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If there was ever an athlete who was ready to showcase their talents in the Ohio High School Athletic Association's inaugural 7th and 8th Grade Track and Field State Championships, that athlete was Paige Neely.
Neely, an eighth grader in the Stow-Munroe Falls school district, made the most of her participation in the Championships. She earned a spot on the podium in three individual events at the state meet, which took place May 13 at Lancaster High School.
Neely demolished the field in the 400-meter dash, finishing first in the event with a time of 57.11 seconds. She also placed third in the 100-meter dash (12.88) and sixth in the 200-meter dash (27.06).
The Stow school record for a high school female in the event is 57.7. That means Neely's time in the 400 at the state meet was .79 faster than Stow's high school record.
In addition, according to the current Milesplit Ohio rankings, Neely would rank third in the region in that event at the high school level. The top four qualify for the high school state meet.
"In the time that I've had to work with Paige, I know that she is a determined and very coachable athlete," said Aaron Morris, head high school girls track and field coach at Stow. "She is eager to learn about the sport, and she has only touched upon her true potential. She has been very open to learning new events, which is exciting because it means that she's willing to fill in where the team may have some holes."
On the strength of Neely's performance, Stow (19 points) finished in seventh place overall in a field of 75 teams at the Track and Field State Championships. Gahanna South won the Championships on the girls' side with 36 points, while Beavercreek was second (32 points) and Madison was third (23 points).
Of course, Neely can't officially break the Stow school record in the 400until she's a freshman. As one might imagine, Morris is looking forward to working with her during the 2018 track and field season.
"I'm excited to coach her next year," said Morris. "She has a very positive and infectious attitude, and the girls that we currently have on the high school team are aware of her and her abilities. They are excited to get her to the high school, as well."
The 7th and 8th Grade Track and Field State Championships is the second event that the OHSAA has introduced for middle school students. The OHSAA Middle School Cross Country Invitational in October has been held for the past four years.