The South Forsyth girls track team gathered in a circle as the team results were announced at the Region 5-7A track meet on Wednesday in Milton.
The second-place team was announced: Lambert. A few War Eagles girls yelped. When South was announced next, the rest of the circle screamed in joy, the relief and ecstasy of an exceptionally narrow win washing over them.
The final tally: South 157, Lambert 156. The title came down to the very last leg of the very last event.
“It’s always been a battle between them and Lambert,” said Christine Shaw, South’s first-year head coach. “They were really looking to come out on top this year, and they got it done.”
At the county track championships a week earlier, South easily outpaced Lambert, winning by 41.5 points. But with Milton thrown in as a sixth team, the race for points would be more crowded.
Shaw was prepared for a tight finish, and she spent Tuesday’s practice briefing her team on what they needed to do in each race. She and the team followed the team standings as they developed on Wednesday, and halfway through, Shaw could see how close the War Eagles and Longhorns would stand.
Lambert’s Jordan Smith set a scorching pace in the sprints and helped deliver 40 points for the Longhorns on her own with a strong anchor leg in the 4x100 meter relay, a win in the 400 meters with a blazing time of 55.95, another win in the 200 meters, and the anchor leg in an easy victory in the 4x400.
But South countered Smith’s contributions with the top two finishers in the 100 meter dash, the second and third-place finishers in the 100 meter hurdles and first and third-place finishes in the 800 meters.
It looked as though one late kick would prove damaging for the War Eagles, as Kaylee DuPont surged ahead of West Forsyth’s Liz Galarza at the beginning of the last lap of the 3200 but was nipped by Galarza down the back stretch, finishing second.
That gave South a 144-140 lead with just the 4x400 to go, but with Lambert having two quality squads in that race, the War Eagles’ position looked precarious.
Karen Huynh knew that. The anchor for South’s B relay had the stakes in her head before the race started: Get fourth, or lose the meet for the team. When Huynh got the baton, she was in fifth.
But she caught West’s anchor down the back stretch, surged into the lead in the last 100 meters and finished fourth. At that moment, the War Eagles had the meet won.
“Our seed times were really close to each other,” Huynh said. “All of us just ran a couple milliseconds faster.”
The 13 points they got from the event – their A relay had finished second – was just enough to keep them a point clear of Lambert.
“Run with their hearts – that’s basically how we put it,” Shaw said. “We knew we had to get at least 12 points to tie and that they needed to run with every ounce of their heart that they had.”
The boys team title race was another tight battle, with Lambert beating Milton 163-162. The Longhorns had put in a strong day, with Jalen Kidd winning the long and triple jump, Colin Donnelly outrunning his seed time for a win in the 100 meters and Lee Keil winning the 800, but Milton kept pace.
The initial results of the 4x400 meter relay signaled a team title win for the Eagles, but the anchor leg of Milton’s A team, which came in third, dropped the baton after he crossed the line, a violation of the rules. The Eagles’ result was disqualified upon appeal, and Lambert took the win.
“It’s a meet – there’s rules to be followed,” Longhorns head coach John McCormick said. “It was a good meet. We’re happy with the results and the performance of the athletes.”