Deandre Gridley has a state championship in the 300-meter hurdles from last year. But it’s a race this year that’s pushing the Pine Bluff senior to try and score a repeat.
Gridley barely won the event last Thursday at the 6A-South District meet — “barely” being .06 second over Texarkana’s Kylar Nowlin.
“It’s really pushing me because the guy I raced against, I never raced him before,” Gridley said. “He was just thrown in there. He did a good job for him not to be on the hurdles at all this year. So, I really have to push myself for a newcomer to come in and challenge me like that.”
Nowlin’s time in that race was 41.90 seconds, which is fifth-best in Class 6A going into today’s 6A state meet at Russellville High School. Gridley’s fastest time this year, 40.75, is second only to El Dorado’s DeWayne Miller (40.64).
But Pine Bluff coach Laydell Jordan thinks Gridley can go even faster. And today is the day to do it.
“The only reason he beat that kid (Nowlin) then was, when he crossed nearby us, we said, ‘Pick it up!’ and then he hit another gear,” Jordan said. “So, if he starts the race and finishes like he’s capable of it, he’ll break 40 (seconds).”
Gridley will run in the 110 and 300 hurdles today. He was second in the 110 at the district meet.
He’s not the only Pine Bluff athlete trying to win a second straight state championship today.
Ty’Chianna Murray and Endya Allen helped the Fillies win the girls 4x100 relay last year. The two are back on the team with Allen as an alternate.
Pine Bluff has the third-fastest time among 6A teams in the 4x100 this year (50.31 seconds), following Little Rock Parkview and Texarkana. But Murray’s specialty is the 200 meters, where she ranks fifth in the state at 26.30 seconds.
She’s one of four Pine Bluff girls in the top 10 in rankings (Allen, seventh at 26.67; Kristina McKnight, eighth at 26.81; and Khalia Everett, 10th at 26.95). Those four, along with Jessica Bowers on the first leg, make up the 4x100 team.
First-year Pine Bluff coach Trena Rusley said she walked into a good situation mentoring Murray, who won the 100, 200, 4x100 and 4x400 at districts. Murray won the 100 by .07 second over Sheridan’s Kelly Chandler.
“She’s reaching some heights now that I don’t think she knew she had, but she’s getting there and producing as a sophomore,” Rusley said.
Murray is enjoying the experience of preparing for a title defense and a shot at victory in all four of her events, learning from Olympic 200-meter and relay gold medalist Allyson Felix.
“She knows she’s got to work with her team, but also she’s got to work by herself to accomplish what she wants,” Murray said. “So I guess I need to accomplish what I need to do.”
Gridley said defending his 300-meter title is an honor.
“God blessed me with an opportunity to win,” he said. “So, really, just trying to repeat this year. There’s a lot of good competition this year.”
TwTwo other district champions from Pine Bluff, Kyran Simmons in the boys 400 and Ma’Ryma Stewart in the girls triple jump, are expected to compete today.