CHARLESTON - Ladies and gentlemen, meet Cole Slates.
He is a Weir High junior who, thanks to a push from mom in eighth grade, stood atop the podium three times Saturday at the West Virginia State Track and Field Championships at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field.
He anchored the 4x200 relay, led the 4x100 relay and, to top it off, ran 23.25 to claim the 200 in Class AA action during a warm day as the Red Riders totaled 46 points to tie for third with Fairmont Senior.
VICTORIOUS — Oak Glen’s Megan Collins, Christen Mangano, Alex Arnott and Alex Burch captured the Class AA 4x400 relay.
He partnered with JoJo Rice, Nate Masters and Clarence Bennett in the 4x2 and Kenny Muhart, Rice and Bennett in the 4x1.
Not to be outdone, the girls also got into the act.
Weirton Madonna's Gianna Anile, Chloe Connor, Cameron Dowiak and Hannah Bargar shocked themselves and a bunch of other folks with a brilliant run to claim the Class A 4x400 state title in a season-best 4:17.88.
Oak Glen's Megan Collins, Christen Mangano, Alex Arnott and Alex Burch fulfilled expectations by winning the Class AA 4x400 to give the Golden Bears third place in the team race with 61 points.
Slates admitted a day like this wasn't even on his radar a month ago.
"Not at all," he said. "This has been an amazing day."
The day started off rather well for Slates. He finished second in the 400 with a personal best 51.37 from the "slow" heat.
"It was the first race of the day and I just ran it," he said.
Things just kept getting better and better.
The Red Riders had the fifth-fastest time in the state in the 4x200 and third-fastest in the 4x100 heading into Charleston and they set season-bests in each race.
"We really have worked hard for this," said Slates, who left Charleston with three golds and a silver. "Not sure it gets any better than today."
One thing Slates, Rice and Bennett agreed on was that winning the state titles for the two seniors - Masters and Muhart - was very important.
"That was one of the best things I have ever done," Slates said. "They've had some really good soccer teams and I know they didn't want to go out empty-handed and we didn't want them to go out empty-handed.
"We wanted this for them. We wanted them to go out with a state championship."
Rice, who finished second in the 100 by .001 and won the photo finish for second, agreed.
"This is great that Nate and Kenny can go out as winners," he said. "We really wanted to win the 4x2 for Nate and the 4x1 for Kenny. Obviously, we wanted it for us, too. But, we're coming back next year.
"I was really disappointed after the 100. But, that had to go away pretty quickly and get ready for the 4x2. And, the excitement of winning the 4x2 had to go away pretty quickly because we had to run the 4x1.
"This is great. We have worked really hard for this. We have gotten better and better. Our coaches have worked really hard with us.
"This is pretty amazing. This is still kind of a surprise, but we really wanted to win."
Bennett ran the third leg in the 4x200 and anchored the 4x100.
"I am so glad for Nate and Kenny," he said. "We really wanted this for them. It feels really good to get both of them gold medals. That's what really helped push me.
"My expectation was to win. But, we've had to go through a lot of adversity to get this win. Our coach (Chris Hill) went to Brooke. We changed the lineup. We've gone through a lot, but it's all worth it today.
"After winning the 4x2, we had to concentrate on the 4x1 and what we had to do. We couldn't let what just happened in the 4x2 influence us in the 4x1. We had to concentrate and we did that.
"It was amazing crossing the finish line in the 4x1. I feel good being the anchor in the 4x1 because, for a while, I wasn't. We switched our order, started to get our handoffs right, and we've run really well since then."
Added Masters, "we've worked really hard in practice and that showed today. We ran very well as a team. We're still kind of surprised to win it because at state meets, you never know what's going to happen.
"I'm just glad I was able to run my last race with these guys. And, to win it, just makes it that much better."
Muhart, who will play soccer at the University of Mount Union, continued, "I wanted it that much more after watching them win the 4x2. I was a little nervous, to be honest. It was nerve-racking. But, in sports, you just have the overcome it.
"We've been working hard since our first meet. We knew what we had to work on and we did. A big thank you to coach Hill. He's helped us progress so much and we wouldn't be here without him.
"Our coaches have pushed us to work hard and this is what happened.
"It feels great to be a state champion."
The Madonna girls came into the meet six seconds behind leader Clay-Battelle.
