By Alex Byington
Harker Heights Herald
WACO - As the defending 800-meter 5A state champion, Harker Heights senior Kyle Thompson has been motivated to not only return to Austin, but do so in style.
The University of Texas-signee will get his chance at the Class 5A state meet by seeking gold in two events after qualifying in both the 800 and 400 at the Region II-5A track meet Tuesday at Baylor's Hart-Patterson Track Complex.
Thompson defended his 800 regional title with a commanding win in 1:51.45 and nearly took gold in the 400 before being edged at the finish line by 0.03 seconds for silver with a season-best 48.22.
"It's definitely helped me with my finishing kick in the 800, and the 800 helps with my 400 endurance. They almost balance each other out," Thompson said.
In the 800, Thompson saw some early competition from Ellison junior Hector Hernandez, but eventually pulled away at the beginning of the second lap. Hernandez, who entered with the preliminary-best time, didn't fade far, finding a kick down the last 80 meters to finish second (1:53.12).
"I was just thinking about second place and forgot about being with him," Hernandez said. "I just gave everything I had - like I had state in mind - and that's what I did."
Gilbert advances with 'wild card'
Through all the heights and accolades, one thing has always eluded Heights' Regan Gilbert - state.
But, despite a third place finish in the pole vault - finishing tied at 16 feet with runner-up Greg Lupton of Humble Kingwood but losing because he needed one more jump at 15-6 - that feat will no longer hang over his head.
"State always seems like something that is just out of reach for me ... but I'm pretty happy," Gilbert said, still uncertain whether he made it shortly after his event. "I should have gotten 16-6, so I could go for sure."
Gilbert advanced to the state meet courtesy of the UIL's new policy of including the top third-place finisher among the four regions. Gilbert's height of 16 feet was better than the winners from Region I, III and IV, allowing him the free pass.
It was his second straight third-place finish at region after losing in a jump-off as a junior at 16-3.
Francis PRs for second
When it was over - the hugs, the handshakes, the interviews and the pictures - Cion Hicks and Ashlie Francis took a walk up the track.
At that moment, the sophomore thrower from Shoemaker and her Belton senior counterpart weren't competitors or District 12-5A rivals. They were friends.
The two can now add another moniker - state qualifiers.
A day after both fell short in the shot put, the duo more than made up for it in the discus. Hicks took first place, with Francis also advancing with a second-place finish. In addition, district runner-up Jaricka Thomas of Ellison reached the discus finals and finished sixth overall.
"It's a tough district," said Francis, who sent a personal best Tuesday but still finished more than six feet behind Hicks. "Cion threw 137 (feet) at our district meet. We've got good coaches and we've got talent."
Carling Urben had to jump cleaner than everyone else.
The Salado junior was tied with four other jumpers for second place Tuesday at the Region IV-3A track and field meet at Calallen High in Corpus Christi.
But, because she didn't miss a single jump on her way to 5-foot-4, she will be going to the state track meet in Austin on May 13-14.
"There were so many jumpers at 5-4 and one at 5-6, but I knew if she just jumped it clean she would have a shot at it," said Salado jump coach Bree Holz-Gonzales. "I don't think Carling understood it at the time and I was trying to hold (in my emotions). When the last girl missed, I knew she got in.
"It was pretty exciting."
Urben joins her teammate, Camryn Bintz, who qualified with a third-place finish (128-9) in the discus, taking the UIL's new ninth spot at state Monday. On the boys side, Ryan Simmons also qualified in the discus (159-3).