09); Southside’s Macie Williams in the 6A girls shot put (seventh, 34-05.75); Etowah’s Jailyn Johnson in the 5A boys 110-meter hurdles (seventh, 16.59); Gadsden City’s Tenise Johnson in the 7A girls javelin (eighth,106-03); Sardis’ Madison Langley in the 4A girls discus (eighth, 87-09); Glencoe’s Katie Giles in the 3A girls 1600-meter run (eighth, 6:02.70); Hokes Bluff’s Hayden Lipscomb in the 4A boys javelin: (eighth, 149-05) and Etowah’s Cory Thomas in the 5A boys triple jump (eighth, 41-11.50).