Published on Thu., June 6, 2024

On Saturday, the Heritage High School girls track and field team won the Class 3A state championship, dominating the competition. This is the team’s fourth outdoor state title since 2019 and its seventh state title out of the last ten state meets (including both indoor and outdoor). 

Thirty-nine of the team’s 79 points were scored by Heritage High twelfth grader Akera Molette, who graduated the following day, ending her high school career with a bang. She won the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, and triple jump events and placed runner-up in the 300-meter hurdles and eighth in the long jump.

Akera Molette competing in long jump and hurdles
A 13-time state champion, Molette has been instrumental in the team’s dominance over the past three years.

A 13-time state champion, Molette joined the team her freshman year and steadily rose to become the team’s star performer. Her performance on and off the track over the past four years have paid off; she’ll attend East Tennessee State University with a scholarship to compete on their Division I track and field team and study exercise science. 

“I’ve grown a lot over the past four years, learning different skills like time management, discipline, and hard work. I’m excited and blessed to have the opportunity to compete in college,” Molette said.

Molette’s athletic career has not been without challenges; a week before the 2024 indoor state meet, she sustained an ankle injury. She underwent intensive physical therapy in order to stay in the competition. Though the injury stunted her performance, she still won the 55-meter hurdles and high jump.

“She got to the point where she was working as hard as she possibly could to get better and win, doing rehabilitative treatments around the clock just to get back and give herself a chance,” said assistant coach Shawn Webb. “No other teenager would have done this. The perseverance and determination she’s developed throughout her career are impressive.”

The team lost the indoor state title by 12 points to Western Albemarle High School. Though frustrating, the missed opportunity made the outdoor win all the more sweet.

Akera Molette in cap and gown at graduation ceremony
Heritage High student athlete Akera Molette graduated from high school the day after securing the track and field team’s seventh championship title out of the last ten state competitions.

The Heritage High girls team has been home to many standout athletes, sending graduates to Stanford University, East Tennessee State University, the University of North Carolina Asheville, Appalachian State University, Radford University, and more. As star athletes graduate, the team continues to produce new leading athletes and charge ahead of its competitors. 

Head coach Don Alexander, one of the first students to run track at Heritage High School after it opened in 1976, has been coaching track at Heritage High for 35 years. He attributes the program’s success to its exceptional students and high standards.

“There’s a lot of talent at Heritage. I have to give the kids a lot of credit. As coaches, we do what we can, but we couldn’t do this without them,” Alexander said. “What we do is what we expect to do. We set high standards for our students because we know what they’re capable of.”

Students are exposed to the team’s high expectations early; Sandusky Middle School student athletes join Heritage High practices and are held to the same standards before even starting high school. The program’s culture of achievement is instilled early, equipping young athletes for success on the track and in the classroom. 

At the end of every practice and meet, the team recites their motto: “What your mind perceives and your heart believes, you will achieve through faith, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work.” On three, everyone yells, “LOVE!” The long-standing tradition, started under former coach Rufus Knight, reminds team members of what they can achieve when motivated by love for each other and themselves. 

Shirt with quote "What your mind perceives and your heart believes, you will achieve. Through faith, dedication, sacrifice, commitment and hard work. Love."
The team’s post-show chant honors its legacy of excellence.

Both Knight and former coach Michael Bennett passed away last year. Alexander found Saturday’s state championship especially profound in the light of their deaths. In addition to Heritage High’s success, the Rustburg High School boys won the state title for the first time since 1978. Bennett, who coached at Rustburg High before coming to Heritage High, would have been proud.

“Both our former coaches died in the past year, and winning this championship felt special,” Alexander said. “Our end-of-practice tradition is a way to keep our past as our present. We appreciate our legacy while continuing to reach for success.”

As the team looks to the future, both coaches predict continued success. Excellence is ingrained in the fabric of the team, passed down from coach to coach and from athlete to athlete across the decades.

“This isn’t a one-time thing. It’s going to happen again and again,” Webb said.

Girls track team holding state championship trophy
The team celebrates their victory after the VHSL 3A championship.
See Related Content