COLUMBIA-- Desmond Howard lingered at the top of the awards stand Saturday before slowly descending the three steps back to earth.
The Beaufort High School senior protected the feeling after he and three teammates -- Nathan Parker, Tony Winston and Darrian Chaplin -- flew through the Class 4-A boys 4x400-meter relay, setting a state record while edging Spring Valley at the S.C. High School League track and field championships, held at Lower Richland High School in Hopkins.
Their time of 3.16.35 was faster than the 3.16.70 Orangeburg-Wilkinson ran in 1996. And the Eagles' relay broke a school record set in 1989.
The group had finished fourth in the 4x100 earlier in the day. Howard, the team captain, told his teammates to shake off the performance. There was another race they could win.
"I feel like a king," Howard said.
Hilton Head Island High School's boys finished second in the Class 3-A team standings. The Seahawks finished eighth in the girls standings.
Beaufort High's boys finished ninth after the dramatic 4x400 victory. The Beaufort girls finished eighth, behind senior Kaila Smith's state title in the 400-meter hurdles.
Whale Branch Early College High School's boys did not repeat as the Class 1-A champion, finishing seventh after not having the numbers and sprints they did a year ago. But the 4x800-meter relay delivered a state title. The Warriors ran 8:40.54 to hold off Allendale-Fairfax, which Whale Branch had beaten the previous week at Lower State.
"We didn't want to be too cocky," Whale Branch junior Damian Brown said. "But we knew we had it."
Whale Branch senior Dee Delaney, all-state in football and basketball and a North-South baseball selection, delivered the school another gold medal when he coasted to victory in the 400 hurdles. Delaney ran a 56.99, beating McBee's Bernard Robinson by more than 2 seconds.
Battery Creek sophomore Quamecha Morrison jumped 5 feet to win the Class 2-A girls high jump. As a freshman, Morrison finished eighth.
She attended camp at Winthrop last summer and worked with Dolphins coaches to perfect her form and routine. She faced off with Waccamaw's Detta Green in the end, clearing the winning height after Green dislodged the bar with her jump.
"Even though I didn't get (the height) I wanted, it feels good," said Morrison, who also finished second in the 100 hurdles and helped the Dolphins girls to a ninth-place team finish.
At Beaufort High School earlier this week, as the girls soccer team began a playoff game, Smith remained on the track, working overtime as she had all season.
Smith wanted a personal best time in the 400 hurdles, not just a state title.
She earned both by running a 1:00.87, topping her previous best set this past summer and winning the Class 4-A race almost 5 seconds ahead of Dorman's Sherin Malone.
Smith said she took it a little easier in practice this week, to save her legs. She finished second in the 100 hurdles earlier in the day, running a 14.6. Smith said she was happy with her 100 time, which had fluctuated while she focused on her main event.
Her 400 time beat her previous best of 1:01.16.
"I think I'm more efficient over the hurdles now," Smith said. "I know how to attack them now. I used to be a little tentative when running. So now I just know to be aggressive. My first 200, I got out really good and did my steps."
The former Charlotte resident, whose parents both competed in track and field for Beaufort High, signed this week to run track at Coastal Carolina.
She stuck around Saturday to congratulate the boys' 4x400 relay team and take pictures.
The Eagles' boys finished runner-up to Spring Valley at the Taco Bell Classic in April, behind by 4 seconds. A swap in the lineup and some technical work this past week made the difference, Eagles boys coach Al Harvey said.
Tony Winston, who did not run the relay at Taco Bell, grabbed the lead in the second leg, and Howard used his rivalry with Vikings' anchor Bradley Gibson to fuel the final leg.
As the last event in the 4-A meet, there was no rush to leave the track. Howard, Winston, Chaplin and Parker were the last on the awards stand and then crossed the track to greet supporters.
"They definitely turned it up notch," Harvey said. "They went into the race with a lot of confidence."
S.C. High School League track and field championships
Area state champions
Beaufort High boys 4x400 relay (Desmond Howard, Nathan Parker, Tony Winston, Darrian Chaplin), 3:16.35 (state record)
Kaila Smith, Beaufort High, 400-meter hurdles, 1:00.87
Quamecha Morrison, Battery Creek, high jump, 5 feet
Whale Branch boys 4x800 relay (Charles Jiles, Damian Brown, Tyion Brunson, Devonta' Glover), 8:40.54
Dee Delaney, Whale Branch, 400-meter hurdles, 56.99