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Forget, for a moment the Hunt-Fike rivalry producing bragging rights at the county level.
Should the seeds prove true for Friday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A high jump championship, then either the Warriors or Golden Demons will lay claim to a state champion.
Fike junior Elijahwon Cooper and Hunt senior Jeremiah Ganaway, coming off performances at last weekend’s NCHSAA 3-A East regional, carry the top two seed attempts into the championship at Irwin Belk Track on the campus of North Carolina A&T at 6 feet, 10 inches. Cooper, after clearing the bar on his second attempt at that distance in the East regional meet at the University of Mount Olive, claimed the regional title after Ganaway required all three of his attempts to clear.
Both dwarf a four-way tie for third at 6-4, which includes Midwest Regional champion Rashawn Pleasant of Northern Guilford.
It will be the third trip to a state championship meet for Cooper, who also qualified in the long jump and triple jump. Cooper was the only 3-A state medalist from The Wilson Times readership area last year, clearing a season best 6-6 on his third and final attempt before failing to get by 6-8. Thus, Cooper finished second at the hands of Concord’s Gabe Stainback.
Cooper attributed the use of bungee cords during practice as a way to not fear the impact of hitting the bar in flight.
“In practice, my coach (Sonny West) put the bungee cords on the high jump up to seven feet,” Cooper said. “He always told me to approach it hard and jump really hard, then in the meet when the real bar is up, I won’t be intimidated.”
The 6-10 seed of both Cooper and Ganaway is also one inch shy of the NCHSAA 3-A meet record, set by Derek Frink of West Brunswick in 1995.
West believes Cooper’s experience from his first two years as an underclassman will serve him well on his third trip to Greensboro.
“I think it’s very big because he actually qualified for states his freshman year,” West said. “I think that’s why he was able to go to the state meet and perform well because it was his second time being there. He really didn’t have any nerves; he got that out of the way his freshman year.”
Cooper will be busy checking in and out of events, as he enters with the No. 5 seed in the triple jump (44-5) and the No. 10-ranked athlete in the long jump (21-9.5).
By contrast, Ganaway arrives for his second try at the state meet after exploding onto the scene as a jumping prodigy during his junior year. A share of a social media post seen by Warriors jump coach Will Edwards, where Ganaway defied gravity in dunking a basketball, prompted an invite to practice. There, Ganaway integrated himself into the Hunt jumping program, ultimately producing a regional championship at 6-8 as a junior.
However, by the time last year’s state championship meet rolled around, the physical toll on Ganaway’s legs had taken hold. Early scratches at elementary heights, including the championship opener at 5-10, left him with little left to stay in the competition past 6-2. Ganaway finished eighth, an outcome that Edwards took responsibility for then. He still does.
“Last year, I honestly take the blame on that,” Edwards said. “I felt like going into it, I made him jump a little too much. It was probably more my fault than Jeremiah’s fault. But now, we’re used to it and we know what to do. We’re ready to take a little different approach this year.”
That involves finding an appropriate middle ground, where Ganaway has focused more on his technique as a senior as opposed to raw athleticism.
“As far as technique goes, he’s a lot better from last year in his technical approach,” Edwards said of Ganaway. “He actually looks like a high jumper this year.”
As far as the Hunt-Fike aspect of matters go, both camps consider the Cooper-Ganaway rivalry to be of the friendly variety.
“It’s going to be something really exciting on Friday,” Edwards said. “The two of them, whenever they’re going, they’ll tell each other what they’re doing wrong and what they can do better. They go and compliment each other and it’s just really good sportsmanship when you see the two of them together, and there’s that rivalry there, that competition. We always want to be Fike, that’s a good thing for us, and Fike always wants to beat Hunt. But at the end of the day, it’s about having a lot of talent in Wilson and representing this state and county really well.”
Added Ganaway: “The city has a big rivalry to it, because we play each other in basketball. We don’t act like some of them. I hope he does good and that I do good, but we used to play together. He’s cool; he’s really cool.
The last time a Wilson product won the high jump was in 2012, when Fike’s Josh King cleared 6-8 as part of a double-gold showing with the triple jump. Cooper assured his second-place showing was enough motivation to return with a championship in mind.
“It’s kind of a friendly rivalry,” Cooper said. “I motivate him and he motivates me.”
The 3-A meet, weather permitting, will run concurrently with the 1-A championship Friday. Action shifts to the 2-A and 4-A classifications Saturday.
TOUGH ROAD FOR EAST CHAMPS
On the whole, most of the other seven regional champions from the area will face stern challenges in making it to the podium.
Southern Nash senior Nadir Thompson, who won the 3-A 200-meter dash title as a sophomore, emerged from a limited spring season to win the East regional in the 100 and 200, as well as being the leadoff runner in the Firebirds’ 4x200 relay that emerged as regional champions.
But Thompson will be starting in the second preliminary heats Friday in Greensboro. He’ll take the No. 9 seed into the 100 and the No. 10 spot into the 200 with a time of 22.45. The Virginia Tech signee for football won the 200 as a sophomore in 21.55.
In the 4x200, Thompson will team with senior Dae’One Wilkins, junior Zonovan Knight and junior Darius Edmundson from the No. 7 seed. Knight, a running back for the Firebirds football program, has verbally committed to Duke.
Charles B. Aycock’s 4x100 boys relay team, despite winning the East regional crown, enters as the No. 9 seed in 43.30. Senior Kamarion Graham, senior Tayquan Hampton, senior Rico Dawson and sophomore Alijuan Moore make up the quartet, with Moore as the anchor leg.
Yet firmly in the championship conversation in 2-A is Beddingfield after the Bruins won the boys 4x100 relay East regional title. The team of sophomore Johnathon Harris, Travon Newsome, junior Zach Adams and senior Aaron Bland hold the No. 2 seed at 42.8. Only Marshville Forest Hills and its time of 42.47 was quicker in regional competition.
In 1-A, sophomore Jeremiah Deans will represent an exceedingly rare appearance in NCHSAA competition for Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf. Deans, who was entered in the 1-A East Regional shot put at Pender High and won it with his throw of 43-10, is seeded No. 8 in the field of 16 hurlers.
Following is the complete list of other area state entries, by school and event. The seed, along with the accompanying seed time or mark, is also listed, along with class.
Hunt: Clarence Ward (No. 16, triple jump, 42-6.5, junior)
Fike: Davis Nicol (No. 16, pole vault, 11-6, junior)
C.B. Aycock: Kamarion Graham (No. 12, 100-meter dash, 11.15, senior); Deshawn Owens (No. 15, 1,600-meter run, 4:32.68, senior; Arlanda Faulkner (No. 14, 100 hurdles, 15.93, senior)
Southern Nash: (No. 11, 4x100 relay, 43.32, Wilkins, Thompson, Knight, Edmundson)
Beddingfield: Makayla Everette (No. 10, discus, 107-7, sophomore); Shimega Jackson (No. 15, triple jump, 32-3.5, senior); Zy’ree Wilder (No. 12, triple jump, 42-0.5, junior); Shamya Best (No. 14, 100 hurdles, 17.19, sophomore); Aaron Bland (100 dash, No. 5, 11.04, senior); 4x200 relay (No. 9, Harris, Adams, Jalil Hutcherson, Newsome, 1:31.50); Ihjanae Cooper (No. 12, 300 hurdles, 50.56, freshman).
North Johnston: 4x800 relay (No. 16, Mackenzie Swartz, Sydney Swartz, Mary Catherine Davis, Haley Bunn, 12:03.30); Tatiana Powell (No. 9, 200 dash, 26.13, freshman).