PIEDMONT — Piedmont High track and field coach Mark Mitchell always knows close to the point total the Bulldogs need to win a meet, but he rarely knows how his team will reach that total.
At this past weekend’s Class 3A state track meet in Selma, Piedmont’s boys reached Mitchell’s goal of 75 points, under the AHSAA system that awards 10 points for each individual first place, eight for second, six for third, five for fourth, etc.
That was enough to win a second straight state championship, 12 more points than second-place Greensboro. But, yet again, it didn’t come how Mitchell expected. Even so, the coach emphasized that how his team reacted to some unexpected ups and downs through the meet played a huge role in his Bulldogs winning.
Piedmont was tied for third after the first day of the two-day meet, and early on the second day, the Bulldogs were disqualified for an exchange violation in the 4x100 meter relay. Not receiving any points in one of the team’s strongest events didn’t sit well.
“I had a good view of it because I didn’t have an event that Saturday and I was in the stands and running back and forth getting people water,” Piedmont senior Exavyer Jackson said. “We started off with the 4x100, and we had a tragedy in it so everyone’s heads were down. It took Coach Mitchell coming up in the stands to pump everyone up again.”
Mitchell’s main targets for motivation were senior Denard Spears and junior C.J. Savage. The two were scheduled for the 100-meter dash in the late morning and the 200 meters in the early afternoon.
“I sat them down and showed them my sheet of what events we had left to show them how big of a part they played in what was left. I told them that whatever their body language was is what everyone was going to do,” Mitchell said. “At that point, Mitchell Bennefield still had to run the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles, we still had the 100 and 200 and we had the 4x400 left for our kids to do. If they started hanging their heads then we didn’t have a shot.
“I sat them down and said, ‘Look, if you can get your points out of the 100 and 200, Bennefield can get us some out of the hurdles and our 4x4 performs, we’re going to be fine.’”
Spears and Savage came through for the Bulldogs. Spears won both events and Savage finished second in the 200 and third in the 100. The finishes earned Piedmont 34 of its 75 points.
“Every track meet that we go to, Denard and I talk about finishing first and second,” Savage said. “In the 100, I finished third, but it still got us enough points to help us win state. It was a good accomplishment.”
Those points built Piedmont’s confidence as the Bulldogs were heading into the final event of the day, the 4x400 relay. Finishing third or better would clinch the championship, but fourth place and Greensboro not earning any points worked just as well.
Piedmont was fourth, which earned five points. Greensboro was 10th. Only the top eight finishers score points.
“We talked earlier in the year and knew it would come down to the final event, so we’ve used the same four kids all year long and haven’t made any changes,” Mitchell said. “They came through in the end just like we knew they would.”
Although Piedmont was coming off last year’s championship, Spears said repeating was anything but easy. The turning point in the season came when the Bulldogs won the Calhoun County track meet last month.
“Just looking at the numbers it almost seemed harder for us to win county than to win state,” Piedmont sophomore Wil Mitchell said. “When we won county, we almost had reassurance for state. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we knew we had a good chance.”
For Spears, Jackson and the rest of the Piedmont seniors, this past season was certainly a way to go out. The Bulldogs also made history, as well, winning the county, sectional and state meets in the same year for the first time in school history.
“It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before. I get to walk out with my head up and smiling,” Jackson said. “It was kind of devastating that in football, which is my favorite sport, we lost to the state championship team by one point, but track gave me the chance to brighten things back up and put a smile on my face.”
Brandon Miller is the prep sports writer at The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.