Unsung Heroes Mar 11 Week: Higher, Better, Faster, Stronger

Kilaya Lucien winning her heat of the 400m at the MTFXCCGA Invitational

Week of Mar 6 - Mar 11 Unsung Heroes Week 4: Higher, Better, Faster, Stronger

Somehow, we are already halfway between the first track meets and the last region meets of the 2023 season! It's gone by quickly for me, but the athletes have already been training for at least two months. For some athletes, the training began back in December or November. And for a few seniors, the groundwork for this season was laid years ago. This week, I'm honoring seniors here at Unsung Heroes. Seniors who are in their final semester of high school are making a significant sacrifice by simply participating in track and field. However, the seniors mentioned below are not merely participants but actively improving and striving for region or state success.

"Unsung Heroes" recognizes some great individual performances from this past week across the state of Georgia that might have flown under the radar or gone underappreciated. One winner is selected from each of five disciplines (sprints, hurdles, distance, jumps, and throwing events) for both boys and girls. Enjoy!

Girls Winners



Kilaya Lucien, Shiloh

         58.94 in 400m at MTFXCCGA Invitational, 3rd

         26.20 in 200m at MTFXCCGA Invitational, 15th

One of the most competitive meets of the weekend was the Minority Track & Field and XC Coaches of GA Invitational held at McEachern. Every event, and especially the sprinting events, contained standouts who could compete in any classification. That is good news for Shiloh senior Kilaya Lucien, who will have to run against the top girls in 6A if she wants to advance in the postseason. Impressively, Lucien is putting together her best season so far, running a PR in both the 400m and 200m at McEachern last week. In the 400, Lucien finished first in her heat by almost a full second, and her new personal best ranks in the top 10 in 6A so far this season. She'll look to make it to the state meet for the first time and keep improving as the season progresses.



Shaniah McDaniel and Da'Nya Satterfield, Kennesaw Mountain

        15.30 (McDaniel) and 15.34 (Satterfield) in 100mH at Kennesaw Mtn Varsity Meet, 1st and 2nd

In other sports, having two elite teammates can be burdensome because only one can have the ball at once, or one teammate could be taking another's playing time. In track and field, it's the more, the merrier. If you have one high-level 100m-hurdler, you can score double the points with two! That's the enviable position Kennesaw Mountain holds now with seniors McDaniel and Satterfield. Last season, the two hurdlers finished an agonizing 9th and 10th at the state meet prelims in the 100m hurdles, both less than 0.05 seconds from qualifying for the finals. Luckily, it appears that McDaniel and Satterfield have continued improving, both nearly setting PRs at their home meet last week and easily finishing 1-2.



Francie Butts, Chapel Hill

         5:25.84 in 1600m at Carrollton Invitational, 1st

         11:52.8 in 3200m at Carrollton Invitational, 1st

Francie Butts has quietly been running blazing fast times for four years now at Flowery Branch. Dating back to her freshman season, she's finished in the top 30 at the XC state meet three times and qualified for the past two track and field state meets in the 3200m. However, after missing the most recent XC season and entering her senior track season, Butts had something to prove. She responded by running her fastest race in nearly two years at the Carrollton Invitational, winning both the 1600m and 3200m against good competition (especially in the 1600). Don't be surprised if Butts scores her first points at the state meet this May.



Dru Green, Carrollton

127' 1" in Discus Throw at Carrollton Invitational, 1st

34' 3" in Shot Put at Carrollton Invitational, 2nd

Elsewhere at the Carrollton Invitational, Dru Green was busy throwing the discus at a distance of 127' 1", ranking among the top 10 performances in GA this season so far. Green has been practicing the discus since at least sixth grade, and her MileSplit page is the definition of steady improvement. Here are her season bests in the discus each year since 2017 (excluding 2018): 72', 90', 95', 107', 118', and now 127'. Her most recent throw marked a four-foot improvement over her previous PR, set just a few weeks earlier. Green also tossed the shot over 34', good for second at the meet held at her home track. If she continues throwing well, Green will help a very storied Carrollton program score some serious points at the state meet.



