WACO - Branson Ellis started slow, but finished strong.
Now he’ll eye an even better finish in a couple weeks in Austin.
Ellis, a Robert E. Lee junior, won the Class 6A Region II pole vault title with a personal record height of 16 feet, 4 ¾ inches on Saturday at Baylor’s Clyde Hart Track & Field Stadium.
Ellis will look to improve upon last season’s state runner-up finish at the state championships at Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin. The meet runs May 11-13, with Ellis competing the morning of Saturday, May 13.
The Red Raider did not enter the fray until 15 feet and cleared it on his first attempt. However, at 15-3, he missed his first two attempts.
With one more chance to avoid disaster, Ellis changed things up and grabbed a new pole out of his bag, one REL coach Aaron Babino said he hadn’t used before.
Ellis cleared the mark with that new pole on his third attempt to ensure a trip to state. The pressure off and full of confidence, he then hit 15-6 on his first attempt as did Statford’s Chrystian Sampy.
However, Sampy failed to clear 15-9 on three attempts while Ellis passed on that height and went straight to 16-0 then 16-4 ¾, clearing both in one attempt.
Ellis was unable to clear 17-0, but he had already set the meet record.
“I am ecstatic about Branson qualifying (for state again),” first-year Lee boys track coach Aaron Babino said. “He overcame adversity today and that was a true showing. He got out of his comfort zone and was able to gain his confidence back within a matter of minutes.
“The goal now is to bring that (state) gold medal back and he has the tools to do it.”
Fellow Lee student Mary Claire Neal was unable to join Ellis at the state meet after finishing ninth in the 800-meter run. Neal turned in a time of 2 minutes, 23.65 seconds.
John Tyler’s Ke’Tavion Humber was the only runner to finish in the top four of both boys hurdles races, but he was unable to finish in the top two in either one.
The junior set a personal record for the second straight day in the 110 hurdles at 14.61 to finish fourth. He finished the 300 hurdles in 39.40 to again finish fourth.
Though John Tyler’s Jerry Young was set to vie for a state spot in triple jump, he did not compete after running a leg on the 4x100 relay team in Friday’s prelims.
Longview had a number of competitors involved in Saturday’s action, with one relay team reaching state.
The Lady Lobos’ 4x400 team finished second in a time of 3:51.01 to clinch a state berth by more than a second, though Dallas Skyline won the race in 3:48.14.
Longview’s girls 4x200 just missed going to state with a third-place finish.
The Lobos’ 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams finished seventh and sixth, respectively.
Tyetiana Rugley finished fourth in the 800 and third in the 400, Deja Moore was 6th in the 200 and Destiny McAfee was 11th in triple jump for the Lady Lobos.
In addition to the 6A meet, UIL and TAPPS meets across Texas sent area athletes to their respective state meets.
Below are some of the East Texans who qualified for state.
TAPPS 5A NORTH REGION
BURLESON - The Grace Community girls and boys track teams finished second in the TAPPS 5A North Region meet this week at Burleson High School, sending a number of Cougars and Lady Cougars to the state meet.
The TAPPS 5A championships will be at Hart Track & Field Stadium in Waco May 5-6.
The Grace girls finished with 112 points to just miss out on the regional title behind Austin St. Dominic Savio’s 118 points. The Bishop Gorman Lady Crusaders were fourth at 65.5 and Bullard Brook Hill eighth with 28 points.
Trinity Christian-Cedar Hill won the boys title with 145 points followed by Grace on 88. Gorman finished fifth with 58 points and Brook Hill 11th with 13 points.
East Texans took home 10 first-place medals, including three for Grace’s Brock Aldredge.
The Cougar won 110-meter hurdles in 15.18 seconds, 300 hurdles in 39.99 and triple jump at 45-7 ¾.
Lady Cougar Jordan Tauscher took home two gold medals with wins in discus (107 feet, 7 ½ inches) and shot put (35-4 ½).
