Aiken High's track and field athletes felt like they were on the verge of something special in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic cut the season short.
Gone were the Hornets' chance at defending their Region 5-AAAA championships and hopes of competing for – and winning – state titles.
The teams got right back to work with those same championship aspirations, and Friday the first half of them came true. Aiken's girls won their sixth consecutive region title in dominant fashion, and the boys picked up their second in a row in another squeaker over North Augusta.
"Resilience. COVID really cut it, and we had a goal in mind the whole way through," Aiken coach John Hostetler said shortly after his athletes doused him with ice water in celebration. "We needed to come back and make sure that we came back strong and had that repeat. They put in that effort. They knew what they needed to do."
Aiken's girls racked up 202 points, well ahead of second-place North Augusta (141). South Aiken (114) edged Airport (113) for third, and Midland Valley (56) finished fifth.
Arianna Williams won region titles in the pole vault, 100-meter hurdles and 400 hurdles, and Victoria Colon-LaBorde added wins in the 1600, 800 and 3200 for the Hornets. Eliza King's javelin throw of more than 129 feet was the best of the day – boys' or girls' – and she won the region title by nearly 50 feet. The Hornets also picked up wins in the 4x100, 4x400 and 4x800 relays.
Airport's Jayla Jamison, a University of South Carolina signee, was named the region's Female Athlete of the Year after picking up wins in the long jump, 400, 100 and 200.
North Augusta's Kaitlyn Anzek won the discus throw, Midland Valley's Kaiya Wright won the high jump, Airport's Richardia Harley won the shot put, and South Aiken's Cailyn Johnson won the triple jump.
The title keeps Aiken's streak going, as another senior class once again set the bar higher and made it through high school without letting the trophy end up in anyone else's hands.
"It's the seniors, really," Hostetler said. "The seniors know, like Arianna Williams. One day at practice she was like, 'Look, we have a five-peat right now. We're going to keep that ball rolling and get a six-peat. That's what's going to happen. We're going to make sure we put in the work to get that.' The people that are accustomed to the championships, they want to keep doing it."
The boys' race was much closer, as another meet went down to the wire between Aiken and North Augusta with the two teams combining to win every event but one. The Hornets' 239 points were just enough for another title, with North Augusta (229) taking another tough luck runner-up. South Aiken (73) was third, followed by Airport (71) and Midland Valley (47).
Region Athlete of the Year Antavious Lawton swept the sprints, winning the 400, 100 and 200, and he anchored the Hornets' title-winning 4x400 relay. Anthony Defillips won the 1600 and 3200, Travis Taylor won the long jump, Devlin Hill won the pole vault, Daylin Dicks won the shot put, and William Brinkley won the javelin.
North Augusta's Donifon Brown won the discus, Gabriel Beasley won the high jump, Terry Richburg won the triple jump, Austin Brown won the 110 hurdles, Devin Brown won the 800, Xavier Davis won the 400 hurdles, and the Yellow Jackets won the 4x100 relay.
South Aiken won the 4x800 relay.
Up next is the state qualifier in two weeks in Beaufort, where the top four finishers in each event will compete for spots at the state championship meet the following week at Spring Valley High School. Aiken will once again head to the qualifiers with plenty of momentum on the heels of Friday's region titles.
"I feel really great about it, because we have a very young team," Hostetler said. "We have some people graduating like Antavious, and it's going to be awful to graduate him, but most of our kids are returning. It's a great feeling. I feel good about where we're at as a team."