Akeem Smalls knows the feeling of everyone chasing you.
Or rather, he knows the feel of the chase.
The Beaufort High School sprinter, only a sophomore last season, watched Summerville's Carvin Nkanta in awe as the Green Wave senior won region and later took state in the 400-meter dash. Smalls finished third at the Class 4-A meet -- a solid showing -- but admitted this week to being beaten before stepping onto the track.
This year, Smalls is the top dog. The pressure is on and expectations are raised entering this weekend's S.C. High School League state track championships at Spring Valley High School.
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Smalls will line up as the top seed in the 200- and 400-meter dashes after last week's Class 4-A qualifier.
"I'm going to go in there with some fear, because you never know what can happen," Smalls said. "But I'm going to come ready."
This is the spot expected of Smalls since the ninth grade, when everyone took note of the fastest kid in school, Beaufort High boys track coach Carolyn Bostick said. And she believes he has reached the point everyone knew he could.
Smalls, who qualified in four events, is part of a large Beaufort High contingent traveling to Columbia on Friday.
On the boys side, the Eagles will send three hurdlers to the state meet for the first time. Devante Green, Randy Thomas and Henry Jenkins each qualified in the 110 high hurdles.
"Now that they have, the goal is to finish 1-2-3 at state," Bostick said. "And may the best man win."
For the Beaufort High girls, Friday evening will prove key to how they finish as a team. Senior Deja Jackson will compete in the discus and shot put, Veneshia Holmes in the long jump and freshman Madeline Aune will carry her top seed into the pole vault.
Aune's position came after she surprised herself and fellow competitors by clearing 12 feet last week at the Class 4-A qualifier. The height was her personal best and is well clear of the 11-4 mark that claimed the Class 4-A pole vault title in 2010.
"My technique with the vault was a lot better than it has been," Aune said. "My run was great, I was getting far back on the pole. It was shooting me right up."
Aune, who finished sixth at state as an eighth-grader shortly after picking up the event, has since improved with the help of equipment provided by the school and regular trips to work with a pole vault coach in Columbia.
Jackson qualified second in the shot and sixth in discus, in which she has devoted the bulk of her work this week in hopes of improving her position.
The Beaufort High girls are seeded in the top five in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays with a chance to earn big points. The key will be the health of Stephanie Pollock, a member of both relays who injured her quad before the state qualifier.
Pollock has been working with athletic trainers to stretch the muscle and has used pool therapy in hopes of being at full strength Saturday. The 4x100 opens competition Saturday morning and the 4x400 will not be held until early afternoon, giving Pollock ample time to recover.
Holmes, also a member of both relay teams, said the group's success has been with a fast start and that the chemistry has been there when needed.
"All of us are close," she said. "We're sort of like sisters."
Class 4-A qualifiers
High jump: Martin Washington, 3rd
400 meters: Akeem Smalls, 1st; Desmond Howard, 6th
200 meters: Smalls, 1st
110 high hurdles: Devante Green, 6th; Randy Thomas, 7th; Henry Jenkins, 8th
4x800 relay: Ruben Francis, Tarae Davis, Mark Rennix, Timothy Aune; 6th
4x100 relay: D'Vonta Cohen, Smalls, Howard, Thomas; 7th
4x400 relay: Howard, Jenkins, Smalls, Thomas; 7th
Pole vault: Madeline Aune, 1st
Shot put: Deja Jackson, 2nd
Discus: Jackson, 6th
Long jump: Veneshia Holmes, 2nd
4x100: Tiffany Robinson, Stephanie Pollock, Latoya Smalls, V. Holmes; 2nd
4x400: Bre-Anna Heyward-White, V. Holmes, Geneshia Holmes, Pollock; 4th
400 hurdles: Alexia Neal, 5th
200: Pollock, 8th
Class 1-A local qualifiers
(Whale Branch, Ridgeland, Hardeeville)
800 meters: Devontae Lykes, WB, 1st
1,600 meters: Devonta' Glover, WB, 3rd
3,200 meters: Devonta' Glover, WB, 1st
High jump: Devonta' Alston, WB, 2nd
Long jump: Devonta' Alston, WB, 2nd
Triple jump: Saydrian Williams, Ridge., 3rd
Shot put: Wesley Scott, Ridge., 1st; Travon McKee, WB, 3rd; Alvin Brown, Ridge., 4th
Discus: Jarrell Knighton, Hard., 1st; Alvin Brown, Ridge., 3rd; Howard Allen, WB, 4th
110 high hurdles: Aaron Grant, Hard., 3rd
400 hurdles: Aaron Grant, Hard., 1st
4x100 relay: Hardeeville, 1st
400 meters: Adashia Beasley, Ridge., 2nd
4x800 relay: Ridgeland, 1st
4x100 relay: Hardeeville, 1st
High jump: Aaliyah Hill, Hard., 4th