BORN TO RUN RELAY: Cathedral relay team wins state title, school’s first in MAIS

Published 12:29 am Friday, May 13, 2016

NATCHEZ — The Cathedral High School boys 4×800-meter dash team hadn’t yet stood at the top of the podium after races leading up to the MAIS AAA track and field state championship May 7 in Jackson.

Green Wave runners Weston Diamond, Nic Waycaster, Jalen McCoy and Austin Gibson had placed second in their district meet and third in their South State meet.

“We pretty much thought we were going to place second,” Gibson said. “Columbia had run 8:40.00 or something and our fastest time was around 9:04.00.”

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Instead, Gibson — a graduating senior — and his teammates set a personal record for the 2016 season, a time of 8:54.42 to win first place in the event and take home gold medals.

“Once that gun goes off, (my nerves) went, poof,” said McCoy, who ran the first leg of the race.

Waycaster was the relay team’s anchor. He said he immediately sought out his teammates after he crossed the finish line. Gibson said he got emotional and shed a few tears of joy.

The track and field victory was Cathedral’s first state title as part of MAIS. It was also coach Tommy Smith’s first title as a coach.

“Jalen gave us a good, solid lead,“ Smith said. “He passed the baton to Austin, who held his own … there was that extra determination because they knew how close they were.”

Smith said the team shaved approximately 10 seconds off its previous times and won the event by approximately three seconds.

“We knew all of (Columbia’s) times, and we matched up our guys against theirs,” Waycaster said.

The odds seemed to be stacked against Cathedral, because of events that transpired in earlier weeks.

During a different event at South State, Gibson strained his hamstring muscle and was unable to practice regularly leading up to the state meet.

Smith said he instructed his senior athlete to rest before he checked his recovery progress Thursday before the meet.

Smith said on the Tuesday before the meet, he thought Gibson was doubtful for the race. After his Thursday workout, Smith was impressed Gibson ran just two seconds slower than his average time.

“We worked on him all week long and iced him down,“ Smith said. “We tried him out on Thursday, and we weren’t quite sure what we were going to have. He ran a good leg and it was perfect because the other three really picked him up … they wanted to pick up the slack for Austin because they knew he would have done the same for them.”

McCoy said that Gibson was doing his best Peyton Manning impression by winning a state title in his final track meet at Cathedral. Gibson said he plans to attend the University of Southern Mississippi and wants to try out for the Goledn Eagles’ cross country team as a walk-on.

Three-quarters of Cathedrals 4×800 team will be returning to defend the title next season. Waycaster and McCoy will be juniors in the 2017 track season, and Diamond will be a sophomore.

Diamond said a medal in his first state championship is a good way to set the tone for his high school track and field career.

“It’s pretty awesome (to win as a freshman),” Diamond said.

Smith recognized all four runners, not only for their achievement on the track, but their sportsmanship.

Smith said one of Columbia’s runners was unable to run in the state meet because of injuries suffered in a car wreck. He said Columbia and Cathedral team had been neck-and-neck for most of the season.

“We drove back from the meet and Austin asked, ‘Do you have the Columbia coach’s phone number? I’d like to send him a card,’” Smith said. “That speaks volumes to who they are beyond just athletes.”