FORT PAYNE — When Fort Payne’s hurdlers perform well this indoor track and field season, they always credit a teammate for helping them harness the excellence.
Madi Wallace, Maggie Groat and Carter Pinholster soared to the top of Class 6A’s 60-meter hurdle rankings earlier this season.
Wallace and Groat are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the girls division of the Class 6A 60-meter hurdles. Pinholster is the top-ranked 6A male athlete in the event, but suffered an injury this week that ended his journey toward the state meet.
“I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of all of our hurdlers this season,” Fort Payne coach Selena Penton said. “The rankings speak for themselves. We have three of the best hurdlers in the state.”
The bond between the Wildcats’ hurdlers is as strong off the track as it is on it.
Best friends Groat and Wallace challenge each other to improve every practice.
“We’ve both worked really hard, watching each other compete on the track and being best friends in the classroom. It’s just awesome and we love it,” Groat said.
Wallace won the 60-meter hurdle event in Tuesday’s meet in Birmingham and Groat finished second. Wallace won the event Jan. 7 in Birmingham and Groat placed first on Dec. 19, 2019 in the team’s second meet of the season.
“It’s surreal to think that I’ve reached that level, but I think hard work pays off. Whatever you put in, you get out,” Wallace said of obtaining No. 1 status in the 60-meter event.
Wallace made a literal and figurative leap in hurdling last year. Her understanding of the nuances of the event sunk in and her performances came easier than in previous attempts, she said.
Wallace also participates in the long jump and the 4x400-meter and 4x200-meter relays. Groat has concentrations in the high jump and the 400-meter dash as well.
“We do a little bit of everything,” Wallace said.
Groat said she’s already broken all of her indoor season records from the previous year. She said the team expanding its indoor meet schedule has helped her all-around improvement.
“Madi and Maggie are special athletes,” Penton said. “They go above and beyond every day at practice, as well as putting in extra work in the weight room before school and practicing on their own. It’s no accident they are ranked first and second in the state.”
Pinholster has improved his hurdle time with each meet this indoor season. He’s had two first-place finishes in the 60-meter event this season.
“(Pinholster) has been really smooth over the hurdles, and his speed and technique are of the best I’ve seen at the high school level,” Penton said.
Before his best friend Matthew Shaddix had to miss indoor season events with a broken toe, Pinholster said the competition between them, along with the coaching he gets from Penton and assistant C.M. Sanford, were keys to his success.
He said the near-identical speed between he and Shaddix makes for interesting finishes. He said when two teammates are grinding at such a high level, their only goal is to make each other better.
“I know if I make Matthew better, I’m going to run better; that’s just how we are,” Pinholster said.
Pinholster said his technique came to fruition through the hurdling expertise of Penton and Sanford.
“There are a lot of good teams in the state that don’t have a good hurdle coach,” he said. “They have talented hurdlers, but not a good, solid coach to show them how to do it; we have that here at Fort Payne.”
Sanford said that while the Fort Payne athletes are excited about the rankings, they understand that what matters is if they are standing on the podium at the state meet and which step that are standing on.
The Wildcats compete in the Martin Luther King Indoor Track Classic in Birmingham on Monday.