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Track athletes seek state qualifying times at conference meet

Jan. 25—Pisgah and Tuscola winter track athletes are prepping for the second most important meet aside from the state meet in February. The Mountain 7 Conference Championship Meet and the Western North Carolina Championship Meet both occur this Saturday, Jan. 27, at Polk County High School in Columbus.

The event will crown conference champions both as teams and individuals but also give the athletes one of their last few chances to qualify for the all-important state track meet, set for Saturday, Feb. 10, at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem.

There will be roughly 20 teams competing this Saturday, including the seven conference teams.

Mckinley Morris, coach at Pisgah, said this is the time of year when coaches want to see the results paying off.

"The kids are working hard. They're extremely dedicated; On days we don't have school, they're still showing up for practice to put work in so they can see successful results," she said.

And the Black Bears are seeing results. Senior Evan Byrd is qualified for the state meet in the 300-meter and 500-meter dashes, while junior Ben Frazier is qualified for the 500-meter as well. The boys' 4x400-meter relay team is also qualified.

"The goal is to get better every single day," Morris said. "We want to get better every single meet. If we weren't happy with our performance at the last meet, how are we going to fix that? We challenge the kids to ask themselves what they can do today to improve themselves."

A couple of female athletes — junior Caroline Henson in the 1000-meter and senior Avery Ponder in the 300-meter dash — are close to qualifying, Morris said, and could do so this Saturday.

The more, the merrier is the name of the game at the state meet, so the Pisgah coaches are recruiting some basketball players to come out this Saturday to run on the relay teams in hopes of qualifying for the state meet.

Tuscola's coach, Joanne Rinker, said the goal is for the kids to "do their absolute best to wrap up the season qualified or ready to start the spring season with events they're confident and comfortable in."

The Mountaineers are still waiting on their first state qualifier, but Rinker said a few athletes are close: Gracie Rinker and Cora Hogan in the hurdles, Brooks Barbee in the 1000-meter and Noah Clancy in the 3200-meter, along with a few relay teams.

Tuscola has one additional meet scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 25, at Swain County High School in Bryson City, making Saturday's conference meet the final chance to qualify.

Pisgah, meanwhile, will have one more meet after the conference weekend — a last chance meet on Feb. 1 at Polk County — to qualify for the state meet. Entries are due on Feb. 3.

"We're going to run one event in the best chance that we have to qualify for state," Morris said of the plan for the last chance meet. "After that, only the kids that are going to state will continue to practice, and then it's really figuring out how we can go to state and run our personal record."