Champs lead area's surge up the podium at state meets


Not only did Southeastern North Carolina runners do exceedingly well in their high school state championship track and field meets last season, but almost all those standout runners are back.

Two of the area's state champions return, and three more runners return as top contenders in their events.

Will Thomas of Topsail won the boys Class 2A high jump, and Shelby Howell of New Hanover took home the girls 4A 800 meter run.

Those two lead a strong contingent of athletes that figures to ensure the area is well-represented on the state level.

Howell's win was historic, as she became the first female from New Hanover County to win a state track title in any event. New Hanover coach Nolan Tobey said Howell might try for a title in the mile run as well.

"She's running well," Tobey said.

"Depending on how her fitness develops, we may shoot for two state chamionships instead of one. She's pretty focused."

Also in the Mideastern Conference, Laney and Hoggard each return elite sprinters. Laney's Shaq Rodriguez owns the second-fastest returning time in the boys 100 meters, while Hoggard's Tevin Jackson isn't far behind. In Brunswick County, Carmen Hilliard of South Brunswick will compete for a state title in the 3A girls mile.

Local coaches say they've noticed the uptick in talent in recent years.

"I've been here seven years," Ashley coach Ryan Hauck said. "And it's amazing how much better the teams have gotten as a whole.

"Year in, year out, our county's going to have kids that compete in the region and at the state."