By Alex Byington
By the Book
"A little opposition gives spice to life." - Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Anne's House of Dreams"
There is some debate whether competition truly brings out the best or the worst in people.
Well, in the case of athletes, it tends to be the former.
At least from what took place on the second day of the Region II-5A track and field meet Tuesday at Baylor's Hart-Patterson Track Complex in Waco.
Facing off against the region's superior athletes, several area competitors came away with their best performances of the season.
As the high school prep season wanes, it's the time when champions step up against other challengers vying for that coveted golden ticket - otherwise known as a spot at the Class 5A state track meet May 13-14 at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
Bright and early Tuesday, before many of the runners - or sports writers (ahem) - had even made it to Waco, Belton senior thrower Ashlie Francis was already well on her way.
In the girls discus preliminaries, Francis opened the day with a throw of 120 feet 1 inch - almost two feet of her personal-best of 121-11 - to practically assure herself a spot in the finals from the get-go.
Entering with the second-best distance, the level of competition jumped 10-fold when Shoemaker sophomore Cion Hicks let rip a distance of 132-10, nearly nine feet more than the then-best throw.
Francis embraced the challenge, following up with an incredible toss of 127-01 - setting a new personal-best by nearly six feet.
And even when Hicks answered with a throw of 133-05 on her next attempt, Francis' effort was more than enough to earn her the silver medal along with a ticket to state.
Not too long after, the area had its next ticket punched courtesy of the University Interscholastic League's new policy to allow a ninth state competitor - with the top third-place finisher from all four regions advancing.
That lucky dog was Harker Heights senior vaulter Regan Gilbert, who - for various reasons - has always struggled with making it to state.
Last year, he lost in a jump-off for second, clipping the bar with his chest after clearing a personal best height of 16-3. As a sophomore, he didn't even make it to region after snapping his pole at the District 12-5A meet.
But in his last try, Gilbert wasn't going to go away without a fight.
So hyped to jump he could barely contain himself, the energetic Kansas-signee easily cleared his first several heights before switching to a much stronger pole for 16-6.
After missing the first attempt, Gilbert refused to move back to the previous pole, saying later he didn't want the pole to beat him.
But, the pole was admittedly too much for him, and Gilbert had to settle for third - and, thankfully for him, a "wild card" ticket to state.
Both these athletes displayed the drive that it takes to make it to the state level.
Testing their mettle against other equally talented individuals, both answered the call. And despite coming up short of the gold, both will be able to represent their schools at the highest rung of competition, where they'll undoubtedly face their toughest opposition yet.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566. Follow him on Twitter at KDHsports.