Not one to be a tattletale, Cary Christian School co-coach Emily Nelsen decided not to share an important secret with her team before the event-closing 4-by-400 relay in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association’s 1A/2A track and field championships.
After studying the real-time standings, Nelsen knew that a first-place finish in the relay – and nothing less – would vault the Knights into the overall runner-up spot, which meant the school would be taking home a plaque to Wake County.
“I talked to some of the parents about it but not the girls,” Nelsen said. “I didn’t want to put any more pressure on them.”
Odds were in Cary Christian’s favor as the school’s foursome of Brooke Lindsey, Anna McBane, Allison Stogner and Kari Van Deventer were undefeated this spring and seeded first.
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The quartet got the job done by rolling to an easy victory – the only first-place effort the Knights enjoyed over the two-day competition – while helping Cary Christian finish in the second spot overall with 55 points.
Fayetteville Christian was third with 53, while Asheville’s Carolina Day rolled to the championship with an impressive 134 total points in the annual meet, which began Friday and ended Saturday at Irwin Belk Track on the campus of Campbell University.
Concord First Assembly Academy, with 73 points, edged runner-up Coastal Christian of Wilmington (71) for the boys team crown.
“We felt like we needed to win our race,” said Lindsey, who was spotted a 30-yard lead before grabbing the baton to run the anchor leg. “We knew this was the last time the four of us would race together, and we have been friends for a long time. It was really special, and it was even better when we found out that put us into second place.”
Nelsen’s only regret was that co-coach Josh Estep was unable to be in attendance for the post-event celebration after the 4-by-400 squad sprinted to a personal-best time of 4:11.32 – more than four seconds better than its previous high mark.
“The fact that we won just won race and did well in a lot of relays shows that this was a true team victory,” Nelsen said. “We really came together.”
Nelsen attended Cary Christian and was a runner for the Knights. And once Nelsen got her degree, she became a teacher and coach at her alma mater.
“I had known for awhile that I wanted to teach,” Nelsen said. “And I had always kept up with the track and field program (at Cary Christian) when I was in college. There is so much adrenaline in this sport – I can’t stay away from the track.”
Young wins long jump: Matthew Young of Trinity Academy Raleigh became the school’s first jumper to win a state championship. Young, a junior, leapt 20 feet, 10 inches to win the state long jump title.
Barr wins pole vault: The only other Wake County event champion was St. David’s boys pole vaulter Wilson Barr, who edged season-long rival Seth Holloway from Cary Christian to earn the title of state champ.
Barr and Holloway both went 11-6, but Barr was declared the winner on scratches.
Ironically, Barr had just lost to Holloway at the Eastern Plains Independent Conference championships last weekend.
“That motivated (Barr),” said St. David’s coach Romel Lightbourn. “Right after that meet, he told me that he was going to get another chance at states. He was ready.”
To build depth within his program, Lightbourn has each of his outgoing seniors provide him with the name of a younger student who might have the potential to excel at track and field – but currently isn’t a roster member.
That’s how Lightbourn found out about Barr, who had never touched a pole vault before taking up the endeavor this spring.
“(Barr’s career) has been progressing really well,” Lightbourn said. “In his first meet, he went nine feet. In the second meet, he went 10-6. Then 11-0. He just kept going.”
Pruden takes discus: Another athlete who has proven to be a quick learner is Rocky Mount Academy senior Will Pruden, who won the boys discus with a personal-best effort of 153-8 – over 15 feet longer than his previous official mark.
Rocky Mount Academy didn’t even have a track and field program until Brian Winham started the team before during the 2015-16 school year after retiring from successful public school coaching stints at Northern Nash, Leesville Road and Nash Central.
Winham was interested in building depth in the throws, so he recruited Pruden to join the team along with his brother, Thorne, and sophomore teammate Stephen Tucker. Each of those performers were in action Saturday at Campbell.
“Will’s ascent has been very short,” Winham said. “He really didn’t join the team full-time until about one-third of the way through last season. He ended up finishing fifth in the state and really dedicated himself to it this year. He decided he wanted to be a discus thrower.”
Now, Pruden is the NCISAA’s top 1A/2A performer – a lofty achievement considering he had never picked up a discus before 15 months ago.
“When I qualified for the states last year, I think that was when I realized (my potential),” Pruden said. “Before then, I really didn’t know how it would go. I threw 152-0 one day in practice and was ready to go. ... It really helps having my brother (and Tucker) to work out with. We kind of bond with each other, and we are very supportive of each other.”
Pruden plans to attend N.C. State and has even explored the option of joining the Wolfpack’s track and field program as a walk-on.