Runners, sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers and throwers from across the county competed in the region championship track meet at Winthrop University.
The meet is important not only because of the level of competition among the six schools, but because the top four finishers in each event move on to the state qualifying meet. The rest go home for the summer.
Both Fort Mill and Nation Ford qualified a good number of athletes representing most events.
Fort Mill's Danny Till was the area's top sprinter, finishing second in the 100-meter dash at 11 seconds flat, and second in the 200-meter at 21.90 seconds. Josh Gist, also from Fort Mill, qualified in both hurdling events, finishing third in the 110-meter hurdles and second in the 400-meter hurdles.
Some of the most dramatic races of the evening came in the distance events, where the region is stacked with top-level competitors.
Fort Mill's Mark Blackmon, the favorite in all three distance events, sprinted the final leg of the 4x800 meter relay as fast as he could early in the meet, bringing the Jackets back from nearly 100 meters behind Gaffney to win the event. After the race, however, Blackmon fell to the ground with apparent leg cramp and was not the same for the rest of the night.
Blackmon ran his next event, the mile run, and finished second with a time of 4:36. It was not enough to catch Nation Ford's top distance runner, sophomore Kevin Ketner, who led the race wire to wire and fought off a furious kick by Blackmon in the final stretch to take first place in the race by four tenths of a second.
"I just wanted to get out early and try to push the pace," Ketner said. "I've come a long way from last year; I'm pretty happy with what I did today."
Ketner also qualified for the state-qualifying meet in the 800-meter dash, finishing third.
Although the competition in the region has been tough all year, Ketner said it should serve as valuable experience as he moves on to compete against the rest of the state's top runners.
"Having people in your region that push you really works to your advantage in the long run," he said.
Blackmon chose not to compete in his final two distance events, the 800-meter and the two-mile.
Inside the track, Fort Mill's Rashawn Dupree moved on in the high jump and the long jump, while Nation Ford's David Keller qualified in the pole vault. In the throwing events, Nation Ford's Steven Cox finished second in the discus, throwing a distance of 138 feet.
Local girls had a successful night as well and continued to dominate the region in the distance events.
Nation Ford freshman Meredith Kilburn won the two-mile run with a time of 11:45 and finished third in the mile at 5:22. Her teammate, Aubrey Gunnells, qualified in two events as well -- the mile and the 800-meter dash.
Fort Mill's Quanika Blackmon and Adrienne Cuff finished first and second, respectively, in both the 800-meter and the mile, running consistently as they have all season. Blackmon ran a 2:24 800-meter and a 5:17 mile. Cuff ran the events right on Blackmon's heels, finishing in 2:25 and 5:19.
Cuff, a senior, said running stride for stride with Blackmon has helped both runners improve and continue to put away the competition throughout the season.
"We help each other out. It helps us both physically and mentally - the friendly competitive push," Cuff said. "I feel great. I ran as hard as I could, and I've really peaked during my senior year."
Cuff said she will be running next season for Charleston Southern.
Nation Ford's Imani Smith qualified in both the 100-meter and 400-meter hurdles, while Fort Mill's Ceci Kryst continued to own the region in the jumping events.
Kryst won the long jump with a distance of 17 feet, three inches, and also won the triple jump at 35 feet, two inches.
Fort Mill's Alisha Blackmon, an eighth-grader, qualified in the shot put and discus throwing events, placing second in both.
"We had an excellent meet. We qualified as many as I would have expected," Fort Mill girls coach Steve Mullinax said. "I think the girls just fed off each other and ran well."
The state-qualifying meet will be May 9 in Blythewood. The top eight finishers in each event will qualify for the state championships, May 15 and 16, at Spring Valley High School in Columbia.