Score one for four
A big one.
A big No. 1 four times over for the Jefferson boys track team in the last four seasons.
The Cougars started early Saturday at the 99th boys track and field championships at the University of Charleston Laidley Field and barely let up in running to a decisive victory.
Jordan Hardiman opened Saturday’s action with a state individual title in the high jump, then Dante’ Price bolted from the field to win the 400-meter dash, the Cougar tandem of Andrew Milliron and Ryan Graf scored 14 points between them when their nearest rival was scoring 10 and Warren Gray wrapped up the morning session with an impressive victory in the 300 hurdles.
“I think right now at this point it’s impossible for anybody to catch us,” Gray said after his victory, “but they can try.”
Try as anybody might, though, there was no supplanting Jefferson from standing atop the podium for a fourth year in a row to equal a state Class AAA record, beating Cabell Midland to the team finish line.
“They have one of the most well-rounded state teams I’ve seen down here,” Cabell Midland coach Chris Parsons said. “They have a great team. We were able to win five events and were way behind. They are very balanced.”
Jefferson scored 121 points and Cabell Midland 78.
In a show of strength by the Eastern Panhandle, Hedgesville was fourth (35 points), Martinsburg sixth (22), Musselman seventh (21) and Washington ninth (20).
“I’ve been waiting four years to win a state championship my senior year,” said Price, who won the 100 and 200 for the third straight year, added the 400 run for the first time in his career, added a winning anchor leg on the 4×200 relay and won the high-point award
Of course, he waited three years to win a title his junior year, two years to win one as a sophomore, and, well, there was just something important to Price to collect one as a senior.
“We were young earlier in the year,” Price said. “We matured. It is so good to be champion for four years.
“We always peak when we get to regionals and states. That’s what I love about my team. We don’t just execute; we’re clutch. When we get on the line, we compete. We came out with outstanding performances.”
The title was the fifth under coach Craig Hunter, who will add head football coach to his duties in the fall, and was Jefferson’s sixth in all.
As the team joined for the standard team championship picture, hands were raised with four fingers held aloft.
Cabell Midland is the only other Class AAA team to put together a run of four champinships.
Hunter pondered what it meant.
“That for four years we had a group of kids who busted their butts, worked hard, listened and were coachable to be able to do what we just did – win four state championships,” Hunter said.
Jefferson did everything necessary to claim the championship.
Beside Price’s three individual wins and the 4×800 relay win by Price and teammates Tanner Cantrell, Warren Goode and R.J. Douglas, Hardiman won the high jump with an effort of 6 feet, 8 inches, Gray hit a first and second in the 110 and 300 hurdles, respectively, Jefferson managed the two places in the 1,600 and the Cougars finished the meet with a third place in the 4×400 relay.
Martinsburg, with Keion Henderson coming from behind in the final 100, led the Bulldogs to their second straight win in the event, while Hedgesville was fourth.
“From Day 1, Dante’ Price always said everybody should follow the script,” Hunter said. “There’s always going to be the standouts; just do what you got to do.
“We have standouts, and we have a supporting cast, and the supporting cast came up huge in the meet.”
The Cougars got an idea when Goode finished fourth in the 400.
“We got unexpected points from Warren,” Gray said.
Then he came through in the 300 hurdles after Milliron and Graf had neutralized the win by Cabell Midland star Jacob Burcham in the 1,600.
“I made a promise I was going to win this,” Gray said. “I just had to.”
Then Price turned it on in the afternoon with wins in the 100, 200 and 4×200 relay after his first-place finish in the 400.
He ran a time of 10.74 seconds in the 100 to beat Ramon Edwards of Woodrow Wilson. Josh Ferguson of Musselman was third in 11:35.
Ferguson had also finished fifth in the 400 and gave Price all he needed in the 200.
Price nudged Ferguson with a time of 22.93 to the Musselman senior standout’s 2.97. Josh Beverly of Hedgesville was third after having run a leg on the Eagles’ 4×100 state-championship relay team. Marquel Hosby of Washington was fourth (23.27) and Martinsburg’s Cedric Brown, running the 200 for only the third time this season, was fifth in 23.29.
“I knew Josh would give me a run for the money, and I knew I wouldn’t have it all,” Price said. “When I made the pass, I shut it down. I felt something in my hamstring. I had to pick it up the last couple of feet.”
Price picked up the high-point trophy alone with Burcham suffered a suprising loss in the 800. Had the Knights senior won, the two would’ve shared the award.
“Apparently Burcham’s human,” Price said.
Price, who has signed to run at Virginia Tech, demonstrated his star.
“We knew we had 60 points that were pretty much guaranteed,” Hunter said. “We had to balance Burcham.”
Part of the expected points came from Hardiman, who, despite winning the high-jump title, really wanted to get 7 feet.
“I felt it set the tone for Day 2,” Hardiman said.
Indeed, he set the tone for what turned out to be a well-toned team, one, like the rival coach said, talented in many, many facets.
It’s why the Cougars claimed their historic fourth straight team championship.
Jefferson secured another one for its big four.