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Lanier's Berryman, others defy seeds at girls state track meet

Peachtree Ridge’s Addy Lippitt tries to distance herself from a pack that includes Brookwood’s Laurel Sumner (second from right) in the 1,600-meter final at the state girls high school track and field championships Thursday at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany. (Photo: Tim Morse)

Peachtree Ridge’s Addy Lippitt tries to distance herself from a pack that includes Brookwood’s Laurel Sumner (second from right) in the 1,600-meter final at the state girls high school track and field championships Thursday at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany. (Photo: Tim Morse)

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Lanier's Trezha Berryman won the state championship in the triple jump on Thursday. (Special photo)

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Trezha Berryman's triple jump win Thursday made her the first female state champion in Lanier history. (Special photo)

ALBANY — Perhaps it was the unseasonably cool weather or a rain delay that knocked events an hour and a half behind schedule during the day.

But seeds earned in last week’s state sectional meets didn’t always mean much in the first day of competition at the state girls track and field championships Thursday at Hugh Mills Stadium.

That was good news for a few Gwinnett County representatives in action, who performed well above their seeds to post medal-winning finishes.

The triple jump was the most prominent field event among Gwinnett competitors on the day, including providing one of the meet’s biggest surprises in the early going.

While a strong finish by GAC’s Courtney Fair, who placed second in Class AA with a leap of 36 feet, 1/4 inch, was expected, Lanier’s Trezha Berryman and her coaches had more modest hopes for her performance in the Class AAAA event.

“She’s a basketball player (mainly), and she’s just learning how to triple jump, really,” Longhorns coach Oji Perkins said. “I would (have been happy) with either seventh or eighth — top eight — and bringing in our first female track and field medal, period.”

However, the junior exceeded even Perkins’, and her own, wildest dreams by leaping 36-7 1/2 on her final attempt to win the event by 3 1/4 inches over runner-up Breanna Thornton of Eastside.

That jump not only made her Lanier’s first-ever girls medalist, but the school’s first female state champion.

“I came in fifth in sectionals, and I didn’t think I would medal at all,” Berryman said. “My coach encouraged me, and my mom just told me, ‘Don’t get discouraged. Keep your head up.’

“I was tearing up (in the landing pit after the last jump) just thinking about it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Despite the unusually cool weather or the near hour and a half wait to start the event after the morning rain delay, Berryman was unfazed.

In fact, Perkins says her relative inexperience may actually have helped her deal with the cool, damp and late conditions better than her competitors.

“It looked like it was affecting a lot of girls,” Perkins said. “But (Berryman is) a novice. She’s a beginner. She doesn’t know any better. She’s going to jump the same way whether it’s cold, whether it’s warm. That’s Trezha. She’s going to jump the same.”

Meanwhile, a pair of Gwinnett individuals improved from their seed placings during the finals of the Class AAAAAA 1,600-meter run in Thursday’s late action.

Mill Creek’s Lauren Hovis, who entered Thursday’s race seeded 10th among the 16 entries, emerged from the second wave of runners to challenge the leaders on the last lap before being overtaken by hard-charging Mary Jeanne Assinzo of Marietta, who went on to win the event.

However, the Hawks senior managed to finish fifth in a time of 5:05.92, five places and nearly 19 seconds faster than her qualifying time at last week’s sectionals.

“We ran sectionals pretty slowly because we always run sectionals slowly,” Hovis said. “We were just trying to get top eight (to qualify for state). So, I felt really rested, which was good.

“The third lap is usually my hardest, but I was really feeling strong. So, I went to make a move, and I went to make it fast.”

Also making a move in the AAAAAA 1,600 was Addy Lippitt of Peachtree Ridge, who bested her sectional seeding by two places and her sectional time by more than 15 seconds to place seventh in a time of 5:08.44.

Berryman’s leap has Lanier in the top 10 of the Class AAAA team standings after the first day of competition, with the Longhorns tied with Liberty County with 10 team points.

On the strength of Fair’s second-place finish in the triple jump and a tie for fourth place by Stephanie Reynolds in the high jump, GAC stands tied with Westminster in fifth place in the Class AA standings with 13.5 points.

Meanwhile, Wesleyan, which got medal performances by Alex Harpole (fourth, long jump), Landyn Duley (fifth, long jump) and Lauren Frerking (eighth, shot put), is tied with five other teams for ninth place with 10 points.

In Class AAA, Buford, which was paced by medals from Dominique Martin (sixth) in the high jump and Kiki Mincey (seventh) in the shot put, is tied for 18th place with five points.