Given one final opportunity, Nash Central was decisively able to break through and win its first-ever girls team crown at the Big East Conference track and field championships.
The Bulldogs, who will be moving out of the Big East next season in the latest N.C. High School Athletic Association realignment, ended the 14-year title dynasty of host Rocky Mount during Wednesday’s championships.
“Rocky Mount has been first in our league ever since our school opened (2002),” said Central third-year girls coach Kyle Bain. “We were really hoping to go out of the Big East on a high note. We have had a lot of talent here over the years, but we never had the depth to compete with a team like Rocky Mount. We have that depth now.”
Led by Big East girls MVP Michaela Nelms, the Bulldogs racked up 195.5 points to easily outdistance runner-up Rocky Mount (145 points). Rounding out the standings were Hunt (79.5), Northern Nash (56), Fike (47) and Southern Nash (27).
“Winning this means a lot,” said Nelms, who stars in both track and field and basketball at Nash Central. “Our coaches believe in us and thought we could do this.”
In the boys’ competition, Rocky Mount amassed 137 points to hold off Northern Nash, which was second with 116 points. Hunt and Nash Central tied for third at 93, while Southern Nash (69) and Fike (44) completed the boys standings.
Nelms continued her amazing rapid ascension in the sport by rolling to victories in the 400, 100 (with a personal best of 11.78) and 200 while running a leg in Central’s first-place 4-by-400 relay finisher.
Even though she is a senior, Nelms is still a track and field neophyte who didn’t join the Bulldogs’ program until her junior season. And the main reason for Nelms’ interest was that she thought running would help strengthen a torn ACL that she suffered on the basketball court as a sophomore.
“I just came out for track to work on my conditioning more than anything,” Nelms said. “I had no idea I would be really good at it.”
Nelms realized her potential last spring when she won the 400 at the 3A East regionals despite not competing in the top heat.
She would end up taking fourth at the state championships in the 400 last spring and was part of the Bulldogs’ title foursome in the 4-by-400 relay.
Nelms’ excellence continued at this year’s indoors as she took first in the 300 along with relay wins in the 800 and 1600.
Perhaps the most unbelievable factoid from the indoor meet was that Nelms ran only once over the winter, and that was simply to be able to qualify for the states. And Nelms’ indoor effort came less than 24 hours after a hard-fought basketball game.
Nelms capped off her hoops career by being named the Big East Player of the Year while helping Nash Central reach the third round of the state playoffs.
“Michaela is just a phenomenal athlete,” Bain said. “Every time we watch her run, she does something that surprises us.”
Nelms has done a good job of mixing track and field and basketball over the past two seasons, but she will have to decide on which sport to specialize in on the collegiate level. She has a full scholarship offer for hoops from a junior college in Florida, but Division I track programs are starting to line up in a quest for Nelms’ services – and that queue is expected to become even longer after Nelms finishes her career with performances at the regionals and states.
Another big-time Nash County athlete with a D1 pedigree is Rocky Mount’s Sherrod Greene, who has signed to play football at the South Carolina. But Greene is also an accomplished track and field athlete who concentrates on the unique combination of sprints and throws.
Greene won the shot put and took second in the discus and the 200 (with a PR of 22.68) while helping the Gryphons collect their fourth consecutive league team championship.
“Sherrod is just a perfect kid,” said RM coach Sonya Pickett. “Everybody really likes him and he works very hard. He had an awesome day. You really don’t find a lot of kids who are big enough to be throwers, but also have the speed to be a sprinter. He is strong and also fast.”
Greene was a state champion last spring in the shot put, and took the top spot this winter in the same event at the state indoors. He was also an all-state linebacker this past campaign for the Gryphons.
Greene’s solid work was part of an effective all-around boys effort from the Gryphons, who were considered the prohibitive team favorite Wednesday – and lived up to those expectations in impressive fashion.
Northern Nash has received a season-long boost from Malcolm Wade, a transfer who previously starred just three miles away from campus at Nash Central.
Wade, a junior, moved into the Northern district with his family and quickly bonded with his new teammates in the Knights’ track and field program.
On Wednesday, Wade nabbed firsts in the 300 hurdles and 200-meter dash while contributing a leg to Northern’s victorious 4-by-200 relay quartet. Wade also finished in third place in the high jump and was selected as the Big East boys MVP.
“Going to a new school was an adjustment at first,” Wade said. “But when I transferred (to NN), everyone embraced me right away and made me feel welcome. I appreciate that, so I want to do whatever I can to help out my team.”
The Big East’s top performers will now head to Carteret County next Friday for the 3A East Regionals, which will be staged at Swansboro High School.