After coming ever so close to winning team state championships the past few years, the Gordon Lee Lady Trojans' track team will go into Saturday at the Class 1A Public School state meet in Albany with a chance to win their first crown since 2014.
Bolstered by another school record and another individual state title from Gracie O'Neal, Gordon Lee finished Day 2 at Hugh Mills Stadium on Friday with 64 points. Marion County sits in second place with 30 points, followed by Pelham (22.5), Telfair County (22) and Claxton (15.5).
O'Neal took to the track Friday night and turned in the best girls' time in the history of Gordon Lee High School in the 3200-meter run. The junior, who set a new school mark with a time of 5:16 in her state title-winning 1600-meter run on Thursday, clocked in at 11:27.52 on Friday to beat her next closest competitor by 1:47. Her winning time beat her previous school mark by nearly nine seconds.
O'Neal earned 10 huge points for the Lady Trojans with her victory and Gordon Lee picked up an additional three points as fellow junior Madison Mayberry finished in sixth place (14:11.02). Mayberry's run was the fourth-fastest 3200 ever run by a Lady Trojan as she beat her personal best by over 48 seconds.
The rest of Friday's races were qualifying heats for Saturday's finals. The Lady Trojans will have athletes in four of Saturday's eight events, led by sophomore Addison Sturdivant, who had a huge Friday for the Navy-and-White.
Sturdivant finished with the top qualifying time in the 100 hurdles (16.00) by over a full half-second. She also set a new personal best and a new school record in the process, but it was her performance in the 300 hurdles that stood out even more.
Her time of 48.23 was the second-fastest of her career and it was more than 1.5 seconds faster than her best time this season. Seeded fifth going into qualifying, Sturdivant will head into Saturday's final sporting the top qualifying time in the event by 0.28 seconds and will give the Lady Trojans yet another chance to earn big points in the team standings.
Sophomore Kaylee Brown, who had already set two personal best times in the 400 this season, did it again on Friday as she crossed the line in 1:03.68, narrowly missing a school record. Brown's time was good enough to get her into the last qualifying spot for Saturday's final.
The other state final for Gordon Lee on Saturday will be the final race of the season as Brown, Sturdivant, O'Neal and Asia Underwood clocked in at 4:23.55 in the 4x400 relay. Gordon Lee's time was fifth-fastest in qualifying and a 14-second improvement over its best time of the season. It was also the second-fastest girls' 4x400 relay in Gordon Lee school history.
While Friday was an outstanding day for the Lady Trojans, they will need to be at the top of their game on Saturday as three schools are still capable of catching them and dashing their state title dreams.
Perhaps the biggest threat will come from Telfair County, who has won the Class 1A Public School state title the past two seasons. Telfair - also named the Lady Trojans - will have runners in all eight finals on Saturday, including two runners in the 300 hurdles. Telfair had the fastest qualifying time in the 4x400 relay and the second-fastest qualifying times in four other events on Friday.
It would be deja vu for Gordon Lee should Telfair make the comeback. Last May, Telfair was tied for fourth place with 26 points going into the final day of competition, but rallied in the final event of the championships - the 4x400 - to win the title and relegate Gordon Lee to second place overall.
Another team that could make a big run on Saturday is Washington-Wilkes. The Lady Tigers are currently in seventh place with just 11 points, but will have runners in six of the eight finals on Saturday, including three events in which they own the top qualifying times.
Second-place Marion County is still mathematically alive to potentially win a state title, but the Lady Eagles will compete in just four events on Saturday. They had the top qualifying time in one event, but they would need a huge day on Saturday to make a run at the top spot.
The GHSA also announced on Friday that they are moving up the start time in Albany to 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, hoping to complete the remainder of the meet before projected inclement weather hits the area.
Thompson in 100 hurdles final
Heritage senior Madelyn Thompson will be the only other local girls' athlete to compete in Albany on Saturday. Thompson ran a 15.78 in the Class 4A 100 hurdles in Friday qualifying to make the final eight for Saturday.
Her teammate, freshman Gracie Murray, competed in both the 100 hurdles and the 300 hurdles on Friday, but failed to qualify for either final. Sophomore Allison Craft was one spot short of the podium in the 3200 as she finished ninth with a time of 12:28.
And in Class 3A, Ringgold senior Annabelle Duckett also competed in the 100 hurdles, but did not qualify for Saturday's final.