After a month of poor weather and canceled track meets, some of the region's top track and field athletes, including teams from Fort Mill and Nation Ford, enjoyed sunny skies and elite competition at the Taco Bell Invitational in Columbia Friday and Saturday.
The track meet, one of the largest in the southeast, included more than 2,200 athletes representing 185 different teams from 11 states, according to the meet's Co-Director Kevin Shaw.
Out of the runners, jumpers and throwers from the Fort Mill area, the distance runners faired the best against the top-level competition, with four different top-ten finishes in the distance events.
The highlight of these racers was Fort Mill freshman Mark Blackmon, who took first place overall in the boys one mile run, with a personal best time of 4:21.
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Blackmon, who ran just behind Asheville High School's Isaac Presson for much of the race, took the lead with about 300 meters remaining. Presson made a move with about 100 meters to go, but the two sprinted to the finish side-by-side and Blackmon leaned just far enough ahead at the finish line, winning the race by .07 seconds.
Blackmon said he was pleased with his times so far this year, especially considering he still has three years of high school remaining to improve.
"I run better at big meets like these - there's a lot more hype," Blackmon said. "I get a little more adrenaline to run."
Blackmon said he is keeping the big picture in mind and aiming to run his best at the state championships, where he hopes to win the mile run and the 800-meter dash.
"I just want to get experience from big meets like this, to help me later in the season," he said. Blackmon also competed in the 800-meter dash Saturday, finishing in 11th place with a time of 2:00.
Nation Ford's Kevin Ketner had a successful meet, leading the Falcons in two distance events. Ketner ran a 4:39 mile, good for 19th place, and a personal record 10:26 two-mile race, coming in 31st place.
"Our distance guys have been great. They come to practice everyday and show their best effort at every event," Falcons Head Coach Victor Sanders said. "I like their attitudes. They are setting a great example for the team."
The other three top-10 finishes came from the girls.
Fort Mill's top duo of female distance runners, Quanika Blackmon and Adrienne Cuff, finished in sixth and eighth place, respectively, in the mile run, with times of 5:18 and 5:22.
They also ran well in the 800-meter dash with Blackmon finishing in 11th place and Cuff in 24th.
Nation Ford's top distance performance came from freshman Meredith Kilburn, who finished in seventh place in the two-mile run with a time of 11:37, 13 seconds better than her previous personal record.
"Meredith has been leading the distance team this year, and running her best times," Falcons Head Coach Abby Beard said.
Also performing well for Nation Ford was hurdler Imani Smith, who finished in 30th place in the 110-meter hurdles, 35th in the 400-meter hurdles, and ran a leg in the 4x100-meter relay.
Fort Mill hurdler Josh Gist also ran both of the boys hurdles events, finishing 39th in the 110-meter hurdles and 29th in the 400-meter hurdles, running a personal best time of 1:00 flat in the 400.
Stepping off the track and into the field, there were some impressive performances by local jumpers and throwers, highlighted by Fort Mill's Ceci Kryst, who finished in sixth place overall in the girls long jump, with a distance of 17 feet, eight inches.
Kryst also finished in 13th place in the triple jump, and competed in the 100-meter hurdles.
"Ceci has been doing great - she's having an outstanding year," Fort Mill Head Coach Steve Mullinax said. "She's really excelling in her events and she's a consistent contributor to the team."
Among the boys, Fort Mill's Rashawn Dupree finished in 21st place in the long jump, with a distance of 21 feet, three inches.
In the throwing events, Fort Mill's Alisha Blackmon finished in 20th place in the girls discus competition and 21st place in the shot put. Nation Ford's Stephanie Shull competed in both events as well, finishing in 35th place in the discus and 36th in the shot put.
Both of the teams will run in the York County meet on Thursday, April 23, at South Pointe.