CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Black Knights and Lady Knights respectively placed second and third last week at the 2022 WVSSAC Class AA track and field championships at Laidley Field.
Both squads, particularly the defending champion boys team, had aspirations of finishing higher in the double-A standings. In all fairness, however, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
The Point Pleasant track and field program set a school record with a combined 11 state championships last Wednesday and Thursday, with five of those coming on the girls side and another half-dozen coming from the boys squad.
Some were repeat champions, some were multi-event champions, and others were first-time champions. Most came in individual events, while others evolved from being part of a winning relay team.
All of them enjoyed the privilege of being recognized as a state champion.
In what proved to be a memorable two days, both programs started strong on Day 1 as the Black Knights and Lady Knights came away with a pair of state crowns.
Seniors Addy Cottrill and Elicia Wood repeated as state champions in the shot put and high jump events, respectively. Junior Cody Schultz also earned a repeat crown in the boys discus, the last of the repeat titles on opening night.
Those three spoke about their accomplishments in a previous story that ran last weekend and highlighted the opening night of the double-A meet. The remaining eight championship stories will be told in this piece.
A fourth state champion came at the very end of the first session Wednesday night as senior Jonathan Griffin won the 400-meter dash with a time of 49.95 seconds.
It was the first and only state championship for Griffin, who was also part of a pair of top-3 finishes in relays and a 200m runner-up as well in his final state meet.
Getting to go out on top during your final two days of prep competition, even if it was just once, was the thing that Griffin was most proud of at the end of the competition.
“It’s a great feeling to be a state champion, but a lot of this comes from my teammates. They’ve really pushed me in practice over the years, but it’s made all of us better as a team the last four years,” Griffin said. “It’s been a good environment to grow in and become better people. It’s a family, and knowing we’ve done the things we’ve done this weekend makes for some great memories to take with us. I’m proud of the title, but I’m more proud of the memories with these guys.”
Senior Preston Taylor also secured his first career state title after pulling off a bit of a shocker in the 100m dash. Taylor defeated the favorite — Jacorian Green of Bluefield — and the rest of the 8-man final with a time of 11.29 seconds.
“It’s definitely an amazing feeling. I didn’t go into it thinking I was the underdog even though I wasn’t ranked first and I wasn’t predicted to win this race. It’s a nice feeling to prove everyone wrong and be the fastest guy in Class AA this year,” Taylor said. “This is a big accomplishment for me because I’ve worked really hard for this. There’s been a lot of winters, a lot of indoor meets and a lot of offseason work that has gone into this moment. It feels great to see it pay off in my senior year.”
The remaining three championships on the boys side involved junior Ian Wood in some form or fashion. Wood claimed the first two state crowns of his career in the 110m hurdles (15.51) and 300m hurdles (41.30), then was part of the winning 4x110m shuttle hurdles relay near the end of Thursday’s competition.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win that first one, and then win another a few hours later. However, this last one, this was fun,” Wood said. “It’s cool to be running with your friends and end up winning a state title together. It’s just a family thing, I guess. It’s just been an amazing day.”
Wood was joined by seniors Luke Derenberger and Trey Peck, as well as freshman Reece Hunt, on the winning 4x110m shuttle hurdles relay squad. The quartet posted a winning mark of 1:01.15.
“We were third in this event last year, so we’ve worked really hard to get back here because we wanted to win this event,” Peck said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to do that and go out as state champs in our final race together. As a senior, it’s an amazing feeling to win your first state championship that way.”
Derenberger agreed with his fellow classmate, and step-brother, on leaving PPHS as a state champion.
“I’ve been at state in a handful of events, so it feels really good to leave as a state champ in my final competition,” Derenberger said. “You just can’t beat this feeling. It’s with family and it’s with friends. It’s just a good day.”
Hunt — who is also cousins with Derenberger and Peck — was a little bit more giddy about the title than the others, but none of his other three teammates understand what it’s like to be a state champion as a freshman in their very first meet event.
“This is unreal. It means so much to me to be part of a state championship as a freshman,” Hunt said before sending brief shout-outs to his parents. “It’s an incredible feeling and I’m so proud to have been part of this with these guys.”
The Lady Knights, just moments before the boys won, managed to claim their version of the state crown in the 4×102.5m shuttle hurdles. The quartet of Wood, senior Katelynn Smith, and the sophomore duo of Gabriella Hunt and McKenna Young posted a winning time of 1:07.99.
Smith, a multi-time qualifier in the long jump, shed some tears of pride as she ended her prep career as a state champion.
“This team has really started to come together and become a threat in the last few weeks, so to see where we have ended up is something truly special to experience with these girls. We peaked at just the right time,” Smith said. “This is something that I will always carry with me. It’s a good way to go out.”
Young also noted the work that went into making this group a state champion, which is the first of her career.
“We’ve shuffled the order of people in this event. We’ve moved other people in and out of this event. Then, we found the group and we just started clicking,” Young said. “I didn’t know if we’d be standing where we are right now a month ago, but it sure does feel good to see the work pay off the way it did.”
Hunt was proudest of the fact that she could be part of something greater than herself.
“To be state champs with your best friends is a pretty unique feeling. It’s pretty special to be part of this,” Hunt said. “We’ve worked hard for this and it’s still hard to fully comprehend, but this is a proud moment for all of us.”
As for Wood, it was the fourth and final title of her illustrious career — and one that allowed her to become the only PPHS female to ever win three state championships at one meet. Wood also claimed the 100m hurdles title earlier on Thursday with a winning mark of 15.95 seconds.
“I’m at a loss for words about the ways things have gone the last two days,” Wood said. “It’s just awesome. It’s a great way to complete my high school career.”
The final state crown to bring up was actually the first of the day, which went to Cottrill in the discus final. Cottrill won her second straight discus championship with a heave of 124 feet, 10 inches.
Cottrill ends her career with a half-dozen titles between the shot put and discus events over the last four years. Cottrill also owns the school mark for state championships by a Lady Knight.
“I’m very happy with the way the results have gone today and over the years,” Cottrill said. “I’m excited to start the next chapter of my life and my track career, but in a way I’m sad to see all of this come to an end at Point Pleasant. It’s been four really good years to be part of, except for that COVID season. Outside of that, there isn’t much I’d want to change. I’m proud to be going out as a state champion.”
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.