Photo by Ben Beitzel

Photo by Ben Beitzel

ALBANY -- When the running-event finals of the 2010 State Girls Track and Field Championships began Saturday at Hugh Mills Stadium, the chances a Gwinnett school would take home a team title seemed remote.

Those chances improved immensely as the day progressed, and four local teams nearly pulled off an improbable title.

As it was, three teams -- Collins Hill and Brookwood in Class AAAAA and Greater Atlanta Christian in AA -- wound up taking home trophies with top-four finishes, while a fourth -- Grayson -- barely missed joining them.

All three of Gwinnett's Class AAAAA contenders had a chance to win the team title heading into the final event, though Collins Hill wound up having the closest call. The Eagles had a chance despite having just two individuals and a relay team in two different events competing on the day.

They held the lead on the final lap but the Eagles' 1,600-meter relay team of Nicky Akande, Sydney Williams, Monique Bennett and Megan Keller could not hold on, finishing second to Campbell in a crowded pack at the finish line despite a personal record time of 3:52.17.

That finish gave Collins Hill 36 team points, tying them with Westlake just two points behind champion Lassiter.

"We didn't think we had enough (finalists) to have a chance, but it turns out we did," said Collins Hill co-head coach Andrew Hudson, whose Eagles took home the runner-up trophy for the second consecutive year. "(The 1,600 relay team) did all they could do. We're running our fastest time -- faster then we ever have before -- and four teams are right there (at the line). ... What else could we possibly do?"

Hudson and the Eagles also couldn't have asked for more out of Akande and Williams, who maximized their points in the 800-meter run final.

For Akande, her first-place finish in a time of 2:11.22 was satisfying, helping her regain the title she won as a sophomore before finishing as runner-up a year ago.

"My sophomore year, I won, and obviously that was my first time being at state and competing, and it was a huge deal for me," Akande said. "I guess last year when I lost, it hit me. 'Wow, this is state. Everyone is good here. Anybody can win.'

"(Saturday), my goal was to win and I wanted to P.R. I kind of figured that in order to win, I would have to P.R."

Brookwood was even more limited in its participants in Saturday's finals, with only its 1,600 relay team qualifying for the day's events.

But even though the Broncos' foursome of Kendria Kelly-Taylor, Kaitlyn Banning, QuanDra Shanks and Taylor Rencher finished eighth, the one team point was enough to give them 33, good enough to edge Alpharetta for fourth place.

Grayson made the biggest surge Saturday, led by sprinter Taren White.

The senior won both the 200 and 400 by posting the best times of runners in all classifications, as well as teaming with Jasmine Abrams, Kayla Jones and Anela Durmic for runners-up in the 400 relay and Abrams, Lindsey White and Jacqueline Obi on the seventh-place 1,600 relay team.

After starting the day with no team points, the Rams wound in sixth place with 30 points.

Like their Class AAAAA counterparts, GAC's hopes of retaining the Class AA championship seemed remote with the Spartans only being represented in three different events Saturday.

However, those hopes gained momentum by a better-than-expected fifth-place finish from the 400-meter relay team and Brittany Arnold's seventh-place finish in the 100-meter dash.

And they received an even bigger boost when Jessica Tuggle -- who anchored the 400 relay team -- outdueled Westminster's Miray Seward to win the state title in the 100 intermediate hurdles.

"I knew I had to win to keep us in the (title hunt)," Tuggle said. "I also wanted it for me. ... (Seward is) a great competitor. She runs really well, but I knew I had the footspeed to beat her if I could make it over (the hurdles)."

Tuggle's win gave them the lead with 50 points, but unfortunately for the Spartans, it was their last event of the day.

And the first-place finish posted by Rebecca Greenwall of North Oconee in the 800 -- despite being pushed by a field that included Buford's Maya Dillard, who finished third -- was enough to lift the Titans to the team championship with 53 points.

Still, GAC coach Brad Kinser had no complaints about his team's runner-up finish.

"If you get a trophy against all these kids and all this competition, it's a great accomplishment," Kinser said. "This is seven out of the last nine years we've gone home with a trophy. We've got a nice little tradition going."

Wesleyan also has a strong tradition at the state meet, and while the Wolves could not repeat as Class A champions, they did claim a trophy by placing third with 42 points behind only champion Athens Christian and runner-up Our Lady of Mercy.

Emily Howell (400), Erin Hall (100 hurdles) and the 1,600 relay team had fifth-place finishes for Wesleyan on the day, while Grace Leah Baughn took sixth in the 100 hurdles.