CONYERS — 21 track and field teams spanning across several different GHSA classifications gathered Saturday morning at Heritage High School for their annual Patriots Early Bird Invitational, a meet head coach Eddie Snell has had circled on his calendar for quite some time.
Saturday marked the official start to the season for the Patriots, leaving Snell eager to see how their first few weeks of practice and training would translate to the track in what will be a new-look roster on the boys side.
I’m extremely excited about the upcoming season for our boys, mainly because of the great unknowns,” Snell said. “With so much experience lost from last year’s team, there are a lot of holes to fill with guys who are talented, but unproven. As a coach, I like what I see in practice, but you don’t really know what you have until it’s time to perform in high-quality meets.”
At the conclusion of Saturday’s meet, Snell and the boys were celebrating with a first-place trophy. All-in-all, the Patriots snatched three first-place finishes, one second-place finish and four third-place finishes, leaving them quite optimistic moving forward.
“Getting first place by a substantial margin, against a stacked field of 21 teams, was very encouraging,” Snell said. “I was very pleased, but know we have much bigger goals ahead of us, and we have a lot of areas to improve if we want to accomplish those goals.”
Snell also said their goal of leaving Saturday without any major injuries with it being their first meet of the season was for the most part accomplished.
“Our meet on Saturday was all about getting through a tough day injury free,” Snell said. “It’s always nerve racking as a coach going into your first meet. Mainly because the athletes are so excited and sometimes do things uncharacteristic, like abandoning their technique, which leads to injuries. We did have a few athletes come up with minor injuries, so we took extra precaution and held them back in certain events. Not many, if any of our athletes took on a full load for that purpose.”
Standouts on the day included three Patriots competing in field events. Senior Devron Harper, who won a Class AAAAAA state title in high jump last season, finished in first with a jump of 6-2. He also finished fourth in long jump at 21-7.
Jalen Giles took home first in the triple jump with a leap of 43-10 while Keveione Zanders won discus with a throw of 119-2.
Finishing third for the Patriots included Nasir Varnado in pole vault, Kyler Prioleau in the 3200-meter run, Nicholas Boucher in the 1600-meter run and Terrell Williams in the 800-meter run.
On the girls’ side, a veteran squad landed in fourth place as a team after securing seven Top 5 finishes on the day. Senior Jada Banks was the lone Patriot to win an event, doing so in both the 1600-meter run with a time of 5:42.20 and the 2300-meter run with a time of 12:23.88.
Senior Bryson Wilson finished second in both the long jump (16-11) and triple jump (34-6) while Elizabeth Blazer took home third-place finishes in both the 1600 and 3200-meter runs.
“Overall, I was really pleased with our girls performance at yesterday’s track meet. Although we did not finish with the top award, we improved in areas that we needed to improve in. Several of our key girls were limited due to preseason injuries, which played a role in the outcome. There were some tough competition on display, which also played a major role. Our girls are certainly on the right path, and I’m confidant under the direction of coach Khahina Yisrael, along with Greg Johnson and Coach Wiggins, we’ll reach our desired destination.”
Also competing in Saturday’s Early Bird Invitational included cross-town Rockdale County, who on the boys side, took home third place with a solid showing.
Senior Jereme Faison was the lone Bulldogs to nab a first-place finish and did so in style with a jump of 22-9.25 in the long jump. Senior Justin Steele finished second in the 200-meter dash with a time of 49.98 while Tre’mond Pruitt finished second in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 40.59. Pruitt also finished third in the 110-meter hurdles.
The final second-place finish of the day for the Bulldogs came in the 400-meter relay. Rockdale’s team consisting of Darren Stephens, Antwan Goseer, Faison and Steele ran a time of 3:29.95, losing only to Sandy Creek.
On the girls side, the Bulldogs received one first-place finish from senior Imani Flanagan, won won in high jump. Kynnedy Turner nabbed third in the 200-meter dash with a time of 26.58 while Amariah Hill took fifth in triple jump.