Determined Wildcats make outdoor season ‘unforgettable’

The best way Fort Payne track and field coach Selena Penton could describe the team’s 2021 outdoor season was “unforgettable.”

“I have never seen a more determined and goal-oriented team,” she said following the Wildcats’ appearances at the AHSAA state meet last weekend.

In a season capped by the Fort Payne girls placing third overall in Class 6A at the state competition in Gulf Shores, the girls and boys combined to break nine school records and individual athletes set numerous personal records in the process.

“I could not be more proud of every single kid on the FPHS track team,” Penton said after having 18 girls and five boys qualify for the state meet.

A week after breaking a 33-year-old school record in the 4x400-meter relay race, Madi Wallace, Maddie Jackson, Ruthie Jones and Maggie Groat clocked 4:03.88 at the state meet to place first. It was Fort Payne’s lone first-place finish over the weekend.

Penton said the 4x400 race over the weekend stayed a close one for its duration.

“Ruthie ran the best leg of her career, creating some separation between her and the closest competitor,” the coach said. “All four of the girls ran better or as good as they have all season. The 4x4 is one of the most exciting races to watch, and even more exciting when your team wins gold.”

With 116.50 points, Northridge captured the 6A girls state championship. Mountain Brook was runner-up with 93 points and Fort Payne placed third with 71.50 points.

Northridge’s depth in the sprinting events that Fort Payne lacked, as well as Mountain Brook moving down from 7A to compete in 6A made the Fort Payne girls’ third-place finish a huge accomplishment, Penton said.

Two of Fort Payne’s biggest point producers in hurdles and relays, Wallace and Groat, will be graduating. Still, Penton sees a lot of promising young athletes developing in the program.

“I am confident that we will be able to replace some of these points in the field events while we hopefully train up some young hurdlers,” she said.

Brylan Gray was the 6A girls individual runner-up in the shot put, tossing 38 feet, 4 3/4 inches for Fort Payne. She also had a seventh-place finish in the discus throw (104-6).

Gray broke the school record in the shot put in the sectional meet with a throw of 39 feet, 7 inches.

Cooper Garrett placed third in the javelin throw (116-9).

“Cooper’s performance was really impressive, especially with her only being in the eighth grade,” Penton said. “She was one of only a handful of middle school athletes to earn a state medal in an individual event. She is 3 feet from the school record in the javelin, which I expect her to shatter next year.”

Fort Payne’s 4x400-meter relay team of Maddie Jackson, Reese McCurdy, Anahi Barboza and Aylin Vega placed third (9:55.36), and Wallace also had a third-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles (45.74).

Adding to the girls’ field success, Lennon Ibsen earned a bronze medal in the pole vault (11 feet).

The Fort Payne boys placed 30th overall, highlighted by Darrell Prater’s third-place finish in the javelin throw (173-4), good enough to break the school record.

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