ALBANY - There weren't too many races involving GAC and Wesleyan in Saturday's finals, but every one mattered.
The two Gwinnett schools were fighting for trophies and a top four finish in the Class AA state track meet. Even for an individual sport, the team started to matter more.
"My more important focus is on points," said GAC's Jessica Tuggle after taking third in the 100 hurdles. "Other schools have almost their whole teams here. We only have four girls who got to come down here and show our talents."
The same was true for Wesleyan, which had a high jumper, a pole vaulter, a distance runner, a 400 relay team and a 400-meter runner.
The two schools' battle to best each other came down to the 300 hurdles and GAC's Claire Goodson. Goodson, who finished second in the pole vault Friday, represented the final athlete from either school and when she stepped into the blocks, GAC stood in fourth place with 30 points. Wesleyan was second with 38.
Goodson finished in a photo finish to Coosa's Carolyn Covarrubias, but Covarrubias had been disqualified for not clearing the hurdle coming around the corner. The DQ gave Goodson third place in a time of 48.39, and GAC 36 total team points. Two back of Wesleyan.
"My coach told me (where we stood) to try to put pressure on me to win a trophy," Goodson said. "I didn't worry about it too much."
From there, the two schools could only watch the 1,600-meter relay and both camps cheered as loud as they would have if they had runners in it.
When the race ended, Wesleyan, with 38 points, stood in second and GAC, with 36 points, tied for third with Early County. North Oconee won the AA meet with 40.
"We had some people score big points for us and that is what it takes at the state meet," Wesleyan coach Candler Baxley said. "Our team goal was to come in the top four. Everyone overachieved. I am real proud of them."
The Region 6-AA foes competed in just six events to compile their large point totals.
"This team really battled," GAC coach Brad Kinser said. "As much talent as we have here, to take home any trophy is big.
"It is a testament to how strong our region is."
Wesleyan runner Chantel Kennedy was surprised by how high the Wolves finished, admitting that even those on the team didn't think a high finish was possible.
"I don't think anyone thought about us finishing in the top two or even top four," Kennedy said. "Our expectations were not that high. This is a big accomplishment."
Leaning for needed points
Setting up Wesleyan's second-place finish was Kennedy with a state title in the 400-meter.
As Kennedy came down the final 100 meters of the race, she gradually caught up with Antquinita Reed from Early County and Winshanai Gandy from Lovett.
The final meters came down to Kennedy and Reed and as the two crossed the finish line, Kennedy leaned forward while Reed kept upright. The lean pushed Kennedy's head and chest across the finish line first. Kennedy finished in 59.71 seconds, Reed in 59.73.
"That's what they say is make sure you lean forward, it helps you cross the finish line first," Kennedy said.
The fundamental move worked, giving Kennedy her first state title in the 400. She finished fifth last year.
"I knew I was going to have to fight for it on the last 100," said Kennedy, who kept a solid pace from the start and made the final turn in third place. "I just wanted to run my race until the last 100 meters and kick it."
And it was the little lean that pushed her across.
"I was motivated to finish first or second," Kennedy said. "I hate to lose."
The win also gave Wesleyan the two points it needed for a second-place finish.
"It was an amazing race," Wesleyan coach Baxley said. "She has wanted it all year and she came here and beat the defending state champion."
Third through the rain
An early rainstorm that soaked the track at Hugh Mills Stadium was in full force when Grayson sophomore Taren White took off in the 100-meter dash.
"I thought I was going to slip," White said. "You can't see. I had water and stuff in my eyes."
She fought through the drizzle to finish third, with a time of 12.10.
"It was better than last year," said White, who finished fourth as a freshman. "I thought I could get second."
The rain had just started to subside when GAC's Tuggle took off in the 100-meter hurdles.
It wasn't the easiest race she had ever run, but she did have the experience of running on a wet track from this year's county meet.
"It wasn't as wet as this," said Tuggle, who finished third, a place higher than last year, with a time of 15.98. "I am very satisfied. This year is more about me climbing the ladder and hopefully next year I can take it home."
Tuggle also jumped up a spot in Friday's field event with a second-place finish in the long jump.
SideBar: State placers
Hugh Mills Stadium, Albany
Chantel Kennedy, Wesleyan 400, 59.71
400 relay (Megan Green, Emily Howell, Whitney Warren and Chantel Kennedy) Wesleyan, 50.23
Jessica Tuggle, GAC, 100 hurdles, 15.98
Claire Goodson, GAC, 300 hurdles, 48.39
Nicky Akande, Collins Hill, 800, 2:16.00
Imani Ellis, Collins Hill, 100 hurdles, 14.40
Imani Ellis, Collins Hill, 300 hurdles, 43.97
1,600 relay, (Sydney Williams, Nicky Akande, Katie Gezon, Symone Glover), Collins Hill, 3:55.78
Taren White, Grayson, 100, 12.10
Victoria Hines, Berkmar, 100 hurdles, 14.95
Mandi Tennyson, Grayson, 800, 2:20.18
Brittany Robinson, Peachtree Ridge, 800, 2:20.41
Symone Glover, Collins Hill, 400, 57.17
Taren White, Grayson, 200, 25.03
400 relay (Taren White, Anela Durmic, Manyi Ati and Chelsea Switzer), Grayson, 48.48
Jasmine Billings, Brookwood, 100 hurdles, 15.19