State track previews: Claycomb looks to add more gold


By now, the name Sarah Claycomb has become synonymous with running in the Arkansas high school ranks.

It didn’t start this past fall, when the Monticello sophomore won the 4A state championship in cross country. She arrived on the state scene as a freshman in the 3,200-meter run.

She came within 25 yards of victory, finishing with a then-personal best for second place. Now, she holds the best times among 4A girls in the 3,200 (11:54.53) and 1,600 (5:28.66) going into Thursday’s state meet at Heber Springs.

And her 3,200-meter time is almost 30 seconds faster than it was a year ago.

“I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Claycomb said. “I strategize my races and stuff. I focus on really getting those times.”

Claycomb swept the three individual distance races — winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 — this past Thursday in the 8-4A District meet on her home track. She helped the Lady Billies finish second in team standings.

Although she’s already proven herself in distances, to win all three events is still surprising to Claycomb.

“It does, to be a sophomore and be able to do that,” she said.

But Claycomb won’t go for the sweep at state. Head coach Marty Davis is holding her out of the 800, her weakest event, so that not too much will be put on her early in her career.

“She’s just a sophomore, so she’s got two more years,” Davis said. “We want to kind of build to the point where she can go in all three. You talk about running three races, that’s 3 ½ miles at about a 5 ½-minute pace. That’s hard to ask an adult to do.”

Claycomb does own the second-fastest 800-meter time among 4A girls (2:32.99), but she said she’s OK with focusing on the two longer events. Davis said Claycomb will run a leg of the 4x800-meter relay, but that will be run earlier in the day and give her a chance to warm up for her other two races.

“She’s as good as we thought she’d be,” Davis said. “The difference from last year is, she’s gotten so much stronger. She still has some maturing to do physically.”

Dollarway’s Liddell leads 4A in triple jump

For years, Dollarway has found ways to compete in track and field without its own track facility to practice on. (The athletes run around a block behind the football field for practice.)

It’s only when the jumping athletes get to a meet that they can work on their specialties.

No problem.

One of Dollarway’s own, junior Joshua Liddell, owns the best distance in the 4A boys triple jump this year, 44 feet, 9 inches. His teammate, senior Kabion Ento, is eighth-best, 2 feet, 3 inches behind.

“You have to give those kids extra credit because they want to do it,” Dollarway coach Darrin Kidd said. “We work on it when we get to the meet. For them to have the top distances, that speaks volumes.”

Liddell will head to the 4A meet in Heber Springs hoping to better his third-place finish from last year. But the event the junior really wants to win, Kidd said, is the 400 meters, where his 51.23 seconds is second-best in 4A only to Ethan Bly of Heber Springs.

But Liddell won the last meeting with Bly to take the district title.

“I believe Liddell is going to beat Bly for the simple fact he’s determined,” Kidd said. “He’s been saying all year long he’s determined to win the 400.

“If Bly can run a 49, Josh can run a 49 right along with him. The last 200 (meters), it seems like he gets a burst of energy.”

WC’s Balentine favorite to win 400 in 5A

Josh Balentine’s 400-meter dash victory in the 5A-South District Meet on Thursday gave him the fastest time in that event among 5A boys.

The senior from Watson Chapel turned in a run of 50.18 seconds at White Hall to take the state lead by just 0.08 second ahead of Greenbrier senior Seth Thompson. In fact, the top four times — all by seniors — are sub-51 second marks.

That makes the 400 meters at Thursday’s 5A state meet at Hot Springs High a must-see event.

Balentine also will try to score in other sprints. He finished third in the 200 and fourth in the 100 at the 5A-South.

Balentine’s 11.12 seconds in the 100 is ninth-best in 5A this year.

Bigger team, distance strategy help Billies

Davis worried about the lack of participation in his Monticello boys track and field program last year. Coming off a 5A-Southeast District championship, the Billies could not pull off a repeat with only 12 athletes in 2012.

That number nearly doubled to 22 for this year, and a balanced effort in sprints, distances and field events helped Monticello claim the 8-4A title on its home track.

“We convinced our seniors to come out,” Davis said. “They came out and worked and gave them a chance to end up with what they got. We told them, ‘This is your last year to get a conference championship.’”

Davis counted four seniors who joined the team this year. A large portion of the Billies’ roster includes seniors and sophomores.

And it took a trio of seniors — Jacob Chisom, Don White and Scott Allen — to help Monticello wrap up the 8-4A team title.

“When we got to that 2-mile (3,200), we told them it has to be 2, 3, 4,” Davis said, explaining the three distance runners had to take the second through fourth spots. “We weren’t going to beat the kid from DeWitt (Cody Fox). But our thing was to finish in front of Lake Village, and if possible, be 2, 3 and 4.”

It happened. Chisom, White and Allen not only took those three spots in order, but they were second, fourth and fifth respectively in the 1,600 as well, giving Monticello quality points. The Billies won the team title by 10 points over Lake Village.

Monticello gained more sprinters from last year and capitalized. Derrance Smith won the 400-meter dash and P.J. Binns took the 300-meter hurdles at districts. Julian Jackson and Imani Riley added victories in the pole vault and discus, respectively.