Webster County junior Denaleigh Starks has officially etched her name into the state record books.
Competing at the state track meet for a third straight season for shot put, Starks was finally able to bring home the gold as she captured the Class 2A shot put state title with a heave of 38 feet, 10 inches at the University of Kentucky Track and Field Complex on Friday afternoon.
"Blessed is how it feels," said Starks on winning the state title. "I wouldn't have the title if it first wasn't for God, and second for my family and coaches."
Starks is the first Webster County female athlete to win an individual state track title since Linda Berry (Walters) won the discus throw in 2006, and she is the first Lady Trojan to win the shot put since Jackie Zachary in 1979.
"Anytime an athlete becomes a state champion they place themselves in a very special category," Webster County track coach Todd Whitsell said. "Denaleigh's victory signals how much work and time and commitment it takes to be called a state champion. Denaleigh has a great support system with a family that knows and understands the focus and demand to reach this level. Being 40 years since the last time this has been accomplished really shows how hard and just how special it is to reach this status. Her name goes in the Kentucky record books."
Starks won the competition comfortably as she had the top three throws of the competition. Her other tosses of 37-5 ¼ and 36-8 ¾ were both better than the best throw of runner-up Breanna Hayes of Casey County, who recorded a heave of 36-4 ¼.
"Having the opportunity to compete the last two years at the state meet has given Denaleigh a more driven purpose going into her junior year in setting the bar for herself," Whitsell said. "Denaleigh really showed her competition at the state meet how focused she was with her first throw. She really put it out there for
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everyone else to try and beat. The (first throw) was all she needed to secure the victory."
"Having the chance to go my freshman year allowed me to see what it was like to calm my nerves. I honestly just worked hard and prayed. The late nights got later and I remembered consistency is key."
Starks improved her strength by practicing with a men's shot put ball, which weighs 16 pounds, and also through the support of her family.
"I set little goals and practiced with the men's shot put to make it easier upon myself when I threw the women's," Starks said. "I want to give a big thanks to my mom, Uncle Willie, and Uncle Cecil Ward for constantly pushing me to practice even when I didn't want to. I also would like to thank everyone who believed in me and congratulated me. It hasn't gone unnoticed."
Webster County had two other athletes compete in the state meet as Garrett West and Ryan Roland both competed. The eighth grader West was a major surprise just getting to state as he won the region meet with a photo finish. West placed 18th in the state meet with a 2:10.81 clocking in the 800-meter.
"Garrett really wanted this opportunity and he has a will to push through barriers," Whitsell said. "The 800-meter in my opinion is the toughest event in track and field. The state meet usually consists of juniors and seniors competing at this stage but being in the 8th grade and having the opportunity to compete against the best in the state really shows the mental and physical strength Garrett poses."
Meanwhile the cross-country star Roland had a disappointing showing in the 3,200-meter as he finished just 18th with a time of 11:01.38. But Whitsell knows that the incoming junior will bounce back this fall for cross country as he looks to defend his region title yet again.
"Ryan didn't have the race he wanted and wasn't satisfied with his performance," Whitsell said. "He really didn't look comfortable during the race and it showed. But Ryan isn't going to let this race break his confidence and motivation. He is a competitor and will be back and ready for this coming cross season."