In a parallel universe in which the only difference is the absence of a COVID-19 outbreak, this week would mark the GHSA track and field state championships.
Within that alternate timeline, Woodland’s McKenna Trapheagen might have secured victories in the 1600- and 3200-meter runs to add two more individual state titles to her four combined championships in cross country. It would also be possible for Cartersville’s Nick Bebko to claim the Class 4A pole vaulting crown.
Truthfully, any number of Bartow County track and field athletes could have found themselves on podiums across Georgia this week in a scenario in which the state championships were held. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that wasn’t the case in this reality.
It means seniors like Trapheagen and Bebko will graduate without getting one final opportunity to go out as champions.
“That’s very depressing,” Canes head coach Emerson Bridges said in regards to the seniors. “What we have to remind ourselves of is that we only control what we can control. We had no control over that. … We just have to roll with it and move on. I still think we’re going to land on our feet. I think those young people are going to be successful in anything they choose to do.”
Bridges fully expected Bebko, who qualified for state last season, to win it all this year, but he also was looking forward to big things out of several of his athletes.
“The season was looking promising,” Bridges said. “We were headed in the right direction. I’ve got young people who were going to contribute quite a bit to the program.”
Among the Cartersville standouts eligible to return next season, Bill Archer will be the only one with experience competing at state, having placed 10th in the 1600 last spring. He could be joined in the distance finals by rising sophomore Sidney Stegall, who posted the fastest time for the Canes cross country team at last fall’s state meet.
There’s also several underclassmen runners on the girls side who will be looking to advance out of the region next season. All in all, Bridges has high expectations moving forward, having called this year’s team “probably the best we’ve had at Cartersville since I’ve been here.”
“If God’s willing and everything works,” he said, “we’ll be sitting in the catbird seat next year, I think.”
Woodland head coach David Holloway is likewise looking ahead to 2021. He is intrigued by the idea of having Cartersville join Woodland and Cass in the new Region 7-AAAAA.
That being said, Holloway is certainly disappointed to see so many terrific seniors have their last year cut short.
Trapheagen was chief among those 12th-graders. After having finished second in the 3200 and third in the 1600 last year, she was looking to close out her storied career with a track title or two before competing at Georgia Tech.
“She was really looking forward to making up for her junior year, when we thought she was maybe going to take one of the 1600 or 3200,” Holloway said. “She didn’t quite get there. She got close. She was hoping to kind of make up for that, but she has a great resume still and is a great champion.”
There were several other Woodland seniors who looked set to produce grand final statements, even if they weren’t likely to wind up as state champions. But with the shortened season, many were unable to achieve what they were hoping, be it setting a school record or eclipsing a time benchmark.
Those included 400-meter specialists Bella Carnes and Jeven Reliford, as well as pole vaulter Tommy Duke, who will be walking on at Charlotte.
“A lot of seniors I kind of felt bad for, because they couldn’t finish out their season and end like they wanted to after committing, most of them, four years with the program,” Holloway said. “I’m sure it was tough for them to end this way.”
So tough that Cass head coach Danny Fairbanks half-jokingly said he wishes his Class of 2020 athletes could come back for one more go around.
“It was devastating,” Fairbanks said of the way the season ended. “Really disappointing for the kids and for us as coaches.
“We felt we were going to have a promising year with some of our senior boys. I thought we had a good group of seniors boys who really were going to show out this year and show what they can really do. There were some younger kids, some juniors, who were going to do some good things, too.”
Among those Fairbanks looked for to have great seasons were hurdler Nigel Whittington, shot-putter Johnny Bootz and discus thrower Ian Herman. Cynthia Barron, who was in the early stages of her only season with the Colonels, represented the team’s lone senior girl.
According to Fairbanks, Whittington had the highest ceiling of the group.
“He has excelled in the hurdles,” Fairbanks said. “Every year, he’s gotten better. …
“This year, he was one of the top runners in the state. He wasn’t the top runner, but he was definitely one of the top runners in the hurdles this year in the state. We were looking forward to him fulfilling that opportunity.”
Cartersville and Woodland each managed to squeeze in three meets during the truncated season. Cass had a pair of varsity meets before the season was canceled, while Adairsville only competed once. And in that instance, the Tigers could only send a partial team to Southeast Whitfield due a scheduling conflict with Adairsville’s JROTC Raiders team, as many individuals are part of both squads.
Tigers head coach Terry Gough didn’t mind at the time, because he assumed there would be plenty more opportunities for his athletes to compete this spring. That turned out not to be the case.
“You do this because you like to compete, so when that’s taken away from you and you don’t get to compete, that’s kind of a downer,” Gough said. “The whole thing is so weird. Nothing has sunk in yet. …
“You don’t really know what to think. It’s just so different. I think that’s the best way you can put it. It’s just different. I hope it doesn’t last.”
While there’s several reasons Gough hopes things begin to return to normal, an obvious one is looking to avoid another lost track and field season. He just started working closely with the middle school program, so he’s hoping that is able to resume next spring, as well.
“We should have actually a pretty decent team next year, well rounded,” Gough said. “I don’t know exactly what’s coming up from the middle school, because we haven’t been down there very long. As far as girls go, that’s kind of a year-to-year thing. Sometimes they come out; sometimes they don’t. …
“I’m always hopeful. I’m always expecting something good is going to happen.”