Four Brown County entrants will vie for medals in the Class A portion of the UIL Track and Field State Championships, including two who are making return trips to the University of Texas’ Myers Stadium.
Zephyr’s Andrea Howard in the girls shot put and Bishop Norman in the boys shot put qualified for the second consecutive year. May’s Jacob Brown, in the boys triple jump, and the Blanket Tigers 4x200 relay team of Logan Wheeler, Trenten Verner, Jonathan Sifuentes, Blake Hood, Luke Kinkade and Eddie Hernandez are also making the trek south.
Norman, a senior who is headed to Mary Hardin-Baylor to play football in the fall, welcomes another chance to compete for a state medal after placing sixth at state a year ago.
“It’s pretty good to know I have one more shot at medaling and doing my best,” Norman said. “I had a lot of stuff going on during the week and I didn’t know if I was going to get to throw (at regionals), so it was a relief (to qualify). Qualifying with my best throw was pretty nice, too.”
Norman’s career-best effort of 46-8 at regionals ranks sixth among state qualifiers in the field. Norman, who will compete at 11 a.m. Friday, will be joined by Jaylen Short of Grady (50-5.5), Jessy Villagomez of Roby (50-4.5), Freddie Enriquez of Rocksprings (48-11), Karter Morris of Aspermont (48-8.75), Alex Sarmiento of Jonesboro (48-7.5), Kutter Gill of Miami (45-2), Jacolby Burns of Paducah (43-9.5) and Austin Barrow of Sidney (43-6.5).
In regard to feeling more comfortable the second time around at state, Norman said, “I don’t know if you can really prepare. The feeling is way different when you’re throwing at state, when they announce your name. But I’m trying to throw 48, 49, 50 feet, somewhere in there, and trying to get a medal.”
Howard, also a senior, placed seventh at the state meet her junior year and is also eager to take another crack at medaling.
“It feels amazing to know I can go back and have a chance to do better than last year,” said Howard, who added she hopes to have a better handle on her nerves during the competition, which begins at 10 a.m. Friday. “I know how nervous I got last year so I think I’ll know how to control it better this year.”
Howard will enter the state meet with the seventh-best regional effort of 35-2. The remainder of the field consists of Zoe Burleson of Nueces Canyon (41-3.25), Emily Brown of Benjamin (40-5.5), Myeshia Thomas of Amherst (40-5.25), Jadyn Wright of Shamrock (40-2.25), Esmeralda Balvantin of Graford (36-6), Kiki Gonzales of Hermleigh (35-10.5), Kiara Burns of Robert Lee (35-1.25) and Keyzaria Gadison of Bartlett (33-11.5).
“It’s a fair match,” Howard said. “There are some that throw really good and some that throw around the same range. It would mean a lot to me to medal because I’m a very competitive person and I like to win. I just need to have the good form I’ve been working hard on and try my best.”
For Brown, a junior at May, reaching the state meet in the triple jump seemed like a near impossibility a few months ago.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be here because of my injuries in football season. I broke my leg twice,” Brown said. “So to be here is very exciting. Everything I’ve done this year, glory be to God. He gives me my talent so I glorify him with it.”
Brown qualified for state as the wild card — the best third-place performer from the four regions throughout the state. Often, the wild card ranks near the bottom among the competitors in the state field, but Brown is an exception. Though he placed third at regionals, his qualifying distance of 43-5.5 ranks fifth and should put him in the medal hunt.
“I really didn’t know, but I expected I would be pretty close since the top three jumpers were all within 1 ½ inches,” Brown said in regard to waiting to learn if he’d earned the wild card berth. “I hope I’m able to beat those guys this time. Being able to compete, going in as the wild card, I have a chance to redeem myself and that feels pretty good.”
Brown, who will compete at 10 a.m. Friday, will battle Dalton Fortner of Lefors (43-8), Kaiden Petree of Cross Plains (43-7), Holden Sinclair of Cross Plains (43-6.75), Cord Neal of Chester (43-5.75), Peyton Higgins of D’Hanis (43-4.5), Varrick Harrison of Shamrock (43-3.5), Sam Dugger of Savoy (42-10.75) and Adrian Navarro of Covington (41-10) for a medal.
“It’s going to be different, definitely more intense, and I’m going to be nervous jumping on a stage like that in front of that many people,” Brown said. “But if I went down there and medaled I’d be happy.”
The Blanket Tigers carry the seventh-best qualifying time into the 4x200 relay, which takes place at 7:45 p.m. Friday, and don’t mind the odds being stacked against them in their bid to bring home a state medal.
“We are pretty excited to be going,” Hood said. “We worked pretty hard to get there, coming in being an underdog.”
Wheeler added, “It’s a great opportunity for us to run in front of 30,000 people. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We’ve been working hard all week.”
The Tigers clinched their state berth with a qualifying time of 1:36.25 at regionals. Blanket will compete against Water Valley (1:33.01), Turkey Valley (1:33.31), Blum (1:33.67), Borden County (1:33.95), Cross Plains (1:33.98), White Deer (1:35.43), Bruni (1:36.44) and Milford (1:36.83) for a medal.
“Anything can happen,” Wheeler said. “They could all drop their batons and we could finish first or we could be last, but I don’t expect us to be last.”
Regarding the possibility of securing a medal while in Austin, Hood said. “It would be an amazing feeling. We know there’s going to be a lot of pressure but we’re going to run as fast as we can.”