When Sumter High School's Nicole Wells started her sophomore track and field season, she wasn't sure what to expect. She missed almost her entire freshman season due to COVID-19. By the time her sophomore year ended though, Wells finished in the top eight in three events in the 5A girls state meet.
Her success on the track was followed by a different kind of run this summer, as Wells won the vote to become the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Year, winning the bracket that began with 32 athletes.
"It felt good to know that they really liked me, and they wanted to see me do good and succeed," Wells said of those rallying behind her in the voting process. "People were always texting me saying they voted for me and hoped I won. I was really happy."
Wells was out of town during the final round of the Athlete of the Year voting, which made the final vote a little more stressful. She was excited to come away with the win over Laurence Manning Academy basketball player Jaden Sanders.
"I was just like, 'Oh man,' " Wells said of being out of town during the finals. "I was just happy and proud of myself."
Like so many athletes across the country, Wells came into the spring of 2021 with high hopes after missing her freshman season. Because she missed out on an entire year, Wells had to put in a lot of work on her own to make sure she was prepared to take on a full slate of races.
"I kinda had to work on my own to make sure I did great this season," Wells said. "I tried to prepare myself as best as I can."
Wells was hoping to compete at the state track meet this year but wasn't sure how realistic that goal was when the year began.
"I was hoping (to qualify for state), but I really didn't expect to be that good, especially since last season got cut off."
Wells was a multi-event star for the Lady Gamecocks. Throughout the season, the competed in as many as five events. Wells originally won the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Week when she won four individual events, while also running a leg on a winning relay team at the Sumter School District meet. It was also around that point that Wells started to notice she was in the midst of a special season.
"I think in the middle, toward the end of the season is where I started thinking I was getting better, that my work was paying off," Wells said.
Wells also has to work hard to stay at the top of her game while competing in so many events. She tried to keep it simple with a good diet and a lot of stretching.
"A good stretch and good food in your body will give you the energy to carry you throughout the day," Wells said.
As the season continued, Wells started to focus on fewer events. She ended up qualifying for the 5A state meet in the 400-meter dash, the 200 dash and the long jump. Of course, there's a week off between the qualifying meet and state, which can be stressful for a first-time qualifier.
"I wouldn't say it was stressful, but I just wanted to do the best I could at state," Wells said of the leadup to the state meet. "I was trying to work hard so I could do the best I could."
The state meet came with its own set of challenges, as Wells was suddenly facing off against the best competition she has gone against all season. Wells tried to focus on herself more than the competition as she tried to earn medals in each of her events.
"I just tried to do my best," Wells said. "Even if they would beat me, just try to run my best time."
Wells started the state meet with her lone field event, the long jump. She finished eighth in the event with a jump of 16 feet, 2 inches. She was glad to jump before her three races, as she was able to loosen her legs a bit before hitting the track.
"I was a little more warmed up from jumping," Wells said. "That helped me in the 400."
The 400 was Wells' best event. She finished in fifth place with a time of 58.2 seconds. She followed that with an eighth-place finish in the 200, where she crossed the line with a time of 25.5.
Wells has had some time to reflect on her season as a whole, and she's proud to see how far she came during her sophomore year.
"It feels good, because I know I ran well this season," Wells said. "Especially running a 57 (in the 400, her personal best.)"
Now that Wells has her first state meet under her belt, she's driven to improve next spring. She's competing in AAU track meets throughout the offseason to make sure she can take the next step as a junior.
"It makes me want to work harder, because I know I can do it," Wells said. "I want to do better next season."
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