By Alex Byington and Nick Talbot
Killeen Daily Herald
AUSTIN - As he crossed the finish line, Hector Hernandez notified everyone in the packed Mike A. Myers Stadium who was the top 800-meter runner in Texas.
Lifting his right arm towards the sky, the Ellison senior distance runner extended his index finger to simply indicate No. 1. It was in stark contrast to friend and former Harker Heights rival Kyle Thompson, who last year flashed the "Hook 'em, Horns" signal when he finished first in the same race just ahead of Hernandez.
"Before the race I was thinking, 'What if I get second place? I already have one of those, I kinda wanted the first-place (medal),'" Hernandez said. "And you know, I got it, and it just feels really amazing to be able to say you won state."
Fighting off two oncoming challengers down the final 200 meters, Hernandez won the boys 5A 800 with a personal-best time of 1:49.33 Saturday at the UIL State Track and Field Championships.
But seconds after raising his arm in celebration, Hernandez's body gave out half-way up the concrete stairs leading from the track to the medal stand, as the Texas A&M-signee couldn't make it any further.
Leading throughout, Hernandez faced his first challenge from DeSoto's William Stovall, who came on strong coming around the final curve. Shifting into gear, Hernandez was able to maintain his advantage, until his second challenger, Xavier Moss of Houston Westside, made his charge coming down the final straightaway.
"At about the 75 (meters to go mark), I felt like (Moss) was right next to me, so I just tried to go as fast as I could," Hernandez said. "It was whatever you had left. It wasn't much, just whatever you had left."
Hernandez's 1:49.33 is currently second in the nation behind Drew Magaha of Upper Moreland (Pa.), who has run 1:48.82 this season.
Hicks doubles up on silver
While everyone else was spinning in circles, Cion Hicks took two pretend dribbles and then imagined sinking an easy jumper.
Then the Shoemaker junior stepped into the discus ring and unleashed her best throw of the day - 160 feet, 10 inches - that earned her a silver medal in the 5A girls discus.
"My first sport was soccer and then it was basketball," said Hicks, who also placed second in the shot put. "Acting like I am shooting a basketball just calms me down. I am not spinning and worrying about my technique. I know what I have to do and if I just clam down, I will just do it automatically."
Hicks' final throw, though, left her 27 feet from a gold medal. Shelbi Vaughan of Mansfield Legacy broke the state meet record by nearly the same margin, throwing 187-10. Hicks' shot put throw of 43-10¾ was more than six feet behind Vaughan (50-1 ¼) in the shot put, too.
For Hicks, though, getting a pair of medals was redemption. Last year at the state meet, Hicks finished last in the discus and didn't even qualify in the shot put.
"Really I just took my experience from last year and how the ring was set up," Hicks said. "I was working hard throughout the whole year and what I had to do here was think it was just a regular track meet."
Jordan's fourth try the charm
Levi Jordan was getting frustrated.
The Belton senior just wanted to make a good throw. He had scratched on his first two attempts and his third - an attempt just to make it to the finals - only went 147-4. On his fourth try, Jordan did what he came to the state meet to do - win a medal.
"I was disappointed with the distance on the throw, but not the place I got," Jordan said. "I was 6 or 7 feet short of my personal record, but I was fortunate to get a silver (medal) today."
With a throw of 171-1, Jordan placed second in the 5A boys discus, behind Zac Weatherly of Amarillo Tascosa. Weatherly outdistanced the field, throwing 189-5 on his first attempt.
"I was throwing good throws. I was just scratching," Jordan said. "You just have to sit down and figure it out and then go out and get a better throw. Once I got it figured out, it was real easy."
Canete ties for 3rd in high jump
So far this season, Qiana Canete has far exceeded all expectations.
Improving with each meet, the Copperas Cove sophomore surprised herself just by making it to state.
That's why it's easy to understand her taking a step back, finishing tied for third in the 5A girls high jump with Sadalia Ellis of Houston Cy Falls at 5-foot-4, three inches off her personal best height set at the Region II-5A meet two weeks ago.
"Maybe it was the stadium, I've never been here before, (but) I came in here really, really nervous," Canete said. "I'm just happy I got this far."
After clearing her first two heights with ease, as did Ellis, neither could get over 5-6.
"Usually they jump off for third, but I'd rather tie for third any day then jump off," she said. "I'm just happy I got a medal."
Hill gets pair of 6s in state debut
Making his first appearance at state, Brandon Hill was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all - the stadium, the wall-to-wall crowd, the elite level of competition.
After the starter's gun went off twice for improper starts in the 5A boys 100-meter dash, Hill struggled out of the blocks on his third attempt and never recovered, finishing sixth in both the 100 (10.61) and 200-meter dashes (21.22).
"In the 100, my first start was great, my second start was pretty good, my third start was terrible," Hill said. "I didn't think it'd throw me off that bad, especially when I got in the blocks for the third time … but that start was so slow I was pretty much playing catch-up the whole race."
South Grand Prairie senior Abraham Hall easily won the 200 with a time of 20.58 after also winning the 100 at 10.19.