Photo: The Ashville High girls 4×800-meter relay teams gathers at the first-place podium after winning the state championship at the Class 4A track and field meet on April 30 in Gulf Shores. Pictured, from left: Kathleen McCarthy, Meghan McCarthy, Callie Stewart, Emma Drinkard. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Ashville High track and field teams left the school’s record book in tatters last weekend in Gulf Shores.
Seven athletes medaled and several broke personal records during the Class 4A state meet held on April 29 – May 1 at the Gulf Shores Sports Complex. The AHS girls finished seventh out of 27 teams, while the boys placed 10th out of 36 teams.
“Going into state, I knew we had the talent and capability to be successful,” said AHS track and field head coach Michele Rogers. “But it was really awesome to watch all of that play out and become a reality.”
Two of the Bulldogs’ gold medal victories ended in dramatic fashion. The girls’ top-seeded 4×800-meter team of Callie Stewart, Meghan McCarthy, Kathleen McCarthy and Emma Drinkard trailed Randolph by almost 75 yards for most of the first 1600 meters of the event before closing the gap to approximately five yards headed into the final leg. Drinkard, the AHS relay anchor, caught up to and passed the Randolph anchor with about 150 yards remaining to secure Ashville’s first-ever girls team state championship. The team’s time of 10:10.94 was both a team and school record.
“I heard that Randolph swapped their order and put their fastest two girls first,” said Rogers. “But I thought we did a fairly good job of keeping up with their first and seconds legs with
Callie and Meghan. We then really pulled away on our third and fourth legs with Kathleen and Emma, and Emma was able to pull away on that last lap and seal the deal. It was definitely a team effort, and I really think that each girl was focusing on running for the other girls instead of herself.”
“Winning state is something that me and Callie have dreamt of since we were in the seventh grade,” said senior Meghan McCarthy, who signed a cross country scholarship with North Alabama earlier this year. “Our sophomore year was when we really started thinking we could do something like this, and it all came together perfectly today (April 30). I wouldn’t have wanted to end my high school career in any other way with any other teammates. We owe so much to Coach Rogers. We couldn’t be here if she hadn’t been so tough on us during practice. Plus, when you hear the people that you love cheering so loudly for you, it really gives you a boost.”
“When it comes to winning state, I’d have to say it’s something I have always dreamed of since I was in middle school,” said Stewart, a senior. “God deserves all the glory for our win, and I’m so thankful for the girls who ran alongside me and Coach Rogers for always believing in us. It was an incredible feeling, and I will never forget it.”
“It was so surreal watching Emma pass that girl,” said Kathleen McCarthy, a junior. “Once Emma crossed the [finish] line, all I could do was think this couldn’t be real. I was so proud of everyone, and our hard work really paid off.”
“Ever since elementary school I knew I wanted to competitively run,” said Drinkard, a sophomore. “I’d say from there I had the dream of winning state. It truly is an answered prayer! Great coaching by Coach Rogers and guidance from amazing mentors got me to where I am today. I’m excited to continue racing entering my junior year!”
Joe Stevens, who was seeded eighth in the boys 3200-meter run, edged Anniston’s Christian Myles at the finish line, 10:02.85 to 10:02.95, after running in fifth place until the race’s final 200 yards.
“That race was unreal to watch,” said Rogers. “I felt that Joe would [finish] in the top five, and it was similar to what Joe did at sectionals; he hung back and let the first couple of guys race back and forth and kept within reach of them. When I saw Joe kick it with 200 meters left, I knew he would end up either first or second, and he did it.”
“I went in trying to run a 10:20 and get a new PR,” said Stevens. “I ran that first mile pretty fast, and I felt good enough to catch back up to the first pack [of runners],” said Stevens. “I caught up with that pack on the final lap and I paced with them until the final 200.”
Stevens said the loud support from the Ashville fans on the final turn provided the spark he needed to overtake Myles down the stretch.
“That really helped me accelerate and catch up to [Myles]. By the pictures I saw, it looked like he was just a step behind me, so it feels really great. It’s the best race I’ve ever run.”
Drinkard also won gold in the 400-meter dash with a PR time of 58.30 and earned a second-place silver in the 100-meter dash at 12.92, also a personal best time.
“Emma’s 400 was another incredible race to watch,” said Rogers. “She pulled away and held on, and she was really successful in the 100 meters. Emma’s a very talented girl, and I think next year she’ll step up and be a strong leader for us.”
Also medaling for Ashville was senior Nick Spears, whose 11-06.00 effort in the pole vault earned him a silver. This was Spear’s first full season of competing in the event.
“That was an impressive performance by Nick, and those points that he got for finishing second really helped us. I only wish that he’d picked up [the pole vault] a little bit earlier!”
The girls 4×400-mter relay team of Molly Northam, Callie Stewart, Kathleen McCarthy and Emma Drinkard earned a third-place bronze medal but was disqualified as a result of a highly questionable ruling of impeding a running lane.
Finishing in the top 10 and earning points for Ashville were Gabe Sawyer, fourth in the boys 110-meter hurdles at 16.32 and ninth in the 300-meter hurdles at 44.76; Taylor Knight, fourth in the girls 3200-meter run at 12:14.95; Lydia Northam, sixth in the girls high jump at 4-06.00; Kayla Simpson, seventh in the girls 300-meter hurdles (51.71) and triple jump (31-10.50); Taylor Knight, eighth in the girls 1600-meter run at 5:41.05; Clayton Knight, eighth in the boys pole vault at 9-00.00; Ashton Vann, ninth in the boys 400-mter dash at 52.03; Kathleen McCarthy, 10th in the girls 800-meter dash at 2:31.75; and Nick Spears, 10th in the boys javelin at 128-08.
Rogers appreciated the vocal support of the Ashville cheering section, saying it was a factor in the team’s performance, both at Gulf Shores and during the entire season.
“Our fans really showed out,” she said. “They were cheering for all of our kids, not just for their own children. I really think that made a difference for our kids, knowing that their Ashville family came a long way to help cheer them on.”