AUSTIN – While her teammates were letting it sink in, Hope Thomas couldn’t contain the smile as it spread across her face.
The Blum girls track team had just set a new 1A state record in the mile relay with a time of 4:10.09.
But that wasn’t what Thomas was thrilled about.
The mile relay win helped secure a first-place finish for Blum in the team standings with 52.50 points at the UIL State Track meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
Thomas, Gentrye Munden, Harley Scott and Emma Rodriguez struggled to put into words what that meant. Some called it amazing while senior Thomas said it was a nice note to go out on.
While winning the entire meet was a bit indescribable for them, it didn’t take Munden long to pinpoint how she and her teammates were able to keep such a dominant pace in the mile relay.
“Last year it was taken from us,” Gentrye Munden said. “Right at the finish line we were in second. It got taken. I didn’t want to feel that again. I couldn’t feel that again. It felt good to push through that.”
Earlier in the day, Vivi Benitez didn’t have that kind of experience to pull from as she wasn’t hitting her marks.
The Iredell sophomore – competing in the UIL state track meet for the first time – tried to settle her nerves as she took the runway after scratching her first two attempts.
In the weeks preceding the meet in Austin, Benitez hadn’t had any trouble with her marks.
Now when it finally counted, she kept missing.
“I was kind of scared,” Benitez said. “After my fourth jump, I got 16-07. I got more confidence out of that.”
So much so to propel her from a 16-09¾ to a 17-10½ - a personal best and enough to win gold in the 1A girls long jump.
“I’m definitely really excited,” Benitez said. “I hope to be here next year.”
Benitez’s mark was 3¾ inches longer than Jonesboro’s Ella Anttila who finished second.
Earlier in the day, the foreign exchange student from Finland picked up a gold in the triple jump with a jump of 39-1½, breaking the conference 1A record that was set in 2013 by Madison Williamson of Blum.
“It’s been really run,” Anttila said. “Things are really different here than in Finland. I like it. But the weather is a lot warmer.”
Also picking up a silver medal on Friday was Bosqueville’s Grahm Gonzalez in pole vault.
It was down to Gonzalez and Albany’s Ethen Bernstein.
Bernstein missed his first attempt at 15-9, while Gonzalez sailed above the bar with ease.
But then Bernstein moved the bar up to 16-0.
“He upped it because if he would have made it on his second attempt and then missed at 16-0, I would have automatically won,” Gonzalez said. “Instead he skipped to 16-0. He made it on his first attempt. He got an awesome jump.”
That left Gonzalez with three attempts to clear 16-0. But the senior just couldn’t get it done.
“That’s a familiar bar for me,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve hit it 100 times in practice. You just have one of those days.”
With his high school career over with a bronze (2015), gold (2016) and now silver (2017) at the state meet in pole vault, Gonzalez is now counting down the days to when he returns to Austin as a walk-on for Texas’ track program.
Jibrael Washington also closed out his high school track career at Mike A. Myers Stadium Friday afternoon.
The University senior matched his personal best with a high jump of 6-8 to earn the bronze.
“My track career was a work in progress,” Washington said. “My freshman year I didn’t do track at all. My sophomore year was terrible. Junior year is when I actually started to progress. This year has just been amazing. I never imagined I’d get this far.”
As the seniors closed out their high school careers on the medal stand, junior Tashundra Reeves was already setting goals for her senior season before the silver medal was placed around her neck.
The Mexia junior, after finishing the prelims in eighth, threw a personal best of 41-6 in the shot put which landed her in second place.
“I was really, really nervous,” Reeves said. “I had never been this far before. I usually just make it to regionals. Last year I placed fifth in regionals. This year I made it all the way to state. I think I just had the determination to make it further than last year.”
For Robert Robuck, he just wanted to get back to state.
The Jonesboro senior advanced to state as a freshman but failed to return to Austin the past two seasons.
Friday evening, he won silver in the 100 and 200 along with a bronze in the 400.
“It was really important for me to come back to state,” Robuck said. “I had to finish what I started.”
As Robuck eyed a successful return, Morgan Whitfield had his eyes on the clock.
Entering state, the Iredell sophomore was merely .03 seconds behind the fastest time at the state meet.
All he needed at state was .02 – the difference between him and second place – as Whitfield won gold in the 110 hurdles.
“This medal makes me a lot more confident now,” Whitfield said. “That other dude (from Paducah) is a senior. It’s a really good feeling.”
Blum’s Thomas also had a time she was gunning for.
Entering the state meet, Thomas knew she had run faster than her qualifying time (48.36) which was the third fastest in the 300 hurdles.
On Friday, Thomas ran a 47.19.
“I felt pretty confident coming in,” Thomas said. “I felt like I could get first.”
And she did.
As the Blum girls team finished first, the boys team ended up second in the standings behind podium finishes by all three relays and a second-place finish in the 400 by Logan Bellinger.