LYNCHBURG — Coming down the final 100-meter stretch and toward the finish line, a bright smile burst across the face of Jessica Cantrell as the moment sank in.
In that instant — one the Broadway senior said gave her “the best feeling ever” — it hit her that she had made history and accomplished a goal she had set her freshman year.
“It feels absolutely amazing and indescribable,” Cantrell said. “Everyone is hungry for that title and I felt a lot of pressure to win again.”
Cantrell did just that, winning the girls 1600 on Saturday at the Virginia High School League Class 3 state track and field championships at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
It was the second state title of Cantrell’s career after she won the same race at the VHSL Class 3 indoor track and field championships in February.
“Finishing this year with two state titles is everything that I have worked for my entire high school career,” Cantrell said. “That has always been my goal since freshman year. I honestly never thought I would actually get one and it’s just awesome.”
Cantrell’s win was one of four gold medals the Gobblers took home for the day with Blake Phillips winning the boys 300 hurdles, Easton Repko winning the boys pole vault and the 4x400 boys relay team of Phillips, Michael Sheets, Evan Armentrout and Lewis Slater also getting a first-place finish.
Tabb (74) took home the boys team title while Broadway (41) finished sixth — best among the three city/county teams competing — Fort Defiance ninth (27) and Turner Ashby was 13th (23). Spotswood did not score any points.
On the girls side, Heritage-Lynchburg won with 84 points while the Trailblazers (20) were 13th, Broadway (18) was 15th and Turner Ashby (7) finished 22nd.
“You get out what you put in,” Repko said. “It’s satisfying to know all the extra practices really paid off. The track team had become family to me and they make me proud to be a Gobbler.”
Repko’s leap of 14 feet was good enough to defeat Western Albemarle’s Ricky Weikle (13-06) and New Kent’s Will Tolley (12-06).
Like Cantrell, the win was the second state title for Repko, who won the same event during the indoor season with Weikle once again finishing just behind him as the runner-up.
“Outdoor was the most memorable one because it was the last time me and Ricky battled it out,” Repko said. “We have always pushed each other at each meet we competed in. Not having him there next year will be very different.”
Next year, Repko has already set his sights on winning both the indoor and outdoor state titles again, reaching a height of 14 feet, 6 inches and qualifying for nationals, he said.
For seniors like Cantrell and Phillips, however, Saturday was the perfect cap to their high school careers.
“It felt great knowing that in my last race, I was able to finish off the season with a win,” Phillips said. “Not many people get to say that their senior year. I couldn’t dream of a better way to finish off my last race. It makes leaving a little more easier.”
Phillips ran a blistering 39.73 in the 300 hurdles to win gold over Western’s Connor Pearson (40.81) and I.C. Norcom’s Nathaniel Whitaker (40.93).
After finishing as an all-state performer during his freshman season and continued improvement throughout his career, Phillips said he thought a state championship was a possibility, but he still wasn’t able to fully grasp what he had just accomplished.
“When I first crossed the finish line, it felt like any other race,” Phillips said. “It wasn’t until I stepped off the track when it started to settle in that I was a state champion.”
That feeling was one several other city/county athletes got close to experiencing, but ultimately finished just short of.
Turner Ashby’s Zach Gery (50-01.00) finished second in the boys shot put behind Tabb’s Zach Coldsnow (55-09.25) while Spotswood’s Mary Milby (2:19.00) was second in the girls 800 and was a member of the Trailblazers’ third-place 4x800 relay team along with Mary-Ruth Shifflett, Kathryn Lamm and Jamie Milby.
“I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, but I know I can do better and I’m willing to work that much harder to make my performance even better next year,” Milby said. “Coming in as runner-up is always a motivation to me for my next races. I’m definitely more motivated now than I was before and I’m excited to see what I can do next year.”
Gery, a junior, will also be back next year and said despite hitting his goal of 50 feet in the shot put, he still left motivated to accomplishing more in the future.
“It tells me I have to try harder to get where I want to be,” Gery said. “My performance wasn’t my best, but I gave it all I had to go for the win. Being runner-up just means I’m one step closer to the top spot.”
Broadway finished with a city/county-high six all-state performances from the boys — Phillips (first, 300 hurdles), Repko (first, pole vault), Yates Hall (fifth, high jump), Michael Sheets (sixth, 400) and Justin Collier (fifth, shot put) and the 4x400 relay team (first) — while the girls brought home two with Cantrell’s gold and Mia Ryan finishing fourth in the 400.
The TA boys had five all-state performers with Sam Quesenberry earning a third-place finish in the 400 and fifth in the 200 while Gery was runner-up in the shot put, Will Eckard was sixth in the high jump and Jeremy Christian was eighth in the high jump
“At the end of the meet, I realized how far I’ve come in four years and it hit me hard,” Quesenberry said. “The local [Valley District] coaches and athletes were congratulating me and I’m truly blessed to have competed for Turner Ashby. I finished with [personal records] against fierce competitions and that was a dream come true.”
Turner Ashby’s Avery Miller finished fifth in the girls shot put with a toss of 34 feet, 10.75 inches while Spotswood’s Elena Luhn (5-00) was sixth in the high jump.
The Trailblazers also got a pair of all-state boys performers in Aidan Sheahan, who finished fifth in the 800, and Kevin McKinney (fourth, 300 hurdles).
Fort Defiance’s 4x800 boys relay team took home first place while Michael Wonderley got sixth in the 300 hurdles, Jacob Jones earned silver in the 800 and Traevon Winston was seventh in the discus throw.
In the VHSL Class 5 track and field competition and Todd Stadium in Newport News, Harrisonburg’s Hannah Miller was the lone all-state performer with a seventh-place finish in the 1600.
“It was an awesome experience to finish up the year with such an exciting all-state performance,” Milby said. “Finishing up so high in the ranking is only making me realize that I do have the potential to really improve and I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
Repko said he’s also looking forward to next year.
With two state titles under his belt, the Broadway junior admitted that while he has a lot of pride in what he’s accomplished, he also feels some pressure as well.
“This leaves me with a target on my back for the title next year and a lot of goals to complete,” Repko said. “Being able to clinch the title twice this year is a goal that I hope to achieve next year as well.”
After a hard-fought race finished with her second state gold to cap off her senior year, Cantrell said she couldn’t hide her smile as she crossed the finish line.
Before she joins James Madison in the fall to continue her running career at the Division I level, she said she now realizes the legacy she leaves behind in the halls of Broadway.
“I like to think that I, along with others, have set a high standard of setting records and winning state championships,” Cantrell said. “To earn those feats requires a lot of hard work, determination and sacrifice.
“I hope that my name stays in the record book for a long time and that I can be look back on as one of the great athletes to pass through Broadway High School.”