FORT PAYNE — Fort Payne track and field coach Selena Penton saw how well her field athletes were performing early in the indoor season and knew they were going to achieve great things on their journey toward the state meet.
The latest example of the rise of Fort Payne’s field athletes: Lennon Ibsen had two of the Fort Payne girls’ four individual first-place finishes in field events at JV Meet No. 3 at Birmingham CrossPlex on Tuesday.
Ibsen placed first in the girls pole vault and triple jump, Jordan Strogav was first in high jump and second in pole vault and Madi Wallace won the long jump event for the Wildcats.
Ibsen returned for the Tuesday competition after an ankle injury kept her sidelined for three weeks.
“I was very impressed with her performances, with her breaking her personal record in the pole vault and tying her (personal record) in the high jump,” Penton said. “She was very discouraged with having to be in a boot for three weeks, so it was her determination to not have a setback that helped her excel in this meet.”
Jumper Arianna Johnson set a personal record of 31 feet, 10 inches in the triple jump event Tuesday. Eighth-grader Cooper Garrett had a personal record of 30-9.5 in the triple jump at the IceBreaker Invitational in Birmingham last Saturday; Wallace long-jumped a personal best 16-5.25 at the same meet.
In addition to personal bests being obtained in field events, they are also being set on the track. Wallace ran a 1:01.15 and Jackson ran a 1:03.39 in the 400-meter race. Jackson set a personal record 5:35 in the mile race, while Aylin Vega (2:36) and Reese McCurdy (2:37) clocked personal bests in the 800-meter race.
McCurdy, a seventh-grader, freshman Lilly Price and Garrett are all competing in their first indoor season. Penton said all three have already proven to be assets to the Wildcats’ success.
Wallace and Maddie Jackson will participate in the MLK Invitational at Birmingham CrossPlex on Monday. Penton said Wallace aims to break 9 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles, while Jackson looks to clock 2:30 or better in the 800-meter run.
Wallace was second overall in the girls 400-meter dash and Jackson had a third-place finish in the 1600-meter run and was sixth in the 400-meter dash Tuesday.
Last Saturday, Wallace had second-place finishes in the 60-meter hurdles and the long jump and was fourth in the 60-meter dash. Ibsen was second in the triple jump and pole vault.
Penton praised the addition of assistant coach Cole Peters for helping prepare Fort Payne’s field athletes to continue delivering improved results each week.
“It takes every person on the team doing their job to create success,” she said. “Thankfully, our jumpers have been doing their jobs and doing them well in the past few competitions. Each jumper has progressively improved over the course of our indoor season, which is ideally what we want to see. I can’t ask for anything more than that as a coach.”
Fort Payne assistant coach C.M. Sanford said Ibsen, a junior, and Strogav, a sophomore, are excellent examples of rising athletes who are adding to the overall depth. He said Ibsen has stepped up her commitment level and wants to be on the school record board and that Strogav went from being an athlete who was just glad to be on the team to someone who wants to be a competitor.
“Overall team depth is a real concern,” Sanford said. “We have had about a seven-year run of good, and more importantly, committed athletes. Most of them are gone. Some of the kids that have kind of been in the background are going to have to step up. Some have. Some, we are still waiting on.
“I tell them every day, ‘If it is important you will find a way, if it is not, you will find an excuse.’
"Eighth-grader Cooper Garrett can be a really good javelin thrower and she wants to be. Reese McCurdy is going to be a good distance runner when she gets some experience.”
Sanford has been happy to see distance runners contributing to the team’s depth as well, highlighting Jackson for her development.
“Distance running is difficult but a lot of it is mental. Until you get to the point of focusing on getting better in practice and not just getting through with practice you won’t be very good,” he said. “Maddie has gotten to that point.
“Anahi Barboza and Abigail Vega are two other distance runners who are on the verge of being factors for us."
The Wildcats have navigated this indoor season without state champion Maggie Groat, who tore her ACL, PCL and a meniscus while running a 60-meter hurdle event during the MLK Invitational on Jan. 20, 2020. She was expecting to be back competing by this point in the season but a tibia fracture set her back. Now she’s hoping to be released in another three-four weeks, Sanford said.
Groat was a part of the gold-medal-winning girls 4x800-meter relay team at the AHSAA State Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2017. She and Wallace were the two top-ranked female hurdlers in Class 6A last season.
“Maggie is a very good athlete. You don’t replace her points with one girl,” Sanford said. “She is as good of an all-around athlete as I have ever coached. We have tried to stress that till we get her back we will need to place multiple people in events to get points.”
Added Penton, “We have definitely missed having Maggie out for practices and competitions. I believe the team has rallied around her absence by some younger athletes stepping up and working even harder to make up for the points she would have inevitably scored. We are hopeful for her healthy return for the outdoor season.”