After coming so close to winning a team state title last year, falling to second place in the standings on the final race of the championships, the Gordon Lee Lady Trojans began the 2019 track season on a mission to learn from last year's disappointment and rectify it.
On the strength on six individual state titles and some other high podium finishes, the GHSA Class 1A Public School track championship is back in Chickamauga for just the second time ever and the first time since 2014.
"This really means a lot," head coach Dan Roberts said. "We knew we had a shot at it going in. I was afraid someone might slip in there and take it from us, like what happened last year, but these girls did what they had to do."
It was one year ago when the Lady Trojans saw their sizable lead shrink during Day 3 of the meet before a slim four-point margin disappeared in the final event, the 4x400 relay. With Gordon Lee having failed to qualify for the finals in the event, it opened the door for Telfair County to complete the comeback and take the crown.
That wouldn't be the case this time around.
Gordon Lee held a 21-point lead over Marion County and a 29-point cushion over Telfair after the finals of the six field events and the 1600 final on Thursday.
A total of 20 of those 30 points came courtesy of Kaylee Brown's wins in the high jump (5-4) and in the pole vault (10-9). She broke her own school record in the pole vault, while Gracie O'Neal put a bow on Day 1 in Albany by breaking her own school record in the 1600 (5:16) to pick up 10 more valuable points.
Madison Mayberry also competed in the 1600 on Thursday and finished 14th with a time of 6:47, but she placed fourth in the pole vault earlier in the day (8-6) to score points for the Lady Trojans. Asia Underwood took fourth in the triple jump (34-1), while Arilyn Lee was fourth in the discus (105-4) and seventh in the shot put (33-1). Addison Sturdivant was fifth in the high jump for Gordon Lee (4-10), while Kelsey Lee tied for ninth in the long jump (15-2.5).
Then on Friday, bolstered by another school record and another individual state title from O'Neal, Gordon Lee finished Day 2 at Hugh Mills Stadium with 64 points, 34 points clear of Marion County and 42 in front of Telfair (22), who was lurking in fourth place.
O'Neal turned in the best girls' time in the history of Gordon Lee High School in the 3200 as she clocked in at 11:27.52 to beat her next closest competitor by 1:47. Her winning time beat her previous school mark by nearly nine seconds and the Lady Trojans earned three additional points as Mayberry finished in sixth place (14:11.02). Her run was the fourth-fastest 3200 ever run by a Lady Trojan as she beat her personal best by over 48 seconds.
However, there would still be work to do on Saturday as Gordon Lee athletes qualified for just four event finals. Telfair, meanwhile, had runners in all eight finals as they looked to pick up a third consecutive state track title in the classification.
That's when Sturdivant stepped to the forefront.
The sophomore, who had the top qualifying time in both the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles on Friday, proved it was no fluke. She completed the short race in 16 seconds flat, breaking her own GLHS mark by nearly a half-second, before clocking in at 47.61 in the 300 race - 0.3 seconds off her own school record - to complete the sweep.
"They all really stepped up," Roberts said. "But for Addison to pull off that sweep as a sophomore was big."
The 300 hurdles final also saw Telfair's top hurdler - Telfair had two hurdlers qualify for the finals - called for a false start that disqualified her from the race. The final standings in the race saw Gordon Lee boost its lead to an insurmountable 85-68 advantage with only the 4x400 relay left.
Telfair, the favor going into the final race, won as expected and picked up 10 points, but the seventh-place finish of Brown, Underwood, Sturdivant and O'Neal (4:26.58) would give the Lady Trojans its final two points and an final 87-78 victory in the team standings. Marion County (55) and Washington-Wilkes (53) would round out the top four places.
"They knew what they had to do because we've been preaching it since before the start of the season," Roberts added. "Last year, we lost by nine points, so we knew had to find 10 more points this year and we did. We brought in some younger athletes that really pushed the older ones, but everything still had to be right this one weekend."