At Bethel High, the list of female standouts is long and illustrious. Ara Towns, Francena McCorory, Shakirra Pinnock, Jalani Davis, Samantha Scarlett, and Maya Moore are among the "Who's Who" of Lady Bruins to transition from Big Bethel Road to the college and world stage. In McCorory's case, that has meant two Olympic gold medals.
And with her performance at Friday's Class 5 State meet, Jahnelle Saunders is now firmly implanted on the list.
Saunders entered Todd Stadium with nine state championships under her belt, including six won during her freshman year, as a Class 3 athlete with nearby Phoebus High. Yet, as a Bruin she had not quite put together a single dominant performance at any Class 5 meet,
That box can now be considered checked.
Saunders won the 100-meter hurdles (14.18), long jump (19-6), and high jump (5-4), and her 30 points propelled Bethel to a fourth-place team finish with 36 points. She also scored fourth in the shotput (35-1) to tally all but one of the Bruins points.
According to Bethel head coach Nanette Solomon-Gaines, the performance was grittier than most people realized.
"She set a new meet record in the long jump despite battling an injury. She had been fighting a sprained ankle and injured heel that escalated throughout the season, but she refused to let that hold her back. She made a valiant effort, and if it wasn't for her injury getting the best of her in the 300 hurdles (placing ninth), I think she would have carried the entire team to a state title."
Saunders' willingness to play with pain was inspired by a desire to be available for her team. "I was impressed with her determination and selflessness. She definitely goes down in the books as one of the strongest athletes I've ever coached. I was a proud coach," added Solomon-Gaines.
Midlothian won the team crown with 44 points, a single point over Atlee, with L.C. Bird third at 37.5.
Now armed with 12 state championships, Saunders may be hedging toward a collegiate career as a heptathlete. In late March, she placed fourth at the prestigious NSAF USA Meet of Champions, but with a marginal improvement in the 800-meter run, her position is sure to greatly improve.
And while Saunders won the most events, it was Atlee's Jada Foreman who scored the most points. In the process, she almost won the state title for Atlee by herself. Foreman scored 43 points by herself, winning the triple jump (39-7), placing second to Saunders in the long and high jump, second in the 200, fourth in the 100-meter hurdles and fifth in the 300-meter hurdles.
Two other double winners emerged from the running events. Princess Anne's Micayah Holland won the 100 (11.92) and 200 (24.25), while Midlothian's distance ace Caroline Bowe struck gold in the 1600 (5:00.41) and 800 (2:12.87).
L.C. Bird (400 relay - 47.77), Nansemond River (1600 relay - 3:55.91) and Mountain View (3200 relay - 9:24.34) won the relays with impressive times.
Other winners from the Class 5 girls:
Nyah Harrison (Nansemond River) - 400 - 56.20
Arianna DeBoer (Albemarle) - 3200 - 10:58.25
Sydney Ellis (Nansemond River) - 300 hurdles - 44.87
Anaya Harris (Deep Run) - shotput - 38-1.75
Rosalie Chambers (T. Jefferson S&T) - discus - 110-2
Meredith Baham (Glen Allen) - pole vault - 13-0