Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spring Branch Tracksters Among State Contenders

By Jeff Jenkins/Chronicle Memorial Sports
Published May 10, 2016

Spring Woods High School students (clockwise from top left) Brianna Robinson, Toni Dada, Gabri'Ella Bonner and Stephine Mathis will represent Spring Woods on the 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays at the University Interscholastic League State Track and Field Championships on Friday and Saturday, May 13-14, at the University of Texas in Austin.

Spring Woods is hardly a track and field powerhouse, but four girls have put the Tigers on the map.

Seniors Gabby Bonner, Stephine Mathis and Brianna Robinson and junior Toni Dada  will represent Spring Woods on the 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays at the University Interscholastic League State Track and Field Championships on Friday and Saturday, May 13-14, at the University of Texas in Austin.

When the quartet hits the track at UT's Mike A. Myers Stadium, it will be the first time a girls' relay from Spring Woods has competed at the state meet.

"It's really exciting, but it's hard to believe it's happening," Mathis said.

But Spring Woods head track and field coach Gary Derks may disagree with his athletes. At the beginning of the season, he fully expected the Tigers to make it to Austin.

"We keep breaking our school records and have a chance to do it again," Derks said. "These are a special group of girls that are taking the challenges in stride."

Spring Woods has plenty of momentum, sweeping both relays at the District 19-5A, District 19-5A/20-5A area and Class 5A-Region III meets and they enter state with confidence.

The Tigers' regional qualifying time of 47.21 seconds in the 4x100 relay ranks third overall, just behind Arlington Seguin (46.69) and McKinney North (46.75). Spring Woods sits in second place in the 4x200 relay after posting a time of 1:38.83, trailing only Arlington Seguin (1:37.56).

"We think we can win both races, but, hopefully, we can come home with two medals," Dada said.

Mathis, Robinson and Dada have been relay teammates for a few years, while Bonner, the lone newcomer, transferred to Spring Woods after moving back to Houston from South Carolina.

"I used to live here and Brianna and are friends," Bonner said. "It's stressful changing schools, but the girls made me feel welcome. We're all good friends and are having a lot of fun."

It's required dozens of hours of training and practice, both on and off the track. Robinson, though, attributes Spring Woods' success to Derks.

“Coach Derks is amazing. He makes us do things over and over until we get it right," Robinson said. "We've always had the speed, but he is the one who pushed us to get better and believed in us. He's the reason we've made it this far."

As a result, Bonner, Mathis and Robinson will run in college next year at Prairie View A&M University. Dada, who is a year behind them, has to wait one more year for the opportunity.

The girls are enjoying the attention they have received, both on campus and within Spring Branch ISD. They certainly don't want to disappoint this weekend.

"We've worked so hard for this moment and we want to soak it up," Mathis said.

Patel, others ready for state

Memorial senior Khayla Patel will make history this week at the UIL State and Track and Field Championships in Austin.

Patel is making her fourth straight trip to state in track and field. She accomplished the same feat in cross country, making her a perfect 8-for-8 in her career with the Mustangs.

"It feels really good to be going back to state for the fourth time," Patel said. "It's definitely something to be proud of."

For the second year in row, Patel qualified in both the Class 6A girls' 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.

Patel is seeded seventh in the 1,600 with a regional qualifying time of 4:57.82. However, she set a personal record in the race at the Class 6A-Region III meet last month.

"I PR'ed in the mile. I've been trying to break five minutes for a while," Patel said.

In the 3,200, Patel sits in last place with a 10:59.97, but there's an opportunity for her to move up.

Abilene's Ashton Endsley  is the pace-setter in both races with qualifying times of 4:45.16 and 10:34.77, respectively. But there's no shortage of challengers, with defending champion Julia Heymach of Lamar, Paige Hofstad of New Braunfels  and Madie Boreman of Leander Rouse in a tightly bunched pack.

"The competition in the distance events is tough," Patel said. "There are couple of girls who have been doing this for a while and they are all incredible."

