AUSTINTOWN - The Warren G. Harding girls track team walked away from the Division I Austintown district final meet exhausted and nearly out of breath, but it was all well worth it.
The girls team took second place behind Solon and broke one district record in the process.
They didn't get much rest in between events, but after sophomore hurdler Aisha Jackson ran away with the 100-meter hurdles, earning a first-place finish with a time of 15.20, and sophomore Justice Richardson took second place in the 100-meter dash, just narrowly losing to heavily-favored winner Jelvon Butler (Solon), Jackson and Richardson made history.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding’s Justice Richardson competes in the women’s 100-meter dash on Friday at Austintown Fitch High School. Richardson finished second in the race.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Harding’s Nautica Hill crosses the finish line in the 400-meter dash on Friday.
They joined teammates Nautica Hill and Gariana Bercheni to claim the 4x200 relay crown and break the meet record.
"Our goal is to keep breaking records," Hill said.
The previous record, set in 2009 by Twinsburg, was 1:42.05, and the Raiders shattered it by posting a time of 1:40.76.
Harding and Solon were neck-and-neck the entire race, and the Raiders were holding onto to a narrow lead going into the final leg. Richardson got passed for a few split seconds in the final 100-meter stretch, but she battled back and gave her finish-line kick an extra push as she strode past Solon at the end to win
"I felt great," Richardson said. "I was just thinking take it home and win it for my team. The adrenaline pumping helped me overcome (the pressure). It boosted our confidence to win the 4x2. We know going into regionals we're in a good position to win."
Richardson, Jackson, Hill and Bercheni all barely got a chance to catch their breaths between events Friday night, but that's all a part of the process Harding coach Charles Penny instills in his team.
"It's hard, but our coaches help us prepare for it at practice, so it's not as bad as it would be," Hill said of participating in back-to-back events.
After the 4x200, Hill competed in the 400-meter dash, which she won in a landslide with a time of 58.33. Also, the girls qualified in the 4x100 relay with a third-place finish, and then Richardson stayed hot in sprints to place second in the 200 behind Butler again.
In the hurdles, Jackson took home two individual titles in the 100 and 300.
The girls' success underscores team's mission since day one - to get to the state meet in Columbus and, subsequently, win.
"Since the beginning of the season, our girls have one goal, and that's June 7. That's leaving Columbus with a state title," Penny said. "You can't win a state title in districts, but you can lose one in districts, and that keeps them focused."
The Harding girls were expected to move on to regionals, but the team that shocked a lot people were the Harding boys. The Raiders placed third overall and are sending multiple athletes to the regional meet.
"Overall, our boys actually had a better day than our girls did because the expectation for the girls was to move so many people on, and we failed at some of those events, and on the boys side they came in here just hoping to move on in some things and we ended up winning a district title in the shot," Penny said.
Harding's Ja'Von McCollough-Provitt and James Daniels served as the big one-two punch for the Raiders in the men's shot put, as they placed first and second, respectively, in the event to qualify for regionals. Marcus Boomer came in second place in the 400-meter dash and helped Harding place second in the 4x2. Jermanie Jones had a good showing in the 110-meter hurdles.
Despite Harding's efforts at districts, the Comets of Solon defeated the Raiders, 154-111, but Penny isn't worried. His eye is still on the main prize.
"It definitely helps (Solon) being at districts because adding another talented program in the district level makes that week of preparation that much more important," Penny said.