The past year has been a roller-coaster ride for the Fort Mill girls track team.
A successful ride, though.
Last May, the team had one of its most impressive showings ever at the state championship track meet; With six individual girls and two relay teams placing in their events, the team had a third-place finish, only 3.5 points from the state title.
In October, the distance team took second place in the state cross-country championship, finishing with four girls in the top 25, and only seven points away from the title.
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This season, in a way that is becoming almost routine, the team has reloaded and is ready to make another run at the championship.
"I think we could be right where we were last year," said Head Coach Steve Mullinax, who is entering his 27th year at the helm of the girls program. "We have the ability, a lot of depth in the distance events. We should be very competitive this year."
The team did take quite a blow, however, graduating their two top athletes.
Tiayanna Blackmon, who now runs for North Carolina State, and Ashley Potts, who is on Coastal Carolina's team, both qualified for the state meet in all four of their events last year to cap their senior seasons. Despite the loss, the Jackets are returning a large number of highly competitive runners.
Senior Quanika Blackmon finished fourth in the state in the mile last season and is running well so far this year.
"We have a group of three sophomore girls who are all very, very good," Mullinax said.
Abby Lewis finished sixth in the 800 meter dash, Sarah Owen finished fifth in the two-mile run and Taylor Miller ran as part of the 4x400 meter and the 4x800 meter teams in the state meet last year when both were freshmen.
The Jackets' 4x800 team won the state title with a time of 9:32, but that was with Blackmon and Potts.
Another big-time contributor to the team will be Ceci Kryst, who leads the team in the long jump and triple jump, and also runs the 100 and 200-meter dash.
"Ceci has been pretty strong in the field events for three years," Mullinax said. "She should bring in a lot of points."
Kryst jumped 17 feet, five inches in the long jump at the state meet last year, good enough for fifth place, but said she boosted her best mark to 17 feet, 10 inches over the summer.
"I've been really excited for this season since the end of last year," Kryst said. "Hopefully I'll qualify in both the long jump and triple jump."
Kryst said her goal is to jump more than 18 feet, hopefully as far as 18 feet, six inches.
Despite her success, Kryst is not alone in the jumping events this year.
Freshman Charity Mustafa, according to Mullinax, is an extremely talented high jumper and competitive in the long jump as well.
"She's competing with me in (the jumping) events," Kryst said. "She'll be a great asset to the team."
Boys young, hungry
On the boys side, the distance team, which also took second place in the state in cross-country last fall, is expected to carry the track team.
Freshman Mark Blackmon, who won the state cross-country title by 26 seconds with a blistering time of 15:44, is coming off basketball season, but should be in shape by the time the meets begin, said Mark Pyrc, coach of the distance runners and the cross-country team.
"Mark just needs to get his track legs back. With his talent and his attitude, he'll probably run some really good events for us. He doesn't like to lose," Pyrc said.
Also coming from the basketball team, senior Rashawn Dupree will be a strong, four-event athlete, competing in the long jump, high jump, 200 and 400-meter dash, Head Coach Dave Thomas said.
Although the boys team is fairly young overall, the distance runners are beginning to grow into their roles, Pyrc said.
"Their definitely running beyond their experience," Pyrc said.
One runner who will provide a boost for the team will be junior Jonathan Kalshoven, who will compete in the 4x800 meter relay, 800-meter dash, mile run, and pole vault, although he said the 800 will be his main event.
"I'm down to a 2:04 now. My goal is to run 1:56- I really want to win states," Kalshoven said.
The winning time at the state championship meet last season was 1:56.
Kalshoven said he thought Blackmon would be a great addition to the distance team this year, especially on the 4x800 relay team.
"I expect we're going to drop those times - big-time," he said.