In the previous four years, if a school wanted to win the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s (NCHSAA) East Regional Championship in boys’ track & field, they had to go through the Lejeune High School Devil Pups. This year was no different, with the boys’ team dominating the competition and finishing as the region’s top team for the fifth year in a row.
“These athletes won’t settle for less,” said the boys’ track & field head coach Bronwyn Schwend. “Our athletes fully embrace the hard work. That’s the culture they foster. Even as transient as our population is, when new athletes arrive they quickly catch on to the attitude and level of effort the team expects.”
The LHS boys got standout performances from Karl Benson and Kyle Baldwin. Benson took gold in the 1600-meter run and bronze in the 800-meter while contributing to two relay teams’ top-three finishes. Baldwin grabbed gold in the pole vault and bronze in the 110-meter hurdles.
Baldwin, a junior whose father is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, credits much of his team’s success to the coaching staff and the bond between teammates.
“Our athletes are incredibly supportive,” said Baldwin, who traded in his baseball glove for track spikes after his freshman year. “I see an actual camaraderie in our team at practices and at meets especially. We work really well together … We have some kids that have some struggles with grades, but you’ll see every kid help them out from time to time, and that’s something I could never expect from another team. That’s just something different here at Lejeune that I think really supports us.”
Nicholas Presley, who finished fourth in the 1600-meter run, earned gold medal honors by finishing first in the 3200-meter with a time of 11 minutes, 28 seconds. Other notable individual performances came from Dylan Presson and Niklas Cooper, who finished third and fourth respectively in the pole vault, and senior Mason Nuckles who took bronze in the 300-meter hurdles.
“I think the biggest difference (from past years) is that this year’s team is so young,” Coach Schwend said. “We have only one senior on the team this year, Mason Nuckles. The rest of our standouts are juniors and sophomores, and we even have a couple freshmen who are already making names for themselves.”
The boys’ total of 78 points gave them a decisive victory over second-place team Manteo (55 points) and the third-place finisher, host school Holmes (54 points).
Junior Georgia Lee led the way on the girls’ side by taking silver in the 3200-meter run and a couple of bronze medals in the 1600-meter and the 800-meter runs. Emalee Reynolds earned gold medal honors in the pole vault as Allyssa Ocampo (3rd) and Ashanti Victore (4th) each helped put points on the board for the Devil Pups who needed every additional point they could get.
Bronze medals from Anna Perdue in the discus and Jameela Rod in the high jump helped give Lejeune a fighting chance at claiming the region’s top spot. A fourth place finish from Taylor Pound in the 3200-meter was also crucial in tallying as many points as possible. In the end, the Devil Pups came up just short of gold, but solidified silver by a narrow margin of three points.
Coastal 8 1A/2A Conference foe East Carteret took first place overall with a total score of 79.5, followed by Lejeune (73 points) and Southside (70 points) finishing third in a close battle.
LHS girls’ track & field head coach Debra Bryant was not only pleased with her team’s performance, but also proud of the way they conducted themselves and exhibited good sportsmanship.
“Not only did they perform their best at the meet, they cheered on their teammates to include the boys’ team,” Bryant said. “They also received multiple compliments from other coaches as to how helpful, respectful and polite they are.”
The Devil Pups will travel to North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC on May 18 for the NCHSAA 1A State Championship.
NCHSAA 1A East Regional, May 10, 2019 (Holmes High School, Edenton, N.C.) Results:
Boys (top three): Lejeune 78, Manteo 55, Holmes 54
Girls (top three): East Carteret 79.5, Lejeune 73, Southside 70