By Alex Byington and Kevin Posival
The Cove Herald
Regan Gilbert's vaulting coach told him he was in.
But, after finishing third at the Region II-5A track meet with a height of 16-feet, the Harker Heights senior pole vaulter wasn't sure he made state until he saw it in print the next day.
Killeen freshman triple jumper John Warren had already dealt with the disappointment of missing a silver medal and an automatic qualification by ¾ of an inch. That was until the Roos track coaches inserted a glimmer of hope.
"I was kind of confused. I thought they were only taking the top two and then they explained that there is a wild card. I was like, 'Oh, so there might be a chance?,'" Warren said. "Then, I was on the computer, looking up results for the other (regions) and seeing if I had beaten the other third-place winners."
Warren's 47-6 triple jump was third-best at the Region I-4A meet, and, like Gilbert's vault, is one of the top marks going into the UIL State Track & Field Championships on Friday and Saturday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
Beginning this year, the UIL passed a rule allowing the best third-place athlete in each event across all four regions to earn an at-large, wild card berth.
"I just never even imagined it would have happened, so I'm just really enjoying the ride and enjoying the experience," said Salado senior discus thrower Camryn Bintz, who joined Gilbert and Warren among the area's beneficiaries of the new policy.
In all, there were 170 wild card participants from across the state. Finishing third but failing to move on were Copperas Cove's William Randolph (200 meters) and Jason Hope (high jump).
"I think it's a great thing," said Gilbert, who has finished third at region each of the past two seasons. "I could have really benefited from it last year too, but I think it'll help out a lot of people."
In previous years, only the top two region finishers from each event advanced to state.
"I'm actually pretty happy about the rule," Warren said. "It's like a little guardian angel. Like, you do your best at this one meet, but you still don't make it into the top two. You just happen to beat the rest of the third-place winners."
Bintz's school-record throw of 128-9 at the Region IV-3A meet would have qualified her either first or second in each other region.
"It's very ironic that I'd make it in the sport that I never really came in expecting that much from it," said Bintz, also a standout in softball and volleyball.
Warren's jump, which was a foot shorter than the one that won him the Distirct 8-4A gold, was at least a foot better than the champions of Region III and IV.
"I knew that I had beaten Region III and IV, I believe," Warren said. "I had beaten their winners and I was like, ... I might have a chance."
Killeen junior high jumper Victor Glaze also had a chance - a one-in-two chance, actually.
Glaze and Whitehouse's Nick Palmer both jumped 6-8 in the high jump and finished third at their respective regional meets. After all other tie-breakers had been exhausted, Palmer qualified on a randomly selected draw to earn the state qualification.
"You can see it in his face, he really wanted to make it to state," Killeen boys track coach Greg Russell said of Glaze. "When he knew he had had a chance at the wildcard, he was still excited ... I think that'll fuel him for next year."
For Gilbert, who's signed with Kansas, this year marked his final opportunity to make state after years of coming up just short.
And, after missing out last year when he scraped the bar on his final attempt at 16-3, Gilbert knew he needed a personal-best performance to make it against defending Region II champion Reese Watson of Spring and fellow state qualifier Greg Lupton of Humble Kingwood.
"For regions like mine that are really stacked (in a particular event), it's a real big deal because it would suck if I was staying home again this year," Gilbert said.
But instead of being penalized for the superior competition in his region, Gilbert can count himself among the state's top qualifiers, behind only Watson (16-6), Lupton (16-0) and Region I champion Chase Wolfle of Amarillo (16-6).
"I want to go there and show that I'm not just a wild card - I'm an actual contender," Gilbert said.
State-bound track and field athletes
Ashlie Francis, 5A girls discus
400-meter relay (Orlando Thomas, Brandon Hamilton, Will Randolph, Jalen Gilbert), 5A boys
800-meter relay (Randolph, Hamilton, Thomas, Mark Branch), 5A boys
Mark Branch, 5A boys 110-meter hurdles
John Horton, 5A boys long jump; 5A boys triple jump
Hector Hernandez, 5A boys 800 meters
Regan Gilbert, 5A boys pole vault Kyle Thompson, 5A boys 800 meters; 5A boys 400 meters
Bria McIver, 4A girls 100-meter hurdles
Anthony Taylor, 4A boys long jump
John Warren, 4A boys triple jump
Catherine Bloomfield, 3A girls 100-meter hurdles
Marcus Kehoe, 3A boys pole vault
400-meter relay (Austin Silva, Joe Owens, Fabian Sauceda, Peyton Best), 3A boys
Ryan Simmons, 3A boys discus
Camryn Bintz, 3A girls discus
Carling Urben, 3A girls high jump
Cion Hicks, 5A girls discus