The Lady Wildcats scored 105 points to win their first region championship since 2011. The Lady Hornets tied Walton for second (96) with Etowah (90), Woodstock (86), Milton (80), Lassiter (42) and Cherokee (29) rounding out the girls team standings.
The Hornets scored 138.5 points to claim their title. Walton (125) was region runner-up with Woodstock (95), Cherokee (81), Wheeler (67), Milton (59), Etowah (36) and Lassiter (22.5) finishing out the standings.
Boys field event finals Thursday included pole vault, triple jump and shot put, while the girls finals were held in high jump, triple jump and discus. The top four finishers in each event qualified for next week’s sectional meet.
Five individual championships and one relay crown fueled Wheeler’s victory. The Lady Wildcats also collected runner-up finishes in two events and had solid showings overall.
“Wheeler has a history in track and field,” coach Davis Harvey said. “The boys didn’t perform as well as we would have liked, but I’m proud of them and especially proud of the guys who made it to sectionals.
“But, man our girls did an outstanding job. We were way back (in the region standings) last year and didn’t compete well as a team. We competed as a team this time. The girls worked hard and believed they could do it. They had the work ethic and attitude in practice all season to believe in each other. That, and being relatively healthy, really helped us this year.”
Wheeler’s Jaelyn Rice, who played a big role in the team’s success, is making her senior season a year to remember. Rice won the girls high jump (5-feet), set a personal-best of 34-2.5 to win the triple jump, placed second (15.67) in the 100-meter hurdles and was part of the winning 400-meter relay team.
“This feels really good,” Rice said. “It’s my senior year, and I wanted to go out with a bang. I haven’t had the best season, but it’s the first season I’ve been so healthy. I really want to go to state and medal, so I’m just having fun.”
Rice could tell she was going to have a good day after her first event.
“I felt light and loose during warmups,” she said. “My first jump in the triple was (32-feet), so I knew it was going to be a good day. I felt explosive, and my relay team really helped me out. I’m glad they’re my teammates.”
Wheeler’s Natisha Dixon also had a good meet, winning the 100-meter and 300-meter titles in 14.66 and 46.31, respectively. She was part of the preliminary and winning relay team with Kierra Hall, Shaquasha Keeling, Tatyana Lewis and Rice that finished first in 50.05.
“I’m happy to make sectionals and I plan on being a state champion in the 300 hurdles again,” Dixon said. “I feel healthy. I won region championships as a sophomore and a senior, so I’m happy about that.”
Brandon Brinker joined teammate Nikki Edwards as pole vault winners for Walton. Edwards won girls pole vault Wednesday and Brinker claimed the boys title after clearing 12-6, matching his personal best.
“It’s my first region championship, so I’m really excited.” Brinker said. “I’ve had great support from my teammates, my family, my coaches and my friends so that was great motivation. It’s surreal to think I’m region champion.”
Kenan Farmer and Avery Bussjager continued their distance success for the Walton boys and girls teams. Both runners won their 1,600-meter races Wednesday and returned Thursday to capture titles in the 3,200.
Bussjager won in 11:13.63, while Farmer crossed the line in 9:32.75. In both instances, the Walton standouts ran away from the field during the final lap.
“It wasn’t my personal best, but I’m excited and happy about my race,” Bussjager said. “It’s my first 3,200 championship. I wanted to push the pace and be in front until I could run my own race. I switched gears during the second mile and started getting some distance.”
Farmer had a similar strategy.
“I started at a good pace, so I was happy with that,” he said. “It was great to have company early in the race. They pushed me, and my plan was always to go faster during that second mile, but I was a little tired. So, I didn’t really get going until that final lap.”