Sparks, Chappell win gold at state track and field championships

SPARKS - "Catch Us If You Can" took the British Invasion band, The Dave Clark Five, to a top 10 spot on the charts in 1965. That was nearly 20 years before Shanna Sparks was born, but on Saturday the Carson High School freshman lived up to the tune when she won the 4A girls 1,600 meters at the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Track and Field Championships.

Sparks simply went out to the front from the start and nobody ever caught her until she crossed the finish line in a time of 5 minutes, 12.83 seconds on a hot and sunny afternoon at Reed High School.

Coupled with points scored by Megan Anderson, Amy Sanchez and Caitlin Prunty, Carson finished fourth in the girls team standings with 52 points. Anderson placed fourth in the discus on Saturday, while Sanchez placed fourth in the 200 and sixth in the 100-meter hurdles, and Prunty took sixth in the 400.

"Our girls did very well for the number of girls we have," coach Todd Ackerman said of Carson's four-girl state contingent.

For Sparks, the 1,600 produced a different outcome than the night before, when she had to fight her way through a close-knit pack before finishing second behind teammate Caitlin Prunty in the 800.

"That's not my race, the 800 was like a prep for this race," Sparks said. "This is my event, I love the mile. I was just determined to do my best and not let anybody beat me."

She went out to the front from the start and finished, nearly 11 seconds ahead of Green Valley senior Abby Miller, who took second place. Rebecca Pope of Douglas also placed fourth in 5:32.

"I wanted to run my race and then make her run my race," Sparks said. "I went out a little too fast on that first lap, but I just wanted to go out fast and not like hang back so they'd be with me at the end."

Sparks ran the first lap in 1:11 and passed the halfway mark in 2:33, more than a second ahead of Miller. She continued to extend the lead from there, marking three laps in 3:55, four seconds ahead of Miller.

Joining Sparks up at the top of the victory podium on Saturday was Douglas senior Chris Chappell, who cleared the bar at 15 feet, 4 inches to breeze to his second straight gold medal in the pole vault. Chappell got his win, but he fell short in his bid to break Martin McClellan's 17-year-old state meet record of 15-7.

"I'm happy I won, I'm just disappointed I didn't jump better," said Chappell, who posted a season best of 16-feet in March. "I felt good today and I had some really good jumps. My jump at 15-4 was awesome; I had huge height in front of, on top of and in back of the bar. I guess I just couldn't put it together on the last three jumps at 15-8."

Chappell still wasn't through for the day. Just minutes after his final miss in the pole vault pit, he changed into sprinting attire and ran the second leg for a Douglas team that emerged as a surprise third-place medalist in the boys 4x100 relay.

"Man, it feels good. We kind of came from nowhere again," Chappell said. "This is just a great team to be on."

Junior Gabe Hatchett surged down the homestretch and caught Reed inside the final 10 meters to secure third place. Matt Parra, Chappell, J.P. Patay and Hatchett combined to finish in a season-best time of 43.67.

"We knew we'd have a chance to pull in a top three if we came in here and ran a good race with good handoffs,," Hatchett said. "We all ran good, we all had good handoffs. I was proud of that."

Anderson was third until the final round of the girls discus and wound up fourth with a throw of 114-7. The sophomore had qualified as a third-place finisher at zone, but her mark on Saturday was the best among Northern throwers.

Sanchez placed fourth in the 200 with a lifetime best time of 25.92. Earlier in the day she took sixth in the hurdles, though she was in the hunt for a medal until she hit the sixth hurdle. Prunty was sixth in the 400 with a time of 59.78.

Notes ...Mojave, behind sprint queen Nicole Ireland, won the girls team title by a 90-67 margin, and the Rattlers completed their double by scoring 106 points to run away with the boys team title, 50 points better than runner-up Reed. Ireland, who has signed with Alabama, became the first 4A female athlete to win four individual events in meet history when she dashed to victories in the 100 hurdles (14.48), 400 (54.67) and 200 (24.28), to go with her first-place effort in the 100 on Friday night (12.06) ... Another featured event on Saturday was the 4A boys triple jump, where two juniors soared beyond the 50-foot mark. James Sims of Valley flew a wind-aided 50-2 to take the lead and then the next jumper, Aarik Wilson of Fallon, popped a 50-1. Ironically, Wilson's jump came within the legal limits on the wind gauge, so his mark went up as a new state meet record, but Sims won the gold medal by one-quarter of an inch ... Carson's Sanchez, Prunty and Sparks, along with Chappell of Douglas will compete again this coming weekend at the Great Southwest Classic at Arizona State University in Tempe. Sanchez is entered in the heptathlon on Thursday and Friday, then on Saturday night, Prunty is entered in the 800, Sparks the 3,200 and Chappell the pole vault. Chappell is also entered in the prestigious Golden West Invitational June 10 in Sacramento ... Sparks' 1,600 victory came against a formidable opponent in Green Valley's Miller, who became a four-time state cross country champion and signed with U.C. Irvine last fall. In November, Miller became the first Nevada recipient of Wendy's High School Heisman Award, given annually in New York City to one high school student based on excellence in athletics, academics and community service.

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