South Charlotte

Hawks flock together to capture state titles

Charlotte Latin's track teams don't know much about the agony of defeat.

The girls' team has won six NCISAA 3A titles in a row. The boys' team has three titles in four years.

If the Lady Hawks have lost lately, coach Larry McNulty can't remember.

"I don't think the girls here have lost a track meet in five years - not during the season, not at state," McNulty said. "We've just been basically almost untouchable."

Three Hawks seniors - Haylee Dawe, Kameron Spence and Jenny Ward - each have won eight state titles: four in track and four in cross country.

"It definitely got more and more nerve-wracking every year," Dawe said. "Everybody thinks it gets better with experience, but each year I was more and more nervous for every meet."

Cross country coach and assistant track coach Mike Weiss said the whole team had the goal of sending the seniors out winners.

"There was pressure on those girls to do something that had never been done before," Weiss said. "Plus, everyone else on the team was aware of the contributions of these seniors and wanted to accomplish that for them, not just for themselves."

McNulty emphasized the importance of the entire team coming together to win, from the senior leaders to the new freshmen. They made his job easy, he said.

"The kids came to practice every day with a smile on their face and said, 'Hey coach, what do you want us to do today?' And they went and did it," McNulty said.

McNulty said the comradery of the team became evident at the state meet this year when opposing coaches took notice of the tight-knit group.

They "made comments about how tight the Latin kids were and how there was a tremendous sense of unity and team spirit among the kids," McNulty said.

Dawe and Spence said the closeness of the team extends outside of track. The two have run together since middle school and are very close. "Haylee's definitely one of my best friends," Spence said.

This fall, Spence will run cross country for North Carolina; Dawe will run for Elon.

When asked if it felt weird to think of being separated, they didn't take long to respond.

"Yes," the two chimed in together.

McNulty said team unity was a critical factor in the success of the boy's squad, also.

"Quite honestly, if you would have asked me at the beginning of the season, in the middle, or after the conference track meet, I would have said the girls had a great shot; the guys ... I don't know." McNulty said. "It was a shock to everybody."

It didn't help when junior sprinter Chase Cisne pulled a hamstring a week before the state meet, or that senior pole vaulter Simon Menaker had broken his back and didn't compete in state the year before.

Menaker placed third in the pole vault and Cisne took second in the 400 meters. Latin held a 31/2-point lead going into the 1600-meter relay but had to hold off Asheville School to win.

McNulty moved Cisne from the anchor spot to leadoff in the relay. Senior Michael Grace ran anchor instead, holding off a persistent Asheville runner to place second and win the meet.

"It was just a matter of playing it safe and making sure I stayed in front of Asheville," Grace said. "It was worth it. The feeling of winning state is amazing."

Senior sprinter Jalen Ross and Menaker chased Grace around the track in support. The team promptly mobbed Grace once he crossed the finish line.

"I pretty much tackled (Grace) afterward," Ross said.

Menaker said almost everyone who finished on the first day of the meet came back for the second day to cheer on their teammates.

"It's kind of interesting how everyone has different events and everyone is off doing their own thing, but we can all come together as a team," Menaker said. "Everyone supports each other."