By Matt Hill
KINGSPORT — It’s been awhile since the Happy Valley boys track and field team won a conference championship, but Gabe Oxendine ended up taking a giant leap that proved to be the difference.
Oxendine’s 40-6 jump gave him an individual conference title in the triple jump, and that would prove to be huge as the Warriors squeezed out a conference title.
Happy Valley won by one point over Elizabethton. The Lady Cyclones made it a local sweep with a huge margin of victory over second place Unicoi County.
Some people save their best for big moments and in the biggest moment of the year so far, Oxendine shined with flying colors.
“Today was my best day,” Oxendine said. “I knew I wanted to win. There was a little pressure, but that made me want to do better.”
It was his second jump where he won the competition, and as a result put his team in position to take home the league title.
“My second jump was the best jump,” Oxendine said. “They told me I need four more inches to get first and I gave it my all and it worked for me.”
The Happy Valley boys had many standouts on the day, and it was a total team effort en route to the championship.
Tyler Atkins won the boys high jump and it was an outstanding effort for the Happy Valley boys 4×100 relay team and the 4×200 relay team, as they were both winners.
Garrett Wood, Landon Baker, Lukas Oxendine and Will Rhew all had top three finishes for the Warriors.
For the Lady Warriors, Emily Holtsclaw backed up her conference championship in the 200-meter dash last year with a pole vault title this season.
Holtsclaw cleared 7-6 and tied the school record in the process. For the very humble Holtsclaw, she felt grateful for the opportunity to win a conference title in an event she is relatively new at.
“I would like to thank God for giving me the ability to be able to compete,” she said.
Happy Valley has an outstanding pole vault condition led by state runner up Matt Dalton in 2002, and Holtsclaw is now a part of that bond of being a championship pole vaulter.
“I never thought I would get this far this year, and it’s great to join in with everybody else,” she said.
The Lady Warriors had some other solid performances as well.
Alexis Hammons won the high jump for the Lady Warriors. Kaitlyn Simerly finished in the top three in several events.
The Elizabethton Lady Cyclones were nothing short of dominant, and one of the leaders of the pack was Katie May.
May, who had to go up against some tough competition earlier in the year, won the 100 hurdles and added a 300 hurdles title later.
May believes all the tough competition she was in earlier, prepared her for competition more Elizabethton’s size in school enrollment.
“A lot of those girls were running 14s and I think it really motivated me,” she said.
May hopes to make a splash at the subsectionals in Greeneville in two week. A little different strategy is helping as well.
“I three-stepped the hurdles some instead five-stepping all of them, and that really helped me,” she said.
Another key part of the Lady Cyclones banner day was Tori Cruz in the shot. She bounced back from a very rough discus throw to win her specialty event.
Cruz had a couple of very rough discus throws, and those struggles motivated her in the event she loves the most.
“I had to relax and focus on what I needed to get done,” she said. “I was looking out and seeing where I needed to throw and to not think about it so much, but go out there and do it.”
The Lady Cyclones were absolutely amazing on the day.
Kyra McCrary won the 200- and 400-meter dashes en route to winning sprinter of the event.
Abbi Pierce continued her dominance in the 1,600 meter run with a big win in conference.
Elizabethton also won the 4×200 and 4×100 relays.
Other top three finishers included Kayla Lyons, Mandi Largent, Haley Bell and Whitney Roberts.
It was a tough defeat for the Elizabethton boys falling by one point, but the Cyclones produced a solid team effort and continued to show the improvement they have exhibited since practice started.
Co-head coaches Aaron Wood and Craig Emmert had the Cyclones ready in all events, and overall it was another successful day not just for the girls, but for the boys as well.
Clayton Smith won the boys 100- and 200-meter dashes in very impressive fashion.
Nikolai Simpson won the boys shot put and discus throws.
The Cyclones also won the 4×400 relay.
Other top three finishers included Nick Honeycutt, Kyle Hinson, Cody Baker, Coby Atwell, Landon Pearson and Luke Blanton.
Several times in the Three Rivers track meet over the years, kids from other spring sports who are good athletes take a break and come to the event and actually do well.
In the case of Johnson County’s Jacob Henson, trading in his baseball cleats for track shoes proved to be a good decision on Tuesday.
Henson in his first track meet of the year, won the boys long jump with a jump of 19-02.50, defeating well know track star Cliff Hawkins from Sullivan East.
Henson didn’t let unfamiliarity wreck his day.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I thought he had read the measuring tape backwards. I was talking to one of my fellow teammates about jumping and he said you have to take it one jump at a time. I just had a good jump and got my feet up. You have to take it one step at a time.
The Longhorn track and field program has taken it one step at a time since making a stronger commitment a few years ago, first with Matt Bray and now with Penny Gentry. The Longhorn boys were rewarded with a tied for fourth-place finish, which is very respectable for a program low on numbers and one that has to compete with other sports for athletes.
Other top three finishers for the JCHS boys and girls included Samantha Cornett, Mikey Edington and Adhara Guzman.