Track athletes cap season with title-winning performances

SyKonza Evans of Carver won three medals at the Class 2A state cham-pionships, which included a runner-up finish in the 100-meter dash.

Track athletes cap season with title-winning performances
May 26
07:00 2016

Photo by Craig T. Greenlee



Prevailing in a winner-take-all situation creates a blissful state of mind for the victor. That was certainly the case for four track athletes who bagged individual titles at the state track and field championships held last weekend in Greensboro.

For seniors McKinley McNeill of Parkland (Class 4-A) and Tony Davis of Atkins (Class 1-A), winning titles in the 400-meter dash was a grand way to close out their high school careers as the undisputed No. 1.

For sophomore Jeremy Kankula of Atkins and junior Ashya Smith of Winston-Salem Prep, winning could serve as added incentive to do the necessary work that will enable both to further establish their dominance. Kankula won the 800-meter run with a decisive finishing kick in the late stages of the race. Smith, in the meantime, proved to be no match for the opposition in winning both of her Class 1-A hurdles races (100 and 300 meters).

The end result was especially sweet for McNeill, who will attend North Carolina on a track scholarship next fall. With the win, she’s now a two-time state outdoor champion in the 400. But equally impressive is that her winning time of 53.50 seconds set a new state-meet record that had been on the books since 2009.

“My time at Parkland has been a journey,” said McNeill. “When I came in I was surrounded by champions and that really helped. When you run and practice against your equals or people who are better, your times will drop.”

McNeill, who won the 500-meter run at the state indoor meet in February, developed a strategy for Greensboro that was designed to produce an expected outcome. For most of the season, she hadn’t been seriously challenged by opposing runners. But that changed to some degree toward the end of the season as Kyna Robinson of Southeast Raleigh and Maya Singletary of Hoke County started posting faster times to emerge as legitimate challengers.

“My ultimate goal coming in for today was to break the (state-meet) record, everything else was secondary,” said McNeill. “When I looked at their times in the 200, I noticed that we were about equal. I felt that they would like to get out fast just like I do, so I paced myself a little bit and was able to finish strong.”

Entering his final season at Atkins, Davis entertained thoughts about being a state champ, but not in the open 400. His goal was to win a title as part of the 4×400 relay.

At the state meet, Davis got out of the blocks quickly and ran strong over the first 300 meters and held a slight edge over Hobbton’s Raekwon Bryant coming out of the final turn. Bryant closed the gap by a meter, but Davis responded with another burst and pulled away to win by about four meters in a personal best time of 49.65 – which is .09 off the school record set by Dyronne Mabry at the Class 2-A state outdoor championships in 2010.

“It still hasn’t hit me that I just became a state champion,” said Davis, who will join the track team at East Carolina as a walk-on next fall. “It’s always been a goal of mine, but I never thought I’d get it individually.

“This (state championship) is the biggest goal I’ve ever set for myself that I have actually accomplished. Now that I’ve done this, it has opened up a wide array of what I can see myself doing in the future.”

In the 800, Kankula seized the lead immediately and carried the pack through with a time of 57.94 for the first lap. Going down the back stretch of the gun lap, pre-race favorite Travis Gallimore of South Davidson pulled even with Kankula and the two ran stride for stride until the final curve. Gallimore started to pull away, but Kankula, who ran a season-best 1:59.57, discovered an extra reserve of energy and bolted past Gallimore over the final 15 meters to take the victory.

“Before the start of the race, I made a vow to myself that I wasn’t going to lose,” said Kankula. “I felt that I could beat him (Gallimore), so that’s what I was able to prove. But the challenges are not over for me. There’s more for me to overcome. I’m not going to get cocky with this win because I know that next year, somebody can take me down.”

Smith controlled both of her hurdles races from start to finish. In the 100 hurdles, Asia Henry of Ivanhoe Union closed the gap near the end, but it wasn’t enough and Smith ran 15.40 to earn her first medal. It was more of the same in the 300 hurdles.

By the eighth hurdle, Smith was in total command. Zoriah McDonald of Whiteville started to make up some distance, but Smith held steady to win comfortably in 47.05 and McDonald was the runner-up at 47.55.

“I struggled a little bit in the 100 (fifth-place finish), but as for the hurdles, that means everything to me,” said Smith, who also played on Prep’s basketball team for two seasons. “I still have another year to come back (to states) and maybe break a record. I feel that there are a lot more opportunities for me to keep getting better at what I do. This season was great.”

Sprint relay champs All season long, Parkland ranked in the upper echelon of the Class 4-A girls 4×200 relay. The Mustangs, however, had never beaten a Southeast Raleigh foursome that was No. 1 in the state.

The heavily-favored Bulldogs’ title hopes vanished when they were disqualified for a baton exchange violation. In the meantime, Parkland (Destiny Hill, Shanone Cannon, Kimani Davis and McNeill) took full advantage and won easily in 1 minute, 37.05 seconds over runner-up Raleigh Wakefield.

In Class 1-A, Winston-Salem Prep had visions of repeating as state champs in the 4×100 and 4×200. That vision took a hit when the Phoenix was disqualified in the 4×200 because of a false start. Prep (Llyric Mack, De’ja Reid, Daziah Brooks and Yazmin Chatman-Wallace) dominated the field to win comfortably in 50.98 seconds.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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