Robert E. Lee sophomore Branson Ellis was the only competitor to clear 15 feet, six inches and captured an area championship Friday at the District 11/12-6A area meet at Bulldawg Stadium in Copperas Cove.

Ellis is in his first year competing at the varsity level after jumping on JV a year ago. After watching the rest of his competitors fail to clear the 15-6 height to make him area champion, the sophomore tried three times to reach a personal goal of clearing 16 feet.

He didn't accomplish it this week, but REL coach Tony Holmes believes he is gaining in confidence with each competition.

"He's really, really close to getting it, so he's excited about that," Holmes said. "He has a lot of potential and upside in that event."

The top four finishers in each event qualified for the Class 6A Region II meet in Waco.

Joining Ellis at regionals is cousin Nadia Sukiennik, also a sophomore, who finished fourth in the girls pole vault by clearing 10-0.

Lee senior Tyrec Grayson overcame a stumble at the start of his 100-meter dash to recover and finish in a time of 10.89 to book a return trip to regionals.

"Normally he's the first out of the blocks, so (that) is (something) he needs to clean up," Holmes said. "He's excited about where he is with his training and now hopes to be in the final two next week (at regionals)."

Lee junior Mary Claire Neal was district champion a week ago in both the 1,600 and 3,200, but decided to forego the longer-distance race and concentrate solely on the mile.

It paid off as Neal ran a season-best time of 5:12.44, shaving five seconds off her district-winning mark. Neal finished third overall in the race, three tenths of a second behind Belton's Brooke Gilmore (5:12.14) and a little less than four seconds behind area champion Amber Boyd (5:08.89) from Copperas Cove.

"This was a tough meet for distance running and Mary Claire really ran well today," Lee distance coach Dennis Baker said. "The girl who won it led from wire to wire and the girl who was second is Mary's nemesis from last year's (track) season."

Finally, surpassing early-season expectations, the Lee boys 4x400 relay benefitted from a strong third leg by Grayson to hold off Belton for fourth place and grab the final regional spot of the night. Lee's team of Henry Jenkins, Ralyn Ellis, Grayson and Keashun Davis finished in a time of 3:21.31 - just 15-tenths of a second ahead of fifth-place Belton."

Tonnecia Miller was one-tenth of a second shy of going to regionals in the girls 800-meter run as she finished in a time of 2:23.67.

Ellis finished sixth in the boys 400-meter dash with a time of 51.70 and Shafen Borah was sixth in the boys 800-meter run with a time of 2:02.98. In the boys mile, Simon Gachibi was fifth in a time of 4:38.28.

Lee's lone thrower to qualify, Gabby Billington, finished seven in girls discus, and Makyle Sanders competed in boys triple jump.

Overall, Lee boys track coach Tony Holmes was satisfied with how the meet went and the steps REL girls and boys track are taking in general.

""With my first time being with the kids (this season), they bought into me and the program that I've brought," Holmes said. "The kids competed well and I thought it went (well)."









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