Brandon Hill stood at the south end of the Mike A. Myers Stadium track last May and just stared at the times on the scoreboard at the other end of complex.
In both the 100- and 200-meter dashes at Qiana Canete the Class 5A UIL State Track and Field Championships, the then-junior sprinter from Harker Heights uncomfortably saw his name sitting six spots down and well behind South Grand Prairie senior Abraham Hall, who won both events at 10.19 and 20.58 seconds.
Hill’s times, while on par with his performances from prior events, weren’t even all that close, finishing the 100 in 10.61 (0.32 seconds behind Hall) and the 200 in 21.22 (more than half a second off Hall’s pace).
But rather than bemoan his standing in his first state appearance, Hill saw it as a measuring stick for the times he’s shooting for this year.
Hill, who signed with the University of Arkansas on Feb. 9 as one of four area track athletes to sign letters of intent with Division I programs earlier this month, leads a contingent of local track stars who open the 2013 season today with chips on their shoulders after falling short of their goals last season.
That includes Shoemaker senior thrower Cion Hicks, who set the Region II-5A discus record with her 170-foot throw but finished behind current Texas A&M freshman Shelbi Vaughan in both the shot put (43-10¾) and discus (160-10) at the 5A state meet. Hill’s girlfriend and fellow Arkansas-bound Heights sprinter Aliayah McDonald failed to qualify for state completely after struggling at district and region, and Belton decathlete Wolf Mahler, signed with Texas after winning the AAU Junior Olympics the last two years, last August with a total of 7,274 points.
- Ashley Adams, jr., Salado, distance: The sophomore qualified in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at the 3A state track and field championships but faded in both races after strong regional performances to finish eighth with times of 5:25.52 and 11:49.0.
- Qiana Canete, jr., Copperas Cove, high jump: Canete admitted nerves got the best of her at last year’s UIL State Track and Field Meet, but after experiencing state-level competition as a sophomore, the two-sport athlete should be prepared for the grand stage if she makes a return appearance. Canete, the 2012 District 8-5A All-District Volleyball MVP, tied for third place at last season’s state meet, clearing a height of 5-4.
- Cion Hicks, sr., Shoemaker, discus/shot: Shelbi Vaughan stole most of the attention, but Hicks earned some of her own with her record-setting, 170-foot mark in the discus at the Region II-5A meet last season. Hicks, who is signed with Baylor, placed second behind Vaughan in both the discus and shot at the state meet last year. With Vaughan graduating in 2012, Hicks is the thrower everyone will be trying to catch this season.
- Brandon Hill, sr., Harker Heights, sprints: In his second year on varsity, Hill seems primed for big things entering his senior campaign having shown flashes after cruising to gold in both the 100 (10.548) and 200 (21.147) at the District 12-5A meet. Hill qualified for state after placing second in the 200 (21.35) and third in the 100 (10.58) at the Region II-5A meet, advancing as the 5A wildcard in the 100.
- Shonderious Howard, jr., Lampasas, high jump: After producing a second-place finish at the UIL State Track and Field Meet as a sophomore in 2012, Howard looks to improve on his showing this year. At the state meet, Howard cleared 6-7, but Argyle’s Spencer McCloud topped him by an inch to claim the gold medal.
- Johnny Jefferson, sr., Shoemaker, sprints: The speedy, Baylor-signed running back is a two-time regional qualifier in the 100-meters, but has yet to cross over threshhold to reach the state track meet. He finished sixth in the 100 both as a sophomore and a junior at the regional meet, posting sub-11-second times both times and will trying to reach Austin in May before heading to Waco.
- Wolf Mahler, sr., Belton, decathlete: While, the decathlon is not a UIL sanctioned event, Mahler could make some noise in district as he tries to qualify in as many events as possible, including the pole vault, the sprints and even a few jumps. Mahler is one of the top AAU decathletes in the country, and is signed with the Texas Longhorns.
- Daniel McCants, jr., Killeen, sprints: As both a freshman and a sophomore, the third-year letterman finished among the top six in the 100-meter dash at the district meet level. After setting the Killeen single-season rushing school record in the fall, McCants’ name will sound more familiar this season on the track and his success there has been building toward breakout years this season and next.
- Aliayah McDonald, sr., Harker Heights, sprints: The fourth-year letterman signed with Arkansas earlier this month after finishing fourth in the 400 (57.93) at the Region II-5A meet last April. McDonald holds the Heights school record in the 400 (55.64 seconds) — her premier event — and also qualified in the 200 each of the last two years along with anchoring the Lady Knights’ 12-5A champion 1,600 relay team last season.
- Nicholas Meaders, jr., Gatesville, pole vault: Last year, as a sophomore, Meaders was Gatesville’s lone representative at the UIL State Track and Field Meet after clearing a winning height of 14-6 at the Region III-3A meet. But, on the state’s biggest stage, Meaders was unable to record a height. Since then, however, he posted a height of 15-6 to win at last July’s Games of Texas and has earned a pair of top-three finishes at indoor competitions, clearing 15-0 to place third at Belton’s Expo Explosion IV.
- Brittany Mitchell, jr., Killeen, distance: The junior has won three straight individual cross country district championships, including two in 4A and one in 5A, and is no stranger to regional and state meets. The three-time cross county state qualifier, though, has yet to reach the state track meet in Austin.
- Ryan Simmons, jr., Salado, discus/shot: The junior didn’t fare too well last year at the 3A state track and field meet, struggling with his form before finishing third in the discus (162-9) and fifth in the shot (53-11½). But Simmons, the son of Salado head boys track coach David Simmons, entered with a regional-qualifying distance in the discus of 177 after winning the Region IV-3A meet by 20 feet.