For three Columbia County high school seniors, it's about time.
Greenbrier's Renee Jones is a standout sprinter for the Lady Wolfpack, and she measures improvement by shaving seconds off the clock during a race.
Rebekah Madebach and Sarah Madebach compete in cross country and track at Augusta Christian. The twins specialize in distance events, where every step brings them one second closer to the finish line.
Jones and the Madebachs didn't need a stopwatch last week to know that it was time to celebrate.
The three athletes all signed letters of intent to attend University of Georgia on athletic scholarships next year. Jones will run track for the Lady Bulldogs, while Sarah and Rebekah Madebach will compete in both cross country and track.
"It's an honor and a privilege to even be considered to run there, with Georgia being such a big school," Sarah said. "We'll be competing against the fastest girls in the nation, and I can't imagine what that will do for me."
In the words of Bruce Springsteen, Renee Jones was born to run.
"I've been running for the longest time," she said. "I have tapes of me in the fourth grade running at field day."
It didn't take long for Jones to become the boss of the asphalt. As a seventh-grader at a private school in Florida, she placed third in the state meet - against high-school opponents.
Jones eventually excelled for her AAU team. She was selected as the ambassador for Florida for the AAU Nationals, which were held in Antigua.
Speed was taking her places. Jones figured she'd someday secure a track scholarship at University of Florida or Florida State University, but those plans changed when her family moved to Columbia County two summers ago.
Greenbrier High School senior Renee Jones signs a track scholarship with University of Georgia as her mother Linda Jones (far right) and her grandmother Betty Jones (far left) and her classmates look on.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Jones joined Greenbrier as a junior, and word of her ability started to spread. During track season last spring, Jones rewrote the Lady Pack record book, blazing to new school standards in the 100, 200 and 400-meter events. She also was part of record-setting relay teams in the 4x100 and 4x400.
"She definitely lived up to everything she said she is capable of and more," Greenbrier coach Kati Smallwood said. "Renee has got oodles of talent, and not just in sprinting, but in several areas."
University of Georgia coaches spotted Jones last spring at the Taco Bell Invitational in Columbia, where the Lady Pack speedster finished third in the 200-meter dash against an impressive field.
Georgia got in the running for Jones' services, and the deal was sealed with Monday's signing ceremony at the Brierpatch.
"I've always wanted to go to a Division I school," Jones said. "Georgia has a very good track team, and a tutoring facility for athletes so I'll be able to balance my work."
Jones plans to major in pre-medicine at Georgia, but also has set major goals in track - she is shooting for All-American status before her career is through.
"There's going to be a lot of competition to find my place on the team, but I'm up for the competition," Jones said. "I know I am going to develop into a very good runner, because I haven't reached my full potential. I'm actually looking forward to finding out what I can do."
When it comes to comparing Sarah Madebach and Rebekah Madebach to other prep distance runners, Augusta Christian track coach Keith Walton says there's no comparison.
Augusta Christian Schools twins Sarah Madebach (center left) and Rebekah Madebach are surrounded by their
parents and coaches as they sign track and cross-country scholarships to the University of Georgia.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"As far as anyone I've ever seen in high school, they're the best," Walton said. "I cannot remember the last time they lost a race in track, except when they were competing against each other."
Walton wasn't just blowing smoke - the Madebachs have been on fire since they were eighth-graders at AC.
"We have a mind-set of wanting to stay up front, wanting to win," Rebekah said.
Both sisters have made the all-state cross country team for five straight seasons and helped lift the Lady Lions to a pair of state titles, but that barely scratches the surface of their accomplishments.
Sarah has won two individual Georgia Independent School Association state titles in cross country, and has claimed three state track titles.
Rebekah has run to three state track titles, and posted a state-record time while winning the GISA state cross-country crown this fall.
Additionally, the twins have won numerous region individual titles in both cross country and track, where they have dominated the GISA in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter events over the past three seasons.
Family competition has fueled the Madebach's run to glory.
"We were always competitive growing up, and that's been an advantage as we've gotten older," Rebekah said. "We push each other, but we're never mean about it. We have a friendly rivalry."
Family ties led the twins to sign with University of Georgia. Their older sister Brantley recently finished her track career at UGA, and that obviously made an impression on Sarah and Rebekah.
A slew of college programs were recruiting the AC stars, but when UGA extended an offer, the debate was over. "Georgia has always been their dream school," Walton said.
The Madebachs made their dream come true on Wednesday when they officially signed with Georgia.
Both sisters were undecided on their course of study in Athens, but they were certain that the competition will be tough at the college level.
"They're fast," Sarah said. "I'm going to really have to cut my times down."
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