By Rubin E. Grant
Ethan Strand made sure his final state indoor track meet would be memorable.
Vestavia Hills’ senior distance runner began the Class 7A session Saturday with a bang, winning the 800-meter race in a state-record time of 1:51.07 during the 51st AHSAA State Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
Strand needed the record-breaking finish because Rebels teammate Alex Leath (1:52.72) was right behind him and also broke the previous AHSAA overall indoor state-meet record (1:53.45), set by Chris Patrick of Smiths Station in 2004 at Priceville.
Afterward, Strand and Leath shared a warm embrace.
Huntsville’s Gabe Scales (1:54.25) took third place. His time also surpassed the Class 7A indoor state meet record (1:54.69) established by Hoover’s Trent Hammer at the 2017 state meet. Strand also held the overall CrossPlex and state mark with his time of 1:52.91, which he ran in a regular season meet on Jan. 21.
Strand, a North Carolina signee, also won the 1,600 meters with a 4:17.47 time, just ahead of Scales at 4:19.30 and just shy of the Class 7A state indoor meet record of 4:17.06, set by Hoover’s Drew Williams at the 2016 championships.
In the girls’ competition, Vestavia Hills junior Crawford West swept the distance races, setting 7A indoor state-meet records in two of her victories. She set a new 7A state-meet mark in the 800 meters with a winning time of 2:12.93.
Spain Park’s MacKenzie Culpepper finished second with a 2:13.45 time, falling just short of the previous record (2:13.19) set by Hoover’s Presley Weems in 2016. The overall record (2:11.28) was established by McGill-Toolen Catholic’s Carmen Carlos competing in the Class 6A indoor state meet in 2013.
West also won the 1,600 with the state meet’s only sub-5 minute time of the weekend (4:59.58), to set a new 7A state record, eclipsing the 4:59.96 set by Anna Grace Morgan of Mountain Brook at the 2017 championships.
West closed her day by setting a new 7A 3,200-meter record with her winning time of 10:58.27, eclipsing the 7A standard (10:58.97) also established by Morgan in 2017.
“I just really wanted it and went after it,” West said. “I was getting my recovery in behind races, resting my legs, drinking lots of water and eating crackers and peanut butter.
“I was not expecting to win all three, but I was happy how it went. My teammates were really excited but not only for me but how we performed as a team. We got third place with only seven people competing. I think that was pretty cool.”
Hewitt-Trussville, in coach Tom Esslinger’s first season with the Huskies, swept the Class 7A team titles, ending Hoover’s reign in both. Essingler was the coach at Homewood before taking the job at Hewitt.
Hoover’s boys had won four consecutive championships and six of the past eight while the girls were the defending Class 7A champs and had captured seven of the past nine titles.
Hewitt’s girls and Hoover’s girls went into the final race of the final session separated by only 3½ points. The 4×400-meter relay would prove to be the deciding factor in whether the Huskies or Bucs would claim the state crown.
Hewitt girls had 93 points heading into the final event, and coach Devin Hind’s Hoover girls had 90.5. The Bucs won the race with a 4:02.50 time, but the Huskies were second at 4:09.54. More important to Hewitt, however, were the eight points the Huskies claimed, giving the school its first-ever state indoor title 101.5 points to Hoover’s 100. Vestavia Hills finished third with 51points and Spain Park was fourth with 37.
Hewitt-Trussville’s boys went into the final race with a 9.5 point lead over Vestavia Hills and placed fourth in the 4×400 relay finale to claim the school’s first indoor state boys’ championship, completing the school’s first sweep. Hewitt’s boys finished with 77.5 points to claim the title.
Strand ran the final leg for the Rebels and edged the Bucs to win the 4×400 relay race and finish second in the team standings with 73 points. Hoover took third place with 73, while Auburn and Huntsville tied for fourth with 41 points each.
The Rebels’ time in the 4×400 was 3:25.32, while Hoover clocked 3:26.24. The Bucs also finished second in the 4×800 (8:11.15).
Hoover’s Levi Arroyo won the pole vault, clearing 15-06. Bucs teammate Conner White also cleared 15 feet. The Bucs’ Jay Avery was second in the triple jump with a leap of 44-03.75.
Spain Park’s Keon Buck was second in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.96.
In girls action, Spain Park’s Culpepper won the 400-meter dash with a photo finish, beating Hewitt’s Kelsey Martin. Culpepper clocked 57.25 seconds, winning with a last-second lean. Martin crossed at 57.30 seconds.
Hoover’s Kayla Jemison won the high jump with a leap of 5-02.00, while teammate Ainsley Staie was second in the shot put with a put of 35-07.00. Jemison was second in triple jump with a leap of 36-11.50.
Hoover’s girls also won the 4×200 relay (1:4.23) and were third in the 4×800 (9:52.64).
The Jags’ Anna Collins was second in the pole vault (11-06.00).
The Rebels’ Angelica Vines finished second in 60-meter hurdles with a time of 9:31 and teammate Gabby Walls finished second in the girls high jump with a leap of 5-02.00.