Libery's Rocket Man

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Craig Danner turns up the jets to win gold at States

By Mike Forster

  He mixed strategy with performance.  

And, like a modern-day alchemist, Craig Danner came up with gold.

Danner, a Liberty senior, turned in the most remarkable performance of the State AA meet, in winning a State title in the men's 1000 meter run.

The strategic piece came in his approach to the day.  At last week's Region III meet, Danner had competed in back-to-back events, winning the 500 meter dash before being edged out in the 1000.

"I've never known how well I could do in the 1000,"Danner explained, noting that he always ran the race shortly after the 500 took its toll.

He made a call:  scratch himself from the 500, even though he was seeded second in that race, to put all his energy into the 1000, even though he was seeded fourth in that event.

That gamble seemed to backfire when Brentsville's Michael Blair opened up a 20-meter lead in the race's early stage and maintained it going into the final lap.

With 200 meters remaining, Danner struck, his long loping strides eating up huge chunks of the Liberty University track and, more importantly, into Blair's lead.

Danner caught and passed the leader on the final turn, then jetted home to a 1.5 second victory, clocking in at 2:34.34.

"He was so far in front of me, I thought I'd have to settle for second," he noted.  "I didn't think I had a chance."

Well, he proved that he did have a chance.  Danner crossed the finish line well ahead of the pack.  While he pulled up a bit, he didn't stop fully until he landed in a bear hug of an embrace.  That show of Liberty unity was bestowed by teammate Devin Carper, who waited in street clothes for Danner at the wall, just past the starting line.

Everywhere, there was joy for those fans of Liberty red, white and blue.  None was more joyous than Danner, who seemed stunned and euphoric as he accepted congratulations from fans, family and coaches alike.  He was now a State champion.


Other highlights

If you think we're through discussing Danner, you'd be wrong.

While his victory in the 1000 capped his big day, there was plenty more for the young man.  He nabbed a tie for third place in the high jump, going 6'4", an improvement of four inches over his previous best.  In fact, he was seeded 17th coming into the day.

He also teamed up with Justin Haupt, Zach Carter and Austin Roney in earning a sixth place in the 4 x 800 relay.  

Those three events gave Liberty a team total of 18.5 points, good for ninth place, well behind champion Blacksburg (58) and runner-up Lafayette (56).

If you think we're only discussing Danner, you'd be wrong, again.  The meet yielded plenty of State glory for county athletes.

Jefferson Forest's ladies piled up 15.5 points, good for 15th place.  The Lady Cavs were led by Alyssa Shupe, who medalled in three events.

The Shuper-shonic one placed fifth in the 1000, her only individual glory.  She did, however, prove herself to be the consummate team player in the 4 x 800 relay.  After teammates Abby May, Taylor White and Elizabeth Ruhland had run their legs, Shupe found herself in a fight with Christiansburg for the eight-place (and final) medal.  She dove across the finish line, nipping Mikayla Richardson and picking up a nice strawberry on her knee.

Shupe and White also got together with Riley Lee and Carter Edwards to craft a fifth-place finish in the 4 x 400.

"That's pretty good," said Shupe of her haul.  "I'm a little disappointed, but considering my injury (tendonitis), that's about as well as could be expected."

Another who was pretty good was JF's Erin Saunders.  The sophomore speedster took her usual patient approach, enabling her to nab fifth in the  in the 3200, at 11:36.

JF's other points came from Casey Davis, who tied for fifth in the pole vault.  Davis had hoped to hit 10' 6" at States, but still managed to match her previous best, 10'.  Just a junior, she's sure to be a force at the pole vault pit both this spring and on next year's indoor track scene.

River's Leapin' Lily Garrecht accounted for all of the Lady Eagles' five team points.  She flew 17' 2.25" to place fifth, a mere two inches off the mark set by second-place finisher Melissa Progar, of Tabb.

Garrecht also nailed down a tie for seventh place in the pole vault.  Her vault of 10' was equal to that of Davis, but she was bumped down due to tie breakers.

Garrecht saw two of her teammates excel.  Colton Parker didn't let the fact that he was seeded in a slower heat slow him down.  He blazed a 1:09.27 in the 500 meters to earn a sixth place.

David Barrett was the top seed in the first (slower) group of 1600 meter runners.  Barrett had to set his own pace, but did a good enough job to vault over three higher-seeded runners to nab seventh place.

Kennedy Flynn accounted for all of the points for Liberty's lasses.  Flynn picked up her first-state medal in indoor as she kicked home in the 1600 meters with a nifty time of 5:17.15.  "I'm really happy with that finish," said the Flyin' Flynn.  "It should make my outdoor times better."

Liberty was absent Mikalah Jones, the second seed in the triple jump.  Jones, who suffered a concussion in an earlier basketball game, was prohibited from participating.