Grace’s Johannon Murray won the 100 hurdles in 16.31 and finished second (47.67) behind Gorman’s Katie Lauffer (45.91) in the 300 hurdles. Murray also won bronze in long jump (17-2 ¾) and triple jump (36-6 ½).
Grace won both pole vault events. Lexi Dziedzic was first on the girls side at 8-6 while Brit Bay won the boys event at 13-0.
Gorman’s Anna Pritchard took gold in girls 3,200 with a time of 11:53.81. She was second in the 1,600 at 5:33.49.
The top four finishers in each event advance to state, so those first-place finishers will be joined by a number of their teammates in Waco.
The Grace girls qualified their 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams as well as Lexye Price (third in 100 and 200), Haley Reed (fourth in 200) and Summer Tennison (third in discus).
The Grace boys qualified their 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 relays along with Jared Gilley (third in 400) and Jacob Henry (fourth in discus).
The Gorman girls will have their 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams at state and will be joined by Sydney Brunette (fourth in 800), Maria Danly (fourth in 100 hurdles) and Lauren Fanning (fourth in long jump).
The Gorman boys qualified all three of their relays along with James McGehee (fourth in 800), Jeremiah Milton (third in 100) and Hunter Pilgrim (fourth in 300).
Brook Hill’s Ke’Airra Christopher (second in 400), Grace Brasher (second in high jump), Adrianna Kuechle (second in shot put) and Sarah Nwosu (fourth in shot put) qualified on the girls side along with Garrett Davis (third in high jump) and Jordon Day (third in discus) on the boys side.
CLASS 4A REGION II
COMMERCE - A pair of Chapel Hill hurdlers will be competing at the state championships after qualifying at the Class 4A Region II track and field meet on Saturday at Texas A&M-Commerce’s Memorial Stadium.
Mykaela Alfred and Malik Sellers finished second in the 100- and 110-meter hurdles, respectively.
Dallas Carter won the girls and boys meet titles. The girls beat second-place Liberty-Eylau by 17 points while the boys barely beat Atlanta by one point.
Wills Point’s Shelbi Walser will be going back to state after qualifying in the wheelchair 100 and shot put.
The Liberty-Eylau girls were aided in their second-place finish by qualifiers Ta’oni Reynolds (second in 300 hurdles), Lamiah George (second in 200) and the 4x200 and 4x400 relays, who both finished first.
Other East Texans who qualified on the girls side include: Van’s Kendall Brown (second in pole vault), Tatum’s Ramaya Davis (second in triple jump), Carthage’s Chloe Neuman (first in 100 hurdles), Atlanta’s Teshuna Sheppard (first in triple jump).
On the boys side, Chapel Hill’s Sellers will be joined by Kilgore’s 4x200 relay (second) Bullard’s D’Juan Martin (second in long jump), Pittsburg’s Bradlee Warrick (first in shot put), Carthage’s Ashton Hicks (first in 400) and Atlanta’s 4x100 relay (first) and Trin Taylor (first in long jump and triple jump).
CLASS 3A REGION III
WACO - Malakoff’s Tyler Russell will defend his high jump state title after winning the Class 3A Region III meet with a leap of 6 feet, 8 inches on Saturday at Baylor’s Hart Track & Field Stadium.
Russell will also compete at state in long jump after finishing second by half an inch behind Crockett’s Derrick Sherman’s 23-1 ½.
There were two other 1-2 finishes for East Texans at the meet.
Crockett’s Demarc Richardson won the 100-meter dash in 10.52 seconds to edge Malakoff’s Quarterrio Barker’s time of 10.81.
Palestine Westwood’s Xavier Billups went 22.11 in the 200 to beat Crockett’s Joseph Porter (22.22).
Also earning trips to state from the meet were the Crockett boys 4x100 relay team (first, 41.58) and Elkhart’s Ashley Buck, who took second in girls triple jump at 36-6 ¼.