FORT PAYNE — With as strong of a season as the Fort Payne girls had in the 60-meter hurdles, a championship breakthrough was inevitable.
Junior Madi Wallace accomplished it last weekend, clocking in at 9.21 in the hurdle event — 0.08 seconds ahead of Shades Valley’s Reah Degraffenried — to win the first state championship of her high school career at the AHSAA State Indoor 1A-7A Championship in Birmingham.
“I wanted to go as hard as I could and as fast as I could, because it meant a lot to be in that position,” Wallace said in an interview with The Times-Journal on Monday.
In addition to winning in the finals, Wallace also won the preliminary race at 9.29. She shaved off 0.08 seconds in her championship stage.
Wallace rose to the top of the Class 6A rankings in AHSAA girls 60-meter hurdles this indoor season, with teammate Maggie Groat behind her at No. 2.
Groat, a junior, suffered a knee injury two weeks prior to the state meet and was unable to compete in Birmingham.
“I am confident that our girls would have finished first and second had we not had this setback,” Fort Payne coach Selena Penton said. “I am extremely happy with both of their performances this indoor season, and look forward to seeing strong senior seasons from both of them next year.”
Penton said Wallace did a great job of attacking the hurdles and sprinting in between them in both the preliminary round and the finals.
Wallace had a slower start in the finals than she did in the prelims, and was one of the last girls to reach the first hurdle, the coach said.
However, by the time Wallace reached the third hurdle, she had passed all other competitors, showing just how much speed she really has.
“I tried as hard as I could to get back in front of them, because I wanted to be a state champion,” Wallace said.
As close as the race was, Wallace immediately knew she had won when she saw Penton jumping up and down in celebration, before sharing her joy in an embrace.
“I was so excited for Madi,” Penton said. “She’s worked so hard to be a gold medalist, not only this season, but for many years leading up to this.
“I knew as soon as she came off the last hurdle that she was going to win. I couldn’t wait to congratulate her on being a state champion.”
In the end, Wallace accomplished a dream she’d been chasing for years, and stood victoriously in the No. 1 position on the podium with a gold medal hanging around her neck.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve had,” Wallace said of soaking in the moment on the state’s biggest stage. “It’s a big accomplishment to be an individual state champion in Class 6A, so I felt very accomplished.”
With her 9.21 state championship finish in the 60-meter hurdles, Wallace ranks 25th in the country for high school girls in the event, according to MileSplit USA, a network for high school track and field and cross country.
Fort Payne assistant coach C.M. Sanford said Wallace became the sixth female and 10th overall track athlete in school history to win an individual state track and field championship, adding that some of the 10 are multi-state champions. He said combining those with relay teams, Fort Payne has 30 total track and field champions.
“(Wallace) didn’t panic and just kept running,” Sanford said. “At 60 meters, one mistake and it’s over. I’ve been telling her that (lifting in) the weight room would be the difference. I think it was.”