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Buford's Stephens dashes to crown

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Buford sprinter’s stellar finish nets first-ever state title

By Robert Howey

 

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Buford High School senior sprinter Anthony Stephens’ final day as a Jackets’ track team member produced a program first.

Stephens ran a personal-best 48.35 to capture the Class AA 400-meter state track championship at Spring Valley High School in Pontiac on Saturday afternoon. Stephens’ winning run gave Buford High School its first-ever individual state track crown.

“I’ve been here 28 years and it’s a first for our track program,” BHS athletic director Mike Wells said. “Anthony’s worked hard and he really deserves what he won. We’re all proud of what he accomplished. That was his best time ever, so he saved his best for last.”

Stephens had quite a day, placing fourth in the 100-meter dash with an 11.10 effort, and eighth in the 200-meter dash in 23.00 to score 16 points in three events.

Stephens’ highlight was his middle event of the day, the 400-meter dash where he used a decisive kick in the final 200 meters to post the stunning win.

Silver Bluff’s Cordrea Tankersley, who Stephens passed in his blazing finish, was second in 48.83 and DeAngelo Stephenson of Bishop England High in Charleston was third with a 49.01 showing.

Stephens, who went unbeaten in a dozen 400-meter races this season including the Class AA Upper State meet, was focused on his track task.

In the previous two Class AA state meets, he had finished sixth in each 400-meter race, but he wanted more in what was his final shot for the coveted gold.

“I was determined this time around,” said Stephens. “I wanted to do better than sixth place and I wanted a state championship ring.”

“It was Anthony’s last time and he wasn’t going to be denied,” said Susan Jenkins, the Buford High School assistant coach and head girls coach.

The 400-meter race saw Stephens pace himself in the opening 200 meters before hitting a pivotal second gear in the finishing curve and straightaway.

“I tried to stay in the lead pack to the last 200 meters,” he said. “The first half of the race, I ran 75 percent and the last half 100 percent.”

Buford High School boys coach Jareth Bailey said Stephens, the Jackets’ track MVP, followed the BHS strategy with every stride.

“Anthony was focused all the way,” said Bailey. “Anthony ran it like he was supposed to. He knows his point – when to keep his pace and when to turn it on.”

Stephens said a steady pace was the difference.

“If you don’t pace yourself, you can get exhausted pretty easy,” he said “You have to pace yourself. That’s real important.”

Stephens, who figured the deepest he trailed in the 400-meter race was third, said his track strategy was to stay close and make his move over the final 200 meters.

“When they came out of the final turn, he broke away and left them,” Jenkins said. “He knew his pace and saved that final burst for the last leg. It was awesome. He had that nice, easy stride and was just so fluid in the way he ran and finished. He knew what his goal was and went for it.”

“I hit another gear,” Stephens said. “I picked up speed and just ran as hard as I could.”

Stephens’ winning margin reflected his closing effort as he posted a 10-meter win over Tankersley.

“I gave it my all and came out on top. It felt great at the finish,” he said. “That’s the best goal I’ve every reached.

“Hopefully, they will remember and it will serve as motivation for somebody in the coming years.”