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Five Grangers participate in state track meet

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

LAGRANGE – The future is bright, and the present isn’t too shabby either.

The LaGrange High girls’ track and field team is coming off a successful season that ended in the Class AAAA state finals in Rome last weekend.

Four members of the girls’ team participated in Rome, and Jada Grant came away with two top-four finishes to earn a pair of medals.

Annaya Chelcy and Zakeria Staples both went to state as individuals, and Grant, Chelcy, Staples and Jartavious Manley were members of a relay team that competed at state.

All of LaGrange’s state qualifiers, along with most members of the team, will return next season for head coach Tia Sheffield.

The lone member of the LaGrange boys’ team to compete at state was Chris Watson, who competed in the triple jump, and he will be back for his senior season.

“They’re so young, and that’s even more exciting,” Sheffield said. “It’s freshmen and sophomores going to state, and of course Jada went to state last year as a freshman. Everybody was paying attention to her. They thought if she can do it, I can do it, too.”

Manley, who excelled as a freshman, said everyone is committed to making the 2018 season an even better one.

“(Sheffield) told us at the start that she wanted to take a whole bus to state,” Manley said. “So next year, we’re going to try to do that for her.”

Sheffield, who has completed her third season as the coach of the girls’ team, said she appreciates the camaraderie the girls have with one another.

“Three years ago, when I first started, that’s all I ever told them was you are a team, you are a family, so you need to support each other,” Sheffield said. “They’ll come out during the field events just to support them, just to cheer. It always feels better when you have someone to support you. And at the end of the meet, if they’re not on the (1,600-meter relay) team, they all come down together to cheer. “It’s a family feel. You have to support each other.”

Leading the way for LaGrange was Grant, who finished fourth in the triple jump, and sixth in the long jump.

Also making it Rome as an individual was Chelcy, who competed in the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash.

Chelcy finished 11th in the 100 with a time of 13.03 seconds, and she was 14th in the 200 with a time of 26.62 seconds.

“It was really fun,” said Chelcy, a sophomore. “We met a lot of new people. And competing, it was hard, but we had fun.”

Staples also competed in an individual event, and her time of 49.76 seconds was the 14th-fastest in the 300-meter hurdles.

In the 400-meter relay, Chelcy, Staples, Grant and Manley had a time of 50.21 seconds, which was the 10th best time in the state.

“It was real fun,” said Staples, a sophomore. “I got to run with my teammates, and compete with the best of the best so I can know what we have to do next year to get a medal.”

Chelcy said she and her relay teammates put a lot of effort into making sure everything goes as smoothly as possible during races.

“We spent a lot of time on that on everybody just working on their run throughs, and handing it off,” she said.

Grant said they spent a lot of time working on the handoff between runners, which is a critical ingredient to success in relay events.

“You have to get that perfect,” she said. “We have to make sure we’re all together, and we’re all focused.”

The youngest member of the relay team was Manley, who is glad she decided to give track and field a try during her eighth-grade year at Gardner Newman Middle School.

“My eighth-grade year, I wasn’t sure if I would do track,” she said. “But my friends motivated me to do it, and I thought, I’d do it. I did it my eighth-grade year, and I thought I’d keep doing it.”

As she headed into her freshman season at LaGrange, Manley’s expectations weren’t that high, but she was a critical member of the team.

“At first I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t think I would do good,” she said. “But I started getting used to it, and I put forth the effort, and I started liking it, and I started getting better at it.”

Manley said her goal now is to emulate the success enjoyed by Grant, who returned from Rome with two medals.

“Next year I’m going to try to be on the podium for jumps like Jada,” she said.

On the boys’ side, Watson was LaGrange’s lone representative at the state finals.

Watson made it in the triple jump, and he had a distance of 41 feet, 4.75 inches to finish 11th.

“It was pretty fun,” said Watson, who’ll be a senior on the LaGrange football team this fall. “The environment around it is fun, and just seeing the competition is fun.”