Chapel Hill’s girls’ indoor track and field team wasn’t expected to do what it did Friday, but the Tigers did it anyway. Tied with Marvin Ridge entering the final race, the 1,600-meter relay team held off every Mavericks charge and grabbed the NCHSAA 3A indoor girls’ track and field state team championship.
The Tigers, who also won a boys’ swimming state title Friday, finished the meet with 62 points after a runner-up finish in the 1,600 relay. Marvin Ridge closed with 60 points after a third-place fnish in the relay.
Junior Erica Johnson turned back a charge for position from the Mavericks’ Shaylee Cooney in the opening leg of the race, then state individual 1,000 champ Anna Passannante kept the Tigers in front through the first half of the race. Marvin Ridge’s Lauren Araya tried to push ahead of Jessi Szymczak, but the Chapel Hill senior would have none of it. Same with Clare McNamara on the anchor leg as the Tigers finished in 4 minutes, 13.68 seconds, nearly eight seconds ahead of their previous best time.
Chapel Hill rode its strength in the distance track events to the championship. The Tigers placed three runners among the girls top five at 3,200 meters and two in the top three of the 1,600.
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Katherine Dokholyan took second in the 1,600 and third in the 3,200, and Marija Crook was third at 1,600 and fourth in the 3,200. Grace Tate added a fifth-place finish in the 3,200. The Tigers’ 3,200 relay team of Milly Ames, Madi Marvin, Anna Stoffuer, Madeleine Mont-Cors earned a bronze medal.
The state championship favorite moniker fit pretty well for Cleveland’s girls’ 800-meter relay team, Pittsboro Northwood junior Tessa Sheets and Passannante. They left the JDL Fast Track with gold medals.
Rams make history with repeat: Cleveland left the 2015 state indoor meet as a surprise state champion in the girls’ 800 relay. And with Imani Williams, Sydni Fields and Cassidy McNierney back, the Rams entered Friday’s meet as a favorite.
The big move in the race came from the new member of the team, freshman Naelee Stone. Stone made up a 20-meter deficit on the second leg, turning the race over to Fields and McNierney. “Something (inside me) said, ‘Get her,’ ” Stone said of her big move.
Fields, a senior, held the advantage before turning things over to McNierney.
“I was incredibly proud of my teammates and where they put me where I could be comfortable,” Fields said. “My thought was, ‘Don’t get us behind again. Leave Cassidy in a good spot.’ ”
McNierney felt confident, finishing off a meet-record run of 1:46.78, nearly three seconds better than last year’s winning time: “Running with these three girls, I trust them so much to get me that lead, because I know once I have it, I can get (the win).”
The Rams squad is believed to be the first repeat state relay champion in Johnston County.
“I wanted to become two-time state champion because nobody in Johnston County had really done this,” Williams said. “Our names are going to go in the history book. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
McNierney also finished third in the long jump and third in the triple jump (35 feet). Fields took ninth in the 300 and Williams was 11th in the long jump.
Tigers senior thrives as a favorite: Like Sheets, Passannante entered the state meet knowing she had a pretty good chance to win a state title with a qualifying time nearly five seconds ahead of the 1,000-meter field.
“But I knew I couldn’t just come in here and go crazy,” she said. “I had to play it safe because winning a state title is something that’s very hard to do.”
The early pace was slower than the senior wanted, but Passannante went into her kick early on her last lap to wrap up a personal-best time of 2:58.37, a state championship and a time good enough to qualify for nationals.
She ran the last lap knowing she was just 200 meters away from that gold medal.
“I realized kind of soon,” Passannante said. “Normally you can kind of get like side views of people around you. … When I hit the home stretch, I saw what my time was and I pretty much knew I was going to be way ahead of the field.”
Sheets’ run as a top seed improves: Sheets found herself in the same spot she was about nine months ago – entering a state championship meet as a No. 1 seed. She was the top seed at last year’s outdoor NCHSAA championships but finished fifth.
“I thought I would be OK if I just didn’t think about it too much and just go out and vault,” Sheets said. “It didn’t go well at all.”
So she brought a new approach to the state indoor meet. Sheets would just go out with a clear mind and after shaking off a case of the nervous legs before the competition, she grabbed a gold medal
Sheets cleared 10 feet, 6 inches on her second attempt and was the only competitor to clear 11 feet.
“I came in with two goals this season: to clear 12 feet and to win a state title,” Sheets said. “I did both, even though I didn’t get the height I wanted here. … I rode that mentality of ‘Don’t worry about anything.’ ”
Notables: South Johnston, Chapel Hill and Corinth Holders all had top-three finishers on the boys’ side. Jacob Gonzalez of South Johnston was the runner-up in the 3,200 (4:21.75). Austin Carroll of Corinth Holders took a bronze in the 1,000, as did Chapel Hill’s Albert Nyamayaro in the high jump. … Samara Gibson of Corinth Holders was expected to be a state title threat in the girls’ 300 and 500 races, but she was slowed by a cold.
Best: 919-524-8895; @dclaybest