EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP-- When you think of the 100 meters, Clayton doesn’t come to mind right away as the school to produce a winner.
That’s one of the many reasons why Gabrielle Dillard wanted to cross the finish in first place at the South Jersey Group 1 sectional meet at Egg Harbor Township High School on Friday.
Dillard, a junior, and sophomore Tiaija Hampton took first and second for the Lady Clippers in a race that won’t soon be forgotten at the small school.
“Me and my teammate (Hampton), who I went 1 and 2 with, we had a conversation and said no matter what we do, we have to show our program is growing and really becoming something,” Dillard said. “All the hard work and sacrifices we’ve put in throughout the season are worth it.”
Dillard has been working her way back from an injury she suffered earlier in the year. The two-week work back to top fitness resulted in a winning time of 12.35 seconds.
“I was coming off an injury so I had to get back into the season,” Dillard said. “I sprained my back in the long jump at the Pennsville dual meet. I’ve been back around two weeks.
The Clayton junior knew she was the top seed going into the competition, but she remained hungry after a talk with her coaches.
“Coming in, my coaches instilled in me that I was ranked No .1, but don’t get too comfortable and I think that really got in my mind.,” Dillard said.
When she crossed the finish line in first place, Dillard let out all sorts of emotion coming from a rough personal experience over the last year.
“I was crying because last year, my grandmother had a stroke and she died two days after my birthday so I just prayed at the line and hoped she was my guardian angel, and when I finished I felt like she was with me,” Dillard said. "It was really just an emotional moment for me.”
As the tears of joy started to flow, Dillard turned to her right and immediately hugged Hampton in a moment few could have written to perfection before Friday night.
“That made it even better because I look at her like my little sister,” Dillard said. “To go 1 and 2, I just can’t explain the feeling.”
Just like all the athletes entering the sectional meet, sacrifices were made by Dillard, some even in the final 24 hours heading into the meet in which she became sectional champion.
“It just shows that everything you’ve put in, all the sacrifices,” Dillard said. “Yesterday was prom and not going to After Prom and leaving prom early was worth it because I came out on the track and did what my coaches wanted me to do.”