Waites sets record, St. Al finishes third

Published 12:08 am Saturday, May 14, 2011

PEARL — With all of its points coming from seventh- and eighth-graders at Friday’s Class 1A girls state meet, the St. Aloysius program has arrived — and it looks like it’s here to stay.

The youthful Lady Flashes totaled 51 points and finished third in the team standings, powered by a record-setting performance from eighth-grader Maggie Waites in the pole vault. Waites shattered the MHSAA overall state record of 10 feet by clearing 10 feet, 7 inches on her fourth attempt.

The 10 first-place points from Waites brought St. Al back into the team race with 41, just 11 behind Coldwater after 11 events. The Lady Panthers, however, rolled up wins in the 400 meter dash, 300 hurdles and 200 meter dash to claim the team championship with 89 points.

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Potts Camp was second with 62, with St. Al third, Mrytle fourth at 46 and Greenville-St. Joseph fifth with 45.

First-year St. Al track coach Richard Hodges was elated with the team’s overall performance.

“Extremely pleased,” Hodges said. “Considering how young they are, but from the very first meeting after basketball season ended, they listened. They competed. Now, they can go beyond this because they believe in themselves.”

Waites was the known force for the Lady Flashes coming into this season. She won the Class 1A pole vault title as a seventh-grader last year, then cleared her winning height of 8 feet, 6 inches on her first attempt on Friday — by 2 1/2 feet.

The opening vault was good enough to clinch the gold medal. Her nearest competitor finished at 8 feet. Waites, though, wasn’t done. She cleared 9-7, easily. Then 10-2 to set a new overall state record, and 10-7 to extend it.

She kept going up, setting the bar at 11-2. On her second try, she had it cleared but her foot knocked the bar out. She was too gassed on her third try, and her record stands at 10-7 — probably until next year.

“Disappointed I didn’t get 11-2, but I know I can get it,” Waites said. “I just felt real strong today. The wind was good, and I had really good crowd support from my friends.”

St. Al’s other gold medal performance came in the boys discus, as senior Matt Wooten unleashed a career-best throw of 133 feet, 1/2 inch. The toss was more than 3 feet better than the second place toss of 129-8.

Wooten also finished fourth in the shot put.

“That’s the furthest I’ve ever thrown it,” Wooten said. “I was glad, because I was fourth in it last year.”

The good news for Hodges and his Lady Flashes, is they might have found another emerging star. Seventh-grader Elizabeth Counts pulled out a surprising second place finish in the girls 1,600 meter run. She had the seventh-best seeded time coming in, at just under 7 minutes.

In the final, she ran a personal best of 6:06.19 and was just a few yards behind winner Andrea Wise’s first-place effort of 5:57.

Before being talked into running track, Counts’ primary athletic endeavor was cheerleading.

“I run every day with my dad, but I had never competed in anything,” Counts said. “This was actually a lot of fun.”

Counts got a second medal when she ran a strong opening leg in the last event of the day, the 4×400 relay. St. Al finished second to Sacred Heart. Joining Counts on the medal stand were eighth-grader Alyssa Engel, seventh-grader Grace Burnett and eighth-grader McKaylan Gray.

“Yeah, we’re a junior high team,” Gray said. “But we’re also second in the state. We’ve worked very hard.”

St. Al opened the meet with a third place finish in the 3,200 meter run by Katie Martin. Burnett was seventh.

Rounding out the boys performances was a fifth in the 3,200 run by Luke Eckstein and a fifth by Barrett Teller in the 800 run.