40 Fourth: Lady Panthers set program mark at state track meet
After taking the district and regional ranks by storm, the Plano East girls track and field team raised the bar a bit further Saturday at the UIL Class 5A State Championships.
But in a whirlwind of emotions for all involved at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, the Lady Panthers were no different in finishing a program-best fourth place in the team standings with 40 points.
East's quest for the first UIL team title in school history fell 10 points short of DeSoto (50), with Garland capturing second (46) and Mansfield Timberview claiming third (41).
All 40 of East's points were earned on the shoulders of senior Jennifer Madu, who finished her high school track career in banner fashion with a quartet of first-place finishes in the 100- (11.53) and 200-meter (24.03) dashes, plus the long jump (19-8 3/4) and triple jump (42-4 1/4). Madu successfully defended her state titles in the 100 and triple jump -- the latter a new personal record -- while also claiming gold in the two events that eluded her in last year's run through state.
"Four gold medals is a great accomplishment," Lillie said. "She's a tremendous athlete and a great overall young lady, and we're very happy that she rose to the occasion and finished all four events like her goal was."
The goals and expectations bore significance on an individual and team level, with the latter perhaps leaving East wondering what could have been in its departure from Austin at the conclusion of the 4x100 relay.
The Lady Panthers' logged a DNF in the event after a hand-off between first-leg sprinter Milaun Mack and second-leg Judith Imojah went awry.
"Talking with the girls," Lillie said, "I guess as the baton got in her hand, it was just on her fingertips and not all the way in her palm. They went just a little bit too far to try and put it back in and by the time they did, they were already out of the exchange zone."
With senior Madison Hansen and Madu waiting in the wings as the third and fourth legs, East's chance at a finish never materialized, which may have shaken up the final team standings.
With point values doubling for relays, a finish of third or higher would have given the Lady Panthers the requisite total to surpass DeSoto and claim a state team title.
"It's really unfortunate and with the times we had been running, we could definitely compete," Lillie said. "Looking back on it, it's unfortunate that we didn't get to see what we could have done, but it's an experience that will make all these girls stronger later on in life."
Hansen rounded out East's date with state by placing ninth in the 300 hurdles (45.37) in her state debut.
A similar experience was shared by Plano Senior sophomore Taylor Pegram, who mustered seventh in the 100 hurdles (14.51).
"It was a good experience," said Gene Cahill, Plano head coach. "I think [Pegram] was a bit nervous, but it was a good experience for her just being a sophomore out there and it's a great thing to come back and have two more years at it."
Also enjoying the Austin experience for the first time were the entrants from Plano West, which advanced its first-ever sprinter and relay to state.
The end game featured senior Carlos Wiggins placing ninth in the 200 (21.62) while also finishing ninth (1:27.23) as a leg on the Wolves' 4x200 relay alongside junior Jason Stephens, senior Matt Owoseni and junior Oshen Matheson.
A bit more experience was enjoyed by the East senior trio of Corey Bassett, Dante Taylor and Nathan Meadors, who returned for another run through the 4x100 relay. Joined by senior Tre Jones, the Panthers placed fourth in the race (41.24). Bassett also saw action in the 100, where he raked in a seventh-place run (10.65). That rounded out the sprinter's career with the Panthers as teams now turn toward the offseason, embracing the goals attained at state and setting new ones going forward.
"It's a process and [we are] very excited to get back at it for next year," Cahill said.