The stretch toward state

Peyton Phillips pole vaults over rope
Melanie Boyd/ Times-Georgian

Nick Simon/Times-Georgian 

With region, sectional and state meets looming, the Carrollton High School track and field program is set to once again to open its confines of Grisham Stadium to several teams from around the state.

This Saturday, the Trojans will host the annual Carrollton Invitational with field events beginning at 9 a.m. and running events kicking off at 12:30 p.m.

Fielding a record 28 schools last year, CHS boys' head coach Craig Musselwhite and staff are expecting an even larger turnout this time around.

"We've got about 31 schools that are coming. Two teams from Alabama will be here, along with a lot of our local schools and several other teams from around the state. It should be a competitive meet," Musselwhite said before practice on Wednesday.

Like last year, Grisham Stadium will serve as the host of sectional and state meets for both Class AAAAA and AAAAAA later this spring. The veteran Trojan coach once again noted how this weekend's Invitational can be used as a way for several athletes to familiarize themselves with the layout of the state's higher stages.

"Because we host the sectional and state meets, a lot of people want to come in, run the track and see our facilities if they've never been here before," Musselwhite said. "A lot of people come for those reasons and hopefully come for good competition at a well-run meet, as well."

As far as his team goes, the Carrollton boys are exactly one month into the season with four meets under their belt.

Veterans performers such as Nick Cade, Jordan Bonner and Bryce McNealy, along with hurdler Gary Savage, have all locked down top-three finishes in various events, while senior thrower and Mississippi State signee Jeremiah Pierce continues to rewrite school record books with his efforts in the shot put and discus.

Their head coach described how the early stages of the season have played out and how he doesn't want them at their absolute best right now.

"We're coming along well. Because it's been so cold and rainy and crazy weather, it's hard to get out there and get quality work in at times. Like (Wednesday) when the wind is blowing 25-30 miles per hour," Musselwhite said.

"We're not knocking the door down in some events, but the way that we do things around here is that we try not to be good early — we try to be good late. We like to work on progression and getting better. If you all of sudden throw out a really fast time early in the season and then midway through the season things aren't going so good, you start questioning yourself and it starts getting mental. Our aim is to be progressively better as the year goes on so by the time we reach state, we're peaking."

Also looking to peak at the right time this season are the Carrollton girls, where youth has been the theme for Gwen Engram's athletes this spring.

Emerging for the Lady Trojans this season have been the likes of freshman sprinter Scout Jennings and sophomore sprinter Olivia Dukes. Not to mention freshman pole vaulter Payton Phillips, who set a nation best leap of 11 feet, 7 inches at last year's West Georgia Middle School Championships.

"We have a lot of younger kids who have been doing really well for themselves so far," Engram said on Wednesday. "We're looking forward to seeing how they continue to grow and improve over these next few weeks."

Saturday will mark the beginning of the home stretch for Carrollton, along with fellow area teams like Villa Rica, Bremen, Haralson County and Heard County as they all inch closer and closer to their respective region meets.

Musselwhite once again emphasized the importance of getting the team's best effort when it matters the most and the Invitational is just a step toward accomplishing that.

"Points in the state meet to me are more important than how fast you run or how hard you throw. Whatever it takes to get the most points for the Trojans, that's good with me," Musselwhite said. "There's some lofty state records out there that some of these kids will have a chance to break at the end of the spring. But break them then, don't break them now."