Freshman phenom finishes fifth in state championship

Fred McCormick

When her season ended at the track and field state championship in Greensboro on May 22, Chesney Gardner was standing 105-feet, 8-inches from the discus.

The freshman’s throw was good enough for fifth place overall in the state. Despite her disappointment, the throw would have broken an Owen school record five weeks earlier if it hadn't been for Gardner herself.

The Owen female athlete of the year began her high school career in track and field with a discus throw of 67-feet, 8-inches at Reynolds in early March. She broke the school record by 10 feet with a throw of 105-feet, 3-inches in April.

“Coach Hyder was like ‘Chesney, you broke the school record,’ and I got pretty excited,” Gardner said. “I mean, I had been throwing it closer to the 80s (feet) and upper 90s in practice. Coach had been working with me, and it just clicked.”

That record stood until Gardner appeared at in the 2-A Western Regionals on May 14. She let go of a 107-feet, 10-inch throw that shattered her previous record.

“It felt good when it left my hand,” she said.

Gardner’s performance in the state championship was “great,” according to Joe Hyder, who has been coaching at the school for 29 years.

“The girls she was up against were all really good,” he said. “It’s not like she went out and had a bad day. She was impressive like she was all season.”

Gardner was a standout on the volleyball and basketball courts in the spring and fall her freshman year. Her athleticism was evident by her success in more than just the discuss, according to Hyder.

“Chesney has a best mark of 34-feet, 1 1/2 inches in the shot put,” he said. “She threw that at regionals and finished fifth. The top four advanced.”

She also ran 53.47 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles but chose not to compete in the event in the regionals so that she could focus on field events, according to Hyder.

“She’s one of those people that is driven to be the best at everything she does,” Hyder said. “She’s going to try her dead-level best to beat you at checkers if you want to play her in that.”

In fact, Gardner was initially disappointed with her finish in the championship.

“I was kind of mad about it because I’m really competitive,” she said. “But I gained a lot of experience in that meet by competing against a lot of older girls. And it puts into perspective how hard you have to work to succeed.”

The effort does not end with the school year for Gardner, who will play travel basketball in the summer before offseason volleyball workouts.

“I’ll have a job too,” she said. “I’m the type of person that has to have a lot of stuff going on.”

In fact, Gardner had more on her plate during the spring sports season this school year than she did at any other time. She played goalie for the school’s junior varsity soccer team while on the varsity track and field team.

“To make that happen, both coaches had to work together,” Hyder said. “(Soccer) coach Fiest did a great job of working with us to make sure Chesney was available for us. Coaches don’t typically like to share athletes.”

Hyder and his fellow Owen coaches will likely be competing for Gardner’s services well into the future, as she has three more years to build on her award-winning freshman year.

“She’s got a bright future,” Hyder said. “I see her being a state champion before she’s done.”