AUSTIN – Hannah Spears did a double take as she started the third lap of Thursday’s 3,200-meter run at the UIL State Track Meet.
Spears was expecting to see her time and split on the big video board at Mike A. Myers Stadium but instead saw the colored bars typically associated with a television station having technical difficulties. After her fourth lap, the colored bars were replaced with the 800-meter relay times of a recent meet hosted by the University of Texas.
In a sense, it was like running blind. Spears knew she was in first place. That was clear to everyone in the stadium.
Spears easily defended her Class 3A girls 3,200-meter state championship with a time of 11:03.72, leading from start to finish. The Holliday senior lapped three runners and bested her closest competition by almost 13 seconds.
Boyd’s Tania Ramirez (11:16.48) edged Wallis Brazos junior Esmeralda Garcia (11:16.98) for second. Holliday junior Jaycee Lyons was in second entering the final lap but fell back to fourth on the final curve, settling for fourth at 11:17.96.
“This was my first ever state championship last year, so this one means a lot to me,” Spears said. “Coming back and defending this means a lot to me.”
Spears was the overwhelming favorite to defend her gold medal, but that wasn’t her only goal. She wants to etch her name in the state meet record book – a feat she barely missed achieving last year in the 1,600 meters.
She was counting on the video board to track her splits but didn’t have that luxury after the second lap. Spears was less than 13 seconds shy of the 3A girls record still held by Blooming Grove’s Jody Dunston, who set it in 1983 at 10:50.8.
“I knew the record was 10:50, and I really wanted to break it,” Spears said. “I looked up at the board, and my time wasn’t there. I was like, ‘OK, maybe they will have it back after the next lap.’ But then they had like college times up there. I didn’t know what was going on.
“I kept hoping it would come back, but it never did.”
Unable to track her time, Spears relied on her instincts. She returned to all of her practices with Holliday coach Glenn Griffin and the dozens of races she had run during the past few years. She started breaking away from the field during the third lap and was out of reach for the rest of the field by the fifth.
“I just went off what I had done in practice. I just started focusing on myself and not really worrying about anyone else,” Spears said. “My coach was trying to yell at me what my time was, but I couldn’t really hear him. I just went with what felt right.”
Spears admitted disappointment in not setting the state record. But she can’t complain too much.
“I still won a gold medal,” Spears said.
She can still earn a spot in the record book Thursday night when she competes in the 1,600 meters. Spears is the defending champion in that race, too. She narrowly missed setting that record last year by .85 – a set in 2006 by Paradise’s Loren Hodges at 5:04.02.
Spears’ best time this year is 4:57.91, meaning she could push for the best 1,600 time ever run by an athlete from the Wichita Falls area. Iowa Park’s Kelsey Johnson still holds the Class 4A state record at 4:53.75.
“I’m going to go take a short nap, keep my legs loose and eat right,” Spears said. “Then I’ll be back in a few hours ready to go again.”
A few hours may be all that stands between Spears and a record-setting run.
CITY VIEW’S HILL NETS BRONZE MEDAL
Mason Hill should feel like a state champion.
While the City View junior settled for a bronze medal in the Class 3A boys shot put competition Thursday at Mike A. Myers Stadium, the two guys who bested him are legitimate athletic freaks.
Hill’s throw of 54 feet, 10.25 inches was topped only by San Antonio Great Hearts Northern Oaks senior John Hanson (62-9.75) and Brock senior Nathan Jones (62-7.25).
Hanson will compete as a Division I college thrower next season at Purdue. Jones, who is also an all-state caliber football and basketball player, will play football for Minnesota, a Purdue rival. Jones won silver in the discus Thursday, too.
Further legitimizing Hanson’s and Jones’s efforts is the fact their gold-and-silver-medal-winning throws were better than what anyone achieved in Class 4A. They’re also beyond any of the regional qualifying attempts registered by Class 5A and 6A athletes.
But while Hill could take solace in being the top 3A thrower outside of the “athletic freaks” division, his goal is to work his way into their company.
“It makes me want to drive myself even more,” Hill said. “I want to be better than them. I saw those guys do that, and I thought, ‘It’s my turn now.’
“I know at the end of the day, I didn’t get it, but I got third, which is alright. But it still just pushes me to get better. A little bit of a push can get you a long way.”
While Hanson and Jones will be headed to the Big Ten in the fall, Hill will be back at City View, prepping for his fourth season as a starter on both sides of the football for the Mustangs. And lifting weights in hopes of being back in Austin next May, pushing for that elusive state gold medal.
“This medal is a statement of all the hard work, dedication, all the hours I put into getting here. It’ just proves that I did it,” Hill said. “I’ll be back in the weight room getting stronger. I’ll be working on my technique and explosion to get back here. I want to be better than anyone else that’s here.”
OTHER LOCAL RESULTS
KAMERON PLYLER, VERNON: The sophomore had a successful state track debut with a new personal best mark of 6-6 in the Class 4A boys high jump. That was enough to net Plyler a fourth-place finish, narrowly missing the medal stand. He was one of only four competitors to clear 6-4, which he did on his final attempt. Plyer got over the bar at 6-5 on his second attempt and needed just one try at 6-6. He’s the only athlete in the Wichita Falls area to go higher than 6-4 this season. Bullard’s Garrett Nuckolls and Lake Belton’s Easton Hammond each topped out at 6-8, but Nuckolls won the gold medal with fewer misses at previous heights. Jaelyn Lee of Paris was third at 6-7.
KYLIE TULLOUS, JACKSBORO: Tullous saved her best jump for last Thursday, clearing 17-2.25 in the Class 3A girls long jump. But it was only good enough for eighth place. Universal City Randolph’s Taylor Nunez won gold at 19-7.5, with Daingerfield’s Ashlyn Bruce (18-7.25) taking second and West’s Makayla Pavelka (18-6.5) in third.
BARON BROWN, HENRIETTA: Brown posted a season-best jump of 46-4.25 on his second attempt of the Class 3A boys triple jump, but he couldn’t improve upon it, leaving him barely off the medal stand. Brown’s effort in the best mark for the Wichita Falls area and was enough for a fourth-place finish – eight inches behind third-place finisher Donovan Ramirez of Odessa Compass. Little River Academy senior Chris Preddie won the event at 50-2.75, with Jefferson’s Keith Smith (48-4) taking second.
CAMPBELL JURECEK, HOLLIDAY: Jurecek was nudged off the medal stand during the fifth round of throws Thursday, settling for fourth with a personal-best 40-1.75. Jurecek was in second after achieving her top throw in the third round, but Canadian’s Mattie Boyd (40-10) and Fairfield’s Breyunna Dowell (40-7) passed her in the fifth round. Bushland’s Jillian Howell won the gold medal at 41-9.5. Jurecek can take consolation in having the best mark in the Wichita Falls area this season.