Ca­toosa_walk­er_news The 2018 Walker County Track Ath­letes of the Year

Walker County Messenger - - Sports - By Scott Herpst

For one, it was old hat. For the other, it was a head start on set­ting a le­gacy of her own.

Gor­don Lee sopho­more Gra­cie O’Neal and her fresh­man team­mate Kaylee Brown en­tered the spring track and field sea­son on op­po­site ends of the spec­trum, but they fin­ished it up in the same spot as the Lady Tro­jans’ duo share this year’s Walker County Girls’ Track Ath­lete of the Year hon­ors.

O’Neal, quickly on her way to be­com­ing the most dec­o­rated track ath­lete in Gor­don Lee’s long and sto­ried his­tory, added two more in­di­vid­ual state cham­pi­onships to her ever-grow­ing re­sume this sea­son.

Af­ter win­ning the 1600 last year and set­ting a new school­record in the process, she added two more gold medals last month at the Class 1A Pub­lic School state cham­pi­onships in Al­bany.

Dom­i­nant all sea­son long, O’Neal won the Area 3-A ti­tle in the 800 (2:23) and the 1600 (5:25). She added a state sec­tional ti­tle in the 800 (2:25) - hav­ing au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fied for state in the 1600 by way of her area win - and swept both races at the state meet as she won the 800 (2:23) and the 1600 (5:20).

The 2:23 at state broke the school record in the 800, while she set a new record in the 1600 ear­lier in the year (5:17). All of that came on the heels of a state cross coun­try cham­pi­onship back in Novem­ber as she won the in­di­vid­ual ti­tle (20:23).

“It was a sur­real feel­ing (sweep­ing at state),” she said. “It didn’t come easy, but I knew I wasn’t run­ning just for my­self. I was run­ning for the Lord. He’s the one that helped me through it. It takes a lot of train­ing though. It doesn’t just hap­pen.”

Even more re­mark­able is the fact that O’Neal con­tin­ues to set and break records with­out any true chal­lengers to push her in races. She won the 1600 at state by a whop­ping 25 sec­onds and was two min­utes ahead of her clos­est com­peti­tor when she won the cross coun­try ti­tle.

“Some­times it’s tough to race out there with­out hav­ing any­thing to push you,” she ex­plained. “That’s when you have to have self-dis­ci­pline and know you’re run­ning against the clock.”

Al­ready with three in­di­vid­ual state ti­tles in track, O’Neal said she plans to keep work­ing.

“You can’t get com­pla­cent,” she added. “I don’t want to stay where I’m at. I just want to get bet­ter be­cause any­body get bet­ter, no mat­ter what. You can al­ways shave off some time.”

Head coach Dan Roberts called O’Neal one of the team’s hard­est work­ers.

“She eats, breaths and sleeps run­ning and it shows by her ac­com­plish­ments”, he said.

While O’Neal’s ac­com­plish­ments came as lit­tle sur­prise, Brown’s rookie sea­son in high school track seem­ingly came out of nowhere.

Brown be­gan rack­ing up top podium spots and points from Day 1 and con­tin­ued that trend into the post­sea­son.

She was area cham­pion in the pole vault (9-6), sec­ond in the high jump (5-0) and fourth in the 400 (1:07.68). She went on to win the pole vault (9-6) and the high jump (5-4) at state sec­tion­als be­fore turn­ing her at­ten­tion to the state meet.

In Al­bany, she broke the Gor­don Lee school record to win the pole vault (10-7) and cleared 5-2 in the high jump, ty­ing for the best jump, but fin­ish­ing sec­ond on the tiebreaker (fewest attempts).

“It feels great. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing this,” Brown said of shar­ing the award with O’Neal. “As a fresh­man, I was ex­pect­ing to be worse than what I turned out to be, but it feels great. I’m just look­ing for­ward to the years to come.”

Brown said she put in plenty of hours on and away from cam­pus to work on her tech­niques.

“I’ve been do­ing more work ev­ery week and more hours ev­ery day try­ing to get bet­ter

and bet­ter each day,” she said. “I’m do­ing some more in­di­vid­ual prac­tice in Dal­ton and work­ing with some oth­ers on my high jump.”

Al­ready with her name be­side one school record, she said she has the school high jump mark in her sights and hopes to set new pole vault records each year she at­tends Gor­don Lee.

“Kaylee was a pleas­ant sur­prise,” Roberts ex­plained. “They took the pole vault out of the mid­dle school league, so she re­ally hasn’t pole vaulted much, but she’s just a nat­u­ral. She also sur­prised me at the high jump. She’s two inches from that (school) record and it goes back to 1979.”

Gor­don Lee’s Kaylee Ka lee Brown B n (left) and Gra­cie O’Neal are the 2018 Girls’ Co-Track Co T k Ath­letes Ath­lete of f the Year for f Walker County. (Photo by Scott Herpst)

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