Valasha Carter, Hart County

         17' 1.75" in Long Jump at Bo James Invitational, 2nd

         34' 0" in Triple Jump at Bo James Invitational, 2nd

         12.99 in 100m at Bo James Invitational, 2nd

Valasha Carter finished in second in three events at the Bo Jams Invitational and first in a fourth event, the 300m hurdles (49.12). However, it's the jumping events in which Carter ranks the highest this year. Her long jump at the Bo James Invitational was actually farther than her jump which secured her sixth place at the 3A state meet last year. Carter has a chance at winning the long and triple jumps at state, and who knows? She could rapidly improve at the 100m or hurdles by the end of the season and be a contender in those events as well.


Boys Winners



Ben Akomolafe, East Paulding

         49.03 in 400m at Buffalo's River Ridge Invitational, 1st

         11.03 in 100m at Buffalo's River Ridge Invitational, 1st

Ben Akomolafe may be a senior, but that doesn't mean that he has a ton of experience at the 400 meters. In fact, entering this season, he had only run a total of two 400m races on MileSplit, both over 51.8 seconds. He may have found his event, though. At the Buffalo's River Ridge Invitational, Akomolafe finished on top of a very talented field that featured eight runners under 52 seconds. His time ranks him second in 6A in the event. Akomolafe also finished on top of the field in the 100m, completing a sweep of the unusual 100/400 combination of events. Now, the hardest decision he might have to make is deciding which events to focus on at region, since he has been successful across all of the sprints.



Ishmeal Neblett, Discovery

         15.18 in 110mH at MTFXCCGA Invitational, 7th

Neblett is one of the more surprising state contenders of the track and field early season. In the 110m hurdles, he improved from a PR of nearly 19 seconds at the start of last season to qualifying for the 7A state meet 16.25 by the end. This season, he has already put those times to shame, running sub-16 by February and now pushing down towards 15 seconds flat. Neblett finished only seventh at the meet against incredible competition, but his mark still ranks him 22nd in the state all-classifications so far. Neblett is also the highest-ranked Discovery athlete in any event in 7A this year, and he'll doubtlessly be able to contribute to a quick 4x100 or 4x200 squad.



Christian Cohan, North Paulding

4:27.84 in 1600m at Carrollton Invitational, 3rd

If you look at the athletes in 7A who have broken 4:33 in the 1600 by mid-March, the list (26 runners long) looks like a rehash of the fall's XC state meet with all of the top runners making an appearance here. One notable exception is North Paulding's Christian Cohan, who had an unspectacular XC campaign but is blasting opponents on the track. At the Carrollton Invitational, Cohan had to compete against the vaunted Carrollton distance team (who have only improved from last season's head-turning squad). Cohan coolly dropped a 4:27 for a new PR and slotted in right between Hagan Russell and Joshua Sipes, two sub-16:00 5k XC runners. Cohan also owns a first-place finish in the 800 at 2:00 a few weeks back. He will challenge the Marietta-Harrison-Hillgrove distance runners at region, and if he gets through that, he could be a real state meet contender.



Jacere Cooper, Morgan County

         50' 0" in Shot Put at Redskin Invitational, 1st

         130' 2" in Discus Throw at Redskin Invitational, 2nd

Georgia has already seen 20 boys throw 50 feet or longer in the shot put this year. Given that most athletes hit their season best in late April or May, we might be in for some serious battles at the end of the season! One of those battles might take place in 3A, where there are currently seven throwers with a season best between 49 and 50.5 feet. The most recent addition to that club (as of March 14) is Morgan County senior Jacere Cooper. Cooper made his season debut at Social Circle's Redskin Invitational and immediately showed that he had been putting in work in the offseason, throwing a PR by over 1.5 feet and planting the shot four feet farther than his next closest competitor. Morgan County is a team that has the talent to contend for the 3A state title, and Cooper could be the key to Morgan County's first track title since 1960.



Antwan Reid, Madison County

         6' 4" in High Jump at Madison County Home Tri-Meet #1, 1st

         16.94 in 110mH at Madison County Home Tri-Meet #1, 1st

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... Madison County's Antwan Reid, more than six feet up in Earth's atmosphere. Reid is both a hurdler and a high jumper, so he knows how to clear the bar in a variety of contexts. The Madison County Home Tri-Meet #1 was a surprisingly (for me) competitive affair in the high jump, featuring a quartet of jumpers who were able to clear the 6' 2" mark. However, Reid was the only one who surpassed the 6' 4" bar, and he took the victory for the home team. Reid matched his lifetime PR set last season, and he will look to bounce back from a 16th-place finish at last year's state meet and compete for one of the top spots in 2023.