Hunt junior Jeremiah Ganaway clears the bar in the high jump during the Wilson Times Track Classic at Fike High in April. Ganaway, who cleared 6-8 at the meet, duplicated that at the NCHSAA 3-A East Regional and will carry the top seed into Saturday’s 3-A state championship at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. Sheldon Vick | Special to the Times
Fike sophomore Elijahwon Cooper, competing during the Wilson Times Track Classic in April, will be one of several high jumpers with a 6-4 regional mark competing in Saturday's NCHSAA 3-A championship in Greensboro. Sheldon Vick | Special to the Times
By Jimmy Lewis
Call them the prodigy and the experienced, soft-spoken speedster.
Hunt junior Jeremiah Ganaway picked up high jumping this year only after a share of a social media post found the eyes of Warrior jumps coach Will Edwards.
There, Edwards saw Ganaway, also a basketball player at Hunt, leaping through the air on his way to a dunk. Edwards persuaded Ganaway to come out to a practice, where the junior immediately posted a leap of six feet with no prior experience.
By the time the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A East Regionals rolled around, Ganaway, with more repetitions, achieved a jump of 6-8 — which was not only good enough to win the regional, but present as the top seed heading into Saturday’s NCHSAA 3-A championship at Irwin Belk Track on the campus of North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
The ascension of Kamarion Graham, a junior 100-meter dash phenom at Charles B. Aycock, has been far more pronounced. Graham, noted by CBA assistant coach Butch Bennett for his explosive opening strides out of the starting block, has racked up the accolades in a world where tenths of seconds always separate winners from losers. As the Wayne County champion, 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference champion and 3-A East regional champion, Graham also carries the No. 1 seed into Saturday’s state championship in the 100. His seed time of 10.67 is five-tenths of a second faster than Lawndale Burns senior Titus Toms.
Indeed, Ganaway and Graham represent the top state-championship contenders from The Wilson Times readership area, which will be represented by 13 entries. Southern Nash junior Cassidy Pennington, also running the 300-meter hurdles for the first time this year, won the East regional title last weekend at Swansboro High. But her seed time of 47.71 has her situated No. 6 behind a glut of qualifiers from the West and Midwest regions.
SHOOTING FOR 6-10
Ganaway has cleared the 6-8 mark twice this season. Not only did he use the height to win the 3-A East regional, but Ganaway pulled off the feat for the first time at the Wilson Times Track Classic. Although Ganaway possesses a 44-inch vertical, he had to learn to stop focusing on how high he could jump at the beginning and just focus on his approach.
“One of the big things at first that really worried him was how high could he jump,” Edwards said. “First, I told him we’ve got to take a step. We know you can jump. Let’s start focusing on what you do when you get over the pole.”
While the current NCHSAA 3-A record is 6-11, held by West Brunswick’s Derek Frink, the goal of Edwards and Ganaway is to clear 6-10 on Saturday — a mark which has been cleared in practice. By Ganaway’s senior year, the 7-foot plateau has been discussed as a possibility.
His 6-8 mark for seeding is two inches better than Hillsborough Orange sophomore Morgan Paschall. Fike sophomore Elijahwon Cooper looms as a contender after clearing 6-4 in the regional, which ties him for the No. 3 seed among seven competitors.“I believe I can hit 6-10 and win the championship,” Ganaway said. “I’ve done it before; I’ve just got to get consistent.”
The lofty 7-foot barrier has been tried in practice, with Ganaway striking the bar with his foot.
Prominence in the high jump could return to Wilson for the first time since 2012, when Fike’s Josh King leapt his way to the 3-A title at Ganaway’s top height of 6-8. That same year, King, a first-year participant in the triple jump, made it a double gold-medal performance when he authored an attempt of 47-9.
King’s haul establishes, if not extends, precedent for quick studies from the area doing well in field events.
“He’s got the natural ability, and that’s what helps him out,” Edwards said of Ganaway.
EVERY BIT COUNTS
To find a race in the 100 that CBA’s Graham didn’t win this season, you’ll have to go back to the NCRunners Eastern Tour No. 2 meet at Rocky Mount back on March 8. There, Graham, in a no-shame second-place effort, was foiled by Southern Nash junior Nadir Thompson. Thompson, the defending NCHSAA 3-A 200-meter champion, won’t be back to defend in that event after an injured hamstring derailed his hopes at regionals.
For Graham, the edge he carries to the end of the race in the 100 is birthed in the start.
“He is the fastest starter I’ve seen in nine years of coaching at any school,” Bennett said. “His start is phenomenal and catches some people by surprise.”
Although smaller in stature than some of his competitors, the unassuming Graham will not carry on conversation with his fellow competitors at the starting block. He’ll tune out all distractions, crouch in the blocks while saying a quick prayer, and wait for the starter’s gun. When the race is over, Graham, who will also run the 200 and be a part of CBA’s 4x200 relay entry, shuffles off the track for a brief conversation with Bennett.
But even then, after three years in the program, Bennett, now in his ninth year in Pikeville, doesn’t have to do a lot of coaching.
“I’m just staying confident,” Graham said. “I know I’ve got to come out to that explosive start. I know if I do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll be good.”
But in an environment where a 135-mile trek for Graham can be boiled down to just over 10 seconds, there’s no room for a failure at any stage of the routine.
“So much can happen in 10 seconds,” Bennett said. “He’s got to execute, and he knows it. It’s going to be close.”
CBA will also be represented by a number of qualifiers in both divisions.
Junior Arlanda Faulkner is seeded No. 11 out of 16 athletes in the 300 hurdles and will carry the No. 9 seed into the 100 hurdles. Senior Cyerra Carter is No. 5 in the shot put and earned the No. 10 seed in the triple jump.
In the shot put, senior Trevor Holt carries the No. 8 seed into Greensboro with a regional throw of 50-05.
A pair of area qualifiers reside in the 4x200, with CBA seeded No. 12 and Hunt at No. 14.
CBA will roll out the quartet of freshman Rico Dawson, junior Muhammad Brooks, senior Tahj Thacker and Graham. Hunt will be represented by junior Tyler Burns, senior Kemual Jones, senior Niseehm Tillery and senior Brandon Chapman.
The Warriors 4x100 relay quartet of Burns, sophomore Dionte Alston, Jones and Chapman garnered the No. 12 seed.