By Heather Bremer
For The Herald Bulletin
It didn’t take long for Pendleton Heights junior Kiawna Cottrell to stake her claim to a spot in the girls track state finals at Tuesday night’s North Central Regional.
On her first attempt at the long jump, the Arabians met the state standard of 17 feet, 4 inches.
“That started the night out right,” Pendleton Heights coach Melissa Hagerman said.
It only got better from there.
The Arabians compiled three individual titles, three school records, an unexpected performance from the 4x800-meter relay team and a fourth-place finish in one of the best regional performances in recent school history.
“There’s tears all over the place, happy tears, of course,” Hagerman said. “It’s such a wonderful feeling to see them so excited. ... Don’t ever think this is easy. The time that I’ve watched Kiawna spend on the track, the time the distance girls spend training. They worked really hard for it. It was an amazing night.”
Cottrell was the winner of two of those regional championships. After hitting the state standard in long jump, she added five more inches, taking first with a jump of 17 feet, 9.75 inches. But it was that first attempt that really set the tone for her.
“It got my adrenaline going. All I wanted to do when I came here was make it to state in something, I didn’t care what,” Cottrell said. “So after I did that, I was feeling really good and confident about everything else.”
The Arabians junior carried that confidence into the 400-meter run. Undeterred by a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter dash (12.53 seconds), Cottrell bested the field in the 400, posting a school-record 57.55.
By those championship performances, you would never know the stacked field at the North Central Regional made Cottrell nervous. She admits to feeling those nerves, but she also thinks it pushed her to do better.
“I’ve been working really hard this year, and I knew I could definitely come out here and compete with the best,” she said. “I’m really happy with that.”
PH freshman Alex Buck will join Cottrell at the state meet as the 3,200-meter run regional champion. Buck dominated the race from start to finish, finding a little extra gas in that final lap that surprised even her. It also gave the first-year runner, who had been struggling with injury and was disappointed by her sectional time, the school record.
Buck intends to approach her first state meet with a lot of enthusiasm.
“As a freshman, I’m new to this so I’ve never prepared for state before, so it will be a fun experience the first time around,” Buck said. “I’m really excited to see what’s to come this coming week.”
Pendleton Heights’ final school record came via the Arabians’ 4x800 relay team, which galloped to a third-place finish and a berth into the state finals. Pendleton Heights finished with a time of 9:48.85.
“When our fastest time of the season was that sectional time, 10:05, I never imagined we would be under 10 minutes,” Hagerman said.
Hagerman said each girl on the squad — seniors Emma Manchess and Anna Dudley, sophomore Micalah Booher and freshman Monica Dudley — hit her marks on her splits, vaulting them into school history and the biggest meet of their careers. But their coach isn’t too worried about how they’ll do next weekend at the Bloomington finals.
“They hadn’t been here (regional) before, so I don’t think that will intimidate them,” Hagerman said.
Morgan Tarlton of Lapel and Taylor Potts of Anderson rounded out the contingent of Madison County athletes making the trip to Bloomington for the state meet.
Tarlton finished second in the discus. Her throw of 126 feet, 5 inches beat third-place Anna Logan of Chatard by 4 feet. But it was almost 40 behind first-place Adriana Brown of Lawrence Central, whose toss of 165 feet, 4 inches was a new meet record by 20 feet and tied the state meet record.
Potts threw 42 feet, 3.5 inches in the shot put to place third, just two feet behind Brown. While she “let her mind just be free” as she prepared for this week’s meet, Potts, a senior facing her final meet, will take a different tact in Bloomington.
“I’ll practice more on my technique and make sure my technique is down pat more than I focus on my distance,” Potts said. “That’s what I’ll try to do and just let my distance ride out when I compete.”
Cottrell, for her part, will keep doing what she’s been doing. The Arabian junior has seen personal bests in every meet since conference and intends to set new ones next weekend. It will help that she will have a large group of teammates with her to share the experience.
“It will be a lot easier,” Cottrell said. “I’ll have people there cheering me on. I’ll be cheering them on. I think it will help a lot.”