Still, Patel, who will compete collegiately at Rice University next year, believes she can earn first state medal this weekend.

Memorial head girls coach Vicki Bevan is proud of everything Patel his accomplished with the Mustangs.

"Khayla is one-of-a-kind and I doubt I'll ever coach another athlete like her," Bevan said. "What separates her from the rest is her consistency. She's so disciplined and works really hard. It will be emotional seeing her compete for Memorial for the last time."

While Patel is accustomed to the pressure of the state meet, several other Spring Branch ISD athletes will make their state debuts.

Memorial senior Nicholas Hamiltom   qualified in the Class 6A boys' 800 race. Hamilton's time regional time of 1:53.04 puts him in seventh place, a few seconds behind leader Bryce Hoppel of Midland (1:50.89).

But Memorial head boys  coach Richard Ruez credits distance coach Brandon Clemmons for preparing Hamilton, one of the few Memorial boys' tracksters to get to state, for this moment.

“Coach Clemons and Nicholas have trained really hard to get here," Ruez said. "If Nicholas can drop a second or two, he can be in the (medal) hunt."

Hamilton is ecstatic about reaching state, which was one of his goals.

"I'm really happy. This is something my coaches and I have been working towards the last couple of years," Hamilton said. "It would great to be in the top five (at state), but I'll probably need to PR."

The lone Stratford runner at state is freshman Grace Custer, who qualified in the 5A girls' 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. Custer's regional times of 5:12.96 and 11:27.12 rank last in the nine-person field, but the rookie has room to move up.

Stratford head girls coach Josh Gossett said Custer, despite her age, hardly acts like a rookie.

"Some people are probably surprised to see Grace at state as a ninth-grader, but I'm not," Gossett. "She's really mature for her age. I expect her to give the older girls a run for their money."

Spartans advance

Stratford is through to the second round of the UIL Class 5A baseball playoffs.

The Spartans will face Bryan Rudder in a 5A-Region III area series this week.

The schedule has Game 1 at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at Bryan Rudder and Game 2 at 7 p.m. Friday, May 13, at Stratford. If there's a split, the Rangers would host Game 3 at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 14.

Stratford head baseball coach Jason Willis compared Bryan Rudder to two of the Spartans' District 19-5A rivals.

"Bryan Rudder is really scrappy," Willis said. "They're a lot like Tomball Memorial and Magnolia West. Their pitchers are always around the strike-zone and they're very solid defensively."

Stratford (18-9-1) coasted in the bi-district round, blanking Austin 10-0 in a single game.

"I don't think we played particularly well," Willis said. "Austin gave a great effort and never quit, but I don't think we were mentally prepared. We've got to take it up a notch."

Senior pitcher Tracy Warren wasn't at his best, but he still tossed a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts in five innings.

Offensively, senior second baseman Kyle Davis was 3-for-3 with two doubles, while junior outfielder Will Mikula added a double.

District 18-6A champion Memorial wasn't as lucky as its Spring Branch ISD counterpart. The Mustangs (20-10) were upset by Cy Creek, the fourth seed from District 17-6A, in a 6A-Region III bi-district series.

After the teams split the first two contests the Cougars shut out the Mustangs 6-0 in Game 3 to clinch.

Stratford survives

Stratford will have to get past one of its District 19-5A foes to advance in the UIL Class 5A softball playoffs.

The Spartans will battle Tomball Memorial in a 5A-Region III quarterfinal series. Game 1 will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at Tomball Memorial. Stratford will host Game 2 at 5 p.m. Friday, May 13 and Game 3, if necessary, at 7 p.m.

Last week, Stratford pounded Waco University 23-7 in the area round last week.

Meanwhile, District 18-6A winner Memorial dropped its 6A-Region III area series against Katy Seven Lakes. The Mustangs won a slugfest 19-18 in Game 1, but they dropped the next two contests by scores of 9-5 and 8-6.


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