From Staff Reports
Dalton girls track athlete Susan Meinders is a very spiritual young lady, who never hesitates to give God the credit in her athletic pursuits. So when the junior came over the next-to-last hurdle at the Georgia High School Association’s Class 3A state track meet, she had no fears even when she hit the top of the hurdle and seemed to stumble.
“God kept me balanced,” Meinders said after claiming the state title with a time of 44 seconds, 21 hundreths. “He kept me from falling, and He carried me through.”
Meinders’ performance was the capstone to a strong Saturday at Albany’s Hugh Mills Stadium for the girls championships. She was one of three locals to medal on the final day of the event. Teammate Bekah Houston finished eighth in the 800 meters with a time of 3:20.04, while Northwest Whitfield’s Shleby Wilson earned a medal for the second time, finishing fifth in the Class 4A running of the 800 meters with a time of 2:21.08.
But it was Meinders’ performance that was the best on a day when her best wasn’t needed.
Getting off to the fastest start in the field, Meinders had taken the lead by the first hurdle and was well on her way to coasting to an easy victory as she came off the back turn and headed down the front stretch. She led by as many as five meters coming off of the turn and was seemingly in control of the sprint to the finish when she skimmed over the top of the next-to-last hurdle and landed awkwardly.
“It was a really hot day, and I just hit it and almost lost my balance,” Meinders said by phone after the race. “It scared me, that was for sure. I had a good start, and I think that is what kept me ahead. For some reason God wanted me to get first. He allowed it all.”
Meinders had entered the race with the second-best qualifying time from Friday’s preliminaries, earning a spot in the finals with a time of 44.17, setting a new personal best with the mark. However, Cedar Grove’s Kayla Pryor had posted a 44.03, and Monroe-Albany’s Chakerah Fletcher had a time of 44.30.
“I was second overall coming off of the prelims, and it did scare me,” Meinders said. “Including me, there were three people right in the 44s. It was scary. I had to think and just trust my training. I couldn’t have run this race without the training of coach Henry Ouzts.”
Ouzts is a community coach with the Dalton program.
Still, despite the stumble and losing her timing and knocking down the last hurdle, Meinders had built plenty of cushion. But her late misstep caused a gasp from the Dalton contingent.
“That really scared us,” Dalton girls coach Pam Brackett said. “She regained her composure, and because of the fast start it didn’t hurt her too much. She is such a fierce competitor, but I was so afraid that she was going to go down.”
Fletcher finished second with a time of 44.39, while Pryor was third at 44.45.
Winning a state title wasn’t unexpected after Meinders was the winner at last week’s sectionals in Carrollton, but standing on the podium to collect her first-place medal is a long way from where she was at the beginning of the track year.
“Start of the season, I was running 46s and 45s,” she said. “I never believed that I could get to the low 44s and win state.”
Wilson’s performance in Class 4A gave Northwest two medalists for the meet after Carley Fetzer placed seventh in the shot put. Fetzer’s throw was incorrectly reported in Saturday’s edition of The Daily Citizen and was officially a throw of 38 feet, 8 inches.
Wilson had the top qualifying time in Friday’s preliminaries, but coach Greg Brown said the heat affected her performance on Saturday.
“She had a great weekend,” Brown said. “She really bounced back good in the mile run. She competed well on a tough day with it being about 95 degrees. I’m really pleased with how she finished the year.”
Miller Grove’s Tatiyana Caffey won the event with a time of 2:17.24.