Mallard Creek boys’ track and field coach Donald Littlejohn Jr. felt he had a relay team that could have a memorable 2014 season.
The 2013 4x200-meter relay team had won the 4A state championship, and most members returned.
But it was a different relay team that won a title at the state meet May 17.
The Mavericks’ 4x200-meter team was disqualified in the finals for passing the baton outside an exchange zone.
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But the 4x100 meter team picked up the slack, capturing a state title with a time of 41.48 seconds.
Mallard Creek’s boys’ track and field team placed third, duplicating its finish from 2013. Two of the members from last year’s 4x200 state-champion relay team – Quashawn Cunningham and Vernon Grier – earned gold medals with the 4x100 team this year.
“The season went extremely well,” said Littlejohn. “Our main goal was to win the state or come close to it. Along the way, we won the conference, the regionals and the Dick Williams Invitational. So we won a lot of meets.”
With Cunningham and Grier anchoring the lineups, Littlejohn felt his two sprint relays were set at the start of the season.
When the team ran at the Marvin Ridge Invitational in mid-March, however, the coach was especially unimpressed with the 4x100 team.
The Mavericks finished second to Matthews Butler. After evaluating the time splits, Littlejohn made changes to the lineup. The team that eventually competed at the state championships included Cunningham, Grier, sophomore Cravont Charleston and junior Kyle Horton.
Horton ran relays last year for Mallard Creek’s “B” teams. Charleston a freshman last year, missed most of the season with a hamstring injury.
Charleston caught Littlejohn’s attention with his performance during the indoor track and field season. At that 4A state meet, there was only one runner faster than Charleston in the 55-meter dash: Cunningham.
Cunningham and Charleston’s one-two finish helped Mallard Creek to a third-place team finish in the indoor state meet. Cunningham also placed third in the 300 meters.
In the outdoor season, the 4x100-meter team took first at the MECKA 8 4A championship meet at Kannapolis Brown on May 1. The team also won the 4A West Regional on May 10 at Providence High, besting Butler by less than half a second.
The 4x200 relay also placed first at regionals with the same lineup with the exception of Marquise Gaddy in Horton’s place.
At the state meet, the 4x100 team made up for the gaffe committed by the 4x200 relay.
“Our first leg (Horton) gave us the lead, which we would expect him to,” said Grier. “Cravont held the lead for us. Mallard Creek and Butler, we were about even the whole race. … Once I gave Q (Cunningham) the baton, he just pulled away. We got more excited. I knew we were going to be state champions.”
Cunningham also won the 100- and 200-meter races; he will run for N.C. State next year.
“I knew coming in to the season I had to turn it up a little bit,” said Cunningham. “I had just signed (with N.C. State). I wanted to prove something to my coaches.”
Other standout performances at the state meet by Mallard Creek athletes included Charleston’s fifth-place finish in the 100 meters. Junior Keon Howe took third in the high jump and seventh in the pole vault.
Senior shot putters Derrick Freeland and Tim Samuels placed seventh and eight, respectively.
For the girls’ team, sophomore Alycia Springs won the shot put and finished second in the discus.