Spartans claim 6-AA crown

ATLANTA -- Ignoring a one-hour weather delay and blustery conditions, Greater Atlanta Christian's girls track team, led by seniors Jessica Tuggle and Claire Goodson, turned back a challenge from defending champion Decatur to win the Region 6-AA championship Tuesday evening at Westminster.

Tuggle was impressive with a win in the 100 meters hurdles against Westminster's previously unbeaten Miray Seward, using a tailwind for a GAC record time of 14.70. It was Tuggle's third first place of the meet and it helped cement a lead built up after Monday's field events.

Still, the Spartans needed clutch performances in the 3,200-meter run, in the next to last event, from Lauren Kester and Abigail Mistretta to assure the team championship. Finishing second and fourth respectively, Kester and Mistretta gleaned 13 points from the 3,200 to give GAC its winning total of 123. Decatur finished second in the final event of the meet, the 1,600-meter relay, to finish 11 points back with 112. Host Westminster finished third with 97.5.

"I am so proud of our girls," an elated GAC coach Brad Kinser said. "Our seniors led the way, Jessica and Claire, and we needed that last push from Lauren and Abigail in the 3,200 to take the title."

Goodson won the pole vault with a state AA best 11-6 on Monday to complement Tuggle's wins in the long and triple jumps to give GAC a 19-point advantage over Decatur going into the running events.

The Spartans got off to a good start on Tuesday by taking second and an important eight points in the 400-meter relay. Goodson and Tuggle were joined by Kayin Mujahid and Brittany Arnold to post a 49.66 time that was bettered only by Avondale's blazing 48.95.

"This was a good culmination of our season for the seniors to lead us like Jessica and Claire did today," Kinser said. "Jessica just had a tremendous meet with her win in the hurdles and by the way she battled back yesterday in the jumping events."

It was GAC's first time to win the Region 6-AA competition. The Spartans finished third last year before going on to win the state title in Albany.

GAC showed its depth in events such as the 100 meter dash with Arnold taking second and Malika Slayton third and the 200 meters with a third by Arnold and a seventh by Morgan McKnight.

The top two finishers from all events qualify for the state meet in Albany.

One of those qualifiers, in two events, was freshman Maya Dillard of Buford, who won the 800 Tuesday after finishing second in the 1,600 meter on Monday. Dillard overcame Queen Alford of Decatur to win the 800 with a time of 2:56.58.

She passed Alford about a third of the way through the second lap and then held on with a sprint to the finish line.

"I had to make my move on her when I had a chance to get ahead," Dillard said. "I just had to run my own race and then hold on. I am excited about going to state."

Buford finished the meet in seventh place with 47 points. The Wolves also got points Tuesday from Kallie Case in the 200 meters, Dottie Kellogg in the 3,200 meters, Chelsie Thomas and Haley Standridge in the 100 meters and Constance Harrison in the 100 meters hurdles.

GAC's Kester, who won state in the 3,200 last year, has been plagued with nagging health problems this year but rose to the occasion for her second-place finish. She will now be able to defend her title at the state meet but Westminster's Sahara Fletcher looks formidable since she won Tuesday by some 20 seconds with a time of 11:09.14.

"This region could win as many as 13 of the 16 events at state," meet director Mark Cutbirth of Westminster said. "It's because of the good depth we seem to have every year."