The Lady Dons ran 4:29 and change a week ago at the regional meet. They had posted a 4:22.90 earlier in the season and the race was expected to come down to the CeeBees and Williamstown.
"We were very nervous about everything," said Anile. "We knew they were going to be a tough competitor. We just said we had to run our best, try our hardest and that's what we did.
"We were all sick last and we knew we weren't going to run well. This week we knew that if we were going to win, we really had to run well.
"In our heads we could see we were state champs this year."
Connor earlier in the day finished fifth in the open 400, running a personal best 1:02.46.
"That helped me and hurt me because I was tired," she said. "I was so nervous (when she got the baton from Anile). Clay-Battelle is really good and we knew we had to work really hard to beat them."
Connor handed the stick to Dowiak in the lead.
"Overwhelming nerves, you feel so much pressure," Dowiak said about getting the baton. "You can't lose it (the lead) at all. You just have to work hard.
"I feel it is easier to push yourself when there is someone in front of you to catch. It's a lot harder to maintain pace when you're in front. You have no one to look off of. I feel like I ran slower, actually.
"Mentally, you just want to get to the finish line and be done. You just want to hand off the baton."
And, she did, to Bargar with about a six-yard lead.
"My biggest worry going into this was getting passed on the last straightaway," she said. "I was freaking out about that the whole day."
Bargar said she kept thinking the same thing to herself and that was to not let herself get passed.
"I couldn't give up," she said.
Clay-Battelle's McKayla Eddy crept up on Bargar and got to her shoulder with about 30 yards left in the race. But, Bargar held her off.
"This win is surprising," said Bargar, who also was a member of Madonna's 4x800 relay team with Dowiak, Gabrielle Kotten and Shelby Kirk who set a season-best on Friday, 10:51.57, in finishing eighth.
Oak Glen's Burch walked away from this meet in a much better mood than a year ago.
The Oak Glen senior, who was a three-time state champ as a sophomore, added one more to her total Saturday.
"This is a great way to end it ," said Burch. "I am very proud of how our entire Oak Glen team did today."
Leading the way in the wire-to-wire finish was Collins.
"I felt a lot of pressure today," she said. "It was my last race in my last sport ever. I just wanted to come out with a bang and we did.
"I had a goal at the beginning of the season to win and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I needed to come up strong for my girls to make sure their nerves went away.
"When I put the baton in her (Mangano's) hand, I felt that we had it. I wasn't worried about it all. It's a great way to end a high school career."
For Mangano, a sophomore, she felt her job was simple, yet, not easy.
"I was really nervous, but I pulled it together," she said. "I wanted to get my team a good lead. I was nervous for everybody and about everything.
"Once I got the baton, though, I felt a lot better. All I try to do when I get the baton is maintain the lead I get from Megan. We have great girls on this team and I just want to do my part."
Arnott is a freshman.
"It's scary, but I wanted this for my team," she said. "I didn't want to let them down. I wanted to get gold for them (Collins and Burch). I knew how much they wanted it.
"I felt a lot of pressure."
Burch performed well a season ago at Laidley Field, but this year, she was healthy and left the stadium with no regrets.
She crossed the finish line with a huge smile on her face.
"We've come so far this year," said Burch, who crossed the line in 4:10.62. "We knew we could win this, but we didn't want to go in being cocky about it. We had a lot of confidence."
Burch finished second in the 400 (58.51), sixth in the 100 (13.0) and second in the 200 (26.22).
"Today was a day of ups and downs," she admitted.
"I gave it all I had in the 400. I'm not disappointed at all. I had a slow start in the 100 and when you have a slow start, it's hard to catch up to the competition I had today. Starts mean everything and I didn't have a good start.
"I let it all out, got mad for a second, and then got happy again. I had more races to come and I couldn't let that affect me. I had to get over it."
All three individual races were won by Frankfort's Bria Welker.
"She deserves everything she gets," Burch said of Welker. "She is amazing. She's such a nice person, such a hard worker. You can tell. She's humble. She's not cocky. If I had to lose to anyone, I'd lose to her."
Burch admitted she felt pressure heading into the 4x4.
"I think what everyone did today gave me confidence," she said. "Plus, I couldn't ask for a better relay team.
"To end it on a win is great. We wanted to win this race for us seniors, but we also wanted to win it for our coaches. They have worked hard with us."
A complete recap of the meet will be in Monday's edition.