A big exception, Gates said, came Friday at the GHSA Girls State Track and Field Championships at Hugh Mills Stadium. There was added pressure on Gates, the defending state champion in the discus at the Class AAA level.
Gates didn’t let the pressure or her own nerves get in the way of repeating, though.
She took two first-place medals home with her, winning the shot put with a throw of 41 feet, 6 inches, and the discus at 118 feet.
“In the discus, being the returning champion, there was a lot of pressure,” Gates said. “At the shot put, I was more at ease.”
Neither throws were personal-bests for Gates, who finished second in the shot put last season behind Carrollton’s Thanithia Billings, but she set season-bests in both.
Gates wasn’t the only local athlete to win a state championship in the shot put Friday. After a fourth-place finish last season, Bowdon junior Kayla Buchanan claimed first place in the Class A competition by throwing 37 feet, 4.5 inches.
“We felt like she had a great shot if she would do what she was capable of,” Bowdon coach Melissa Ring said. “She said she was going to (win), so we felt like she had a great shot at it and this was her year.”
Buchanan said competing at the state track meet becomes easier every year.
“It’s more comforting coming knowing that I’ve already known the girls previously, so we’re just like old friends meeting up,” Buchanan said.
Carrollton has more athletes at the meet than any other local school and the highlight of the day for the Lady Trojans came in the pole vault as senior Mauri Peoples obliterated the old Class AAA record at the state meet.
Peoples reached 12 feet, easily topping the previous record of 10 feet, 6 inches.
Making Peoples’ feat all the more impressive is that she had to do quite a juggling job with the other two events she competed in - the triple jump and long jump - going on at the same time as the pole vault.
“That’s tough. She’s going from three different pits practically all at the same time,” Carrollton coach Gwen Engram said. “To be able to win one and set a state record, get third in the other one and sixth in the other one, that’s big. That’s real big. You don’t find many athletes that can do that.”
Peoples, whose personal-best in the pole vault is 12 feet, 3 inches, said the key was keeping her focus squared solely on the event she was competing in and not letting her thoughts drift toward the other two.
“It’s kind of like a juggling thing, but you can’t think about it all at once, you have to take it one event at a time,” Peoples said.
Peoples also had a third-place finish in the triple jump (37 feet, 3 inches) and placed sixth in the long jump (17 feet) to score a combined 17 points for the Lady Trojans all by herself.
Team results won’t be posted on the scoreboard until the meet resumes today at 1 p.m. for the third and final day. Carrollton is trying to win its third Class AAA state title in four years.
The Lady Trojans finished in second place last season - just a few points behind Therrell - so they know from firsthand experience just how big every point is.
“We hope we’re in a good spot,” Engram said. “That’s all we can do now.”
Carrollton’s Cassie Billingsley also had a first-place finish as she won a state championship in the high jump (5 feet, 2 inches).
Also in the field events, Central’s Kelsye Holt placed third in the Class AAA long jump (18 feet, 2 inches). In the Class A long jump, Bowdon’s Camry Morris came in fourth (16 feet).
In Class AA, Temple had a familiar face back in the spotlight at the state meet in junior Gabrielle Jones. She competed in Albany as a freshman but missed all of last year’s track season due to a knee injury.
Jones recorded a pair of top-three finishes for the Lady Tigers, taking second in the triple jump (35 feet, 10 inches) and third in the long jump (17 feet, 2.75 inches).
“I’m real proud of what she did because she worked all the way back from knee surgery last year - it was reconstructive knee surgery - to where now she’s an elite jumper in the state,” Temple coach Steve Robinson said.
In the distance races, Carrollton senior Emma Bussard placed third in the 3,200-meter run (11:17.980) on Thursday and fourth in the 1,600-meter run (5:12.309) on Friday for the second straight season.
Both times, however, were personal-bests for Bussard.
With Bussard’s two personal-bests and People’s state meet record, there was plenty for Carrollton to be happy about heading into the final day of the state track meet.
The ultimate goal for the Lady Trojans, and especially the seniors, is to top off Friday’s success with another state championship.