2016 Cross County and Track & Field year in review
The 2016 year was certainly a good year for Tennessee athletes in both Track and Field and Cross Country. From top national rankings by several athletes to stunning performances at several local and national cross country and track meets, TN athletics has proved to be the sports to watch this past year! I thought I'd go over some of the performances throughout the year by each of the sports - indoor, outdoor track and cross country. However, there's going to be a lot of cross-over, so don't hold me to categorizing everything here under any specific umbrella... I'll jump back and forth but will try to make it so I don't confuse everyone too much!
Considering we'll be looking at the calendar year, some of our top track and field athletes have graduated. It seems that in track, the seniors almost always dominant the top of the rankings. Take a look at just the traditional field events (long, triple, shot, discus, pole vault), you'll notice that all the top ranked boys in the 2016 year were seniors. That isn't a coincidence by any means, since mastering the field events takes a bit of patience, requires impressive muscle strength, taps into the endurance arena, extends the bounds of coordination and requires a very demanding technical intelligence. I mean really, what other sport has anything close to the pole vault or triple jump or discus throws? And yea, people think of the Frisbee when looking at the discus, but by no means are they even remotely alike - so get that out of your hear! You try spinning around in a very small circle and launching that discuss as far as you can. And it's not made of plastic! Field events in Athletics are unique and take highly skilled athletes to reach the top of the podium and here in TN, we have some very talented contenders for that stage.
As I mentioned, the seniors certainly dominated the rankings this calendar year in the field events. But looking at the returners, it's a whole different perspective. The younger athletes are going to be the dominant factor this coming year. Take for instance, thrower Dylan Carter who is an incoming freshman that has a top mark coming into the season and although middle school marks are with lighter weights, the transition isn't that dramatic. His win in the throws for the TN middle school state championships were by 20 feet in the discus and almost 12 feet in the shot! That's pretty impressive!
Last year, graduating senior George Patrick of Brentwood Academy was the number one decathlete in the nation with 7,324 points. George added his name to the list of great decathletes we've had in the state. George also topped the long jump last year as well as the 110 Hurdles. It is very difficult to top the national rankings in anything and having a TN athlete do that is very rewarding for the State!
We also had several top Pentathletes out of Tennessee as well. Tyra GIttens continued her dominance in the pentathlon across the state and nationwide. A couple of seniors, although in different divisions, were giving Tyra a run at the point totals, Amber Tanner and Grenetria Shell. As a matter of fact, several of the TN athletes were in the top ten for this event nationally and that just goes to show the level of commitment our TN athletes are putting into the multi-events.
Ok, I got excited and jumped ahead of the calendar a bit here, so let's just step back a few months and review a bit of the indoor season that kicked off the 2016 seasons. If you're willing to make some travel arrangements, January and February can be some big months to run indoor track. The Knoxville Youth Athletics group, well known for organizing the best meets in the area that showcase enormous talent, continued that undertaking again in 2016. With the KYA indoor, Vanderbilt HS indoor and the KYA State Championships, TN gets a good spot on the map for indoor track again in 2016. With more and more athletes entering these indoor meets, it is becoming obvious that TN is growing this sport by leaps and bounds.
For the boys, we saw some very strong performances and even national rankings from our athletes. Terrell Jackson blistered the Vanderbilt track with his 1:52.28 that was a national best at the time (top 5 by the end of the season). There were several seniors competing on the indoor circuit last year in the 800 and with Terrell graduating, I'm curious who is going to step in and put on a show this year! Brodey Hasty dominated the indoor mile and continued his excellence throughout the year in the distance events. Running a 4:18.19 for the mile at the New Balance Indoors that was just ahead of his teammate, Taylor Vroon's 4:18.38 just puts notice to everyone how strong these two guys really are. Both athletes also went into the outdoor and cross country seasons very strong, and we'll talk about later.
I'm always interested to see how athletes do in the indoor pole vault event, especially when some areas do not have an indoor facility they can use during the winter. I knew a coach that once brought a shovel to pole vault practice one winter so he could clear off the snow on the runway... heck, he keeps the shovel in the trunk of his car all winter! Anyways, a couple of graduates took control of the vaulting event this year with Allie Hughes at 10-11.75 and Jack Crouch at 15-0. And by the way, both these athlete went on to the outdoor season and stood on the top of the podium in the outdoor state championships. And yes, they also won the top spot in the KYA Indoor track and field championships this year as well. With these two athletes leaving by graduation and a lot of seniors in the top ranking, the pole vault could be a wide open event this year. Jacob Sobota seems to be the top contender coming into the New Year for the boys and Taylor Pickett for the girls. And that is for the indoor as well as the outdoor season! Rachel Smith matches Taylor's outdoor best and we'll have to see if she keeps that trend into the indoor season this year. Rachel improved by almost two feet between her 2016 indoor best and 2016 outdoor best. If Rachel continues that improving trend, well, we just might see someone take a look at the state record height in 2017.
Kiara Rhodes is another athlete that has excelled in both the indoor and outdoor season. Her 24.94 in the 200 indoor at Arkansas invite has her standing on the top of the indoor rankings. Being from the Memphis area, I've got to witness Kiara's growth in the sport and she continues to get better each season, whether it's indoors or out. Among the top ten indoor 60M sprinters, seven girls in 2016 event were seniors. With her mark of 7.82 in the 60, that leaves Kiara with another top mark for her resume as she enters the 2017 seasons.
Meghan Underwood, a phenomenal 800M athlete blistered the indoor event for the season in 2016 with a 2:13.18. Running as a sophomore, she was just edged out by an Atlanta senior in the elite competition at the Vanderbilt high school indoor invite to set that mark. That time put her in the top 5 for all sophomores in the nation. She sat out the outdoor season per transfer rules, so this athlete is going to be coming out pretty hungry this year.
Just so I can get on a soapbox a bit, I thought I'd change the subject for a second. I'd like to talk about coaching in our sport. Track and sometimes even Cross Country tends to be put on the back end of the list of high school sports. Because of that status, we see people placed into the coaching position that maybe aren't the best. Sometimes it's a parent stepping in because nobody else is available. Sometimes it's just a stipend for someone. And at times, it's a football coach or basketball coach filling a spot. I'm not saying these can't be good coaches in our sport. Typically though, when it comes to Track and Field and Cross Country, if you aren't interested, or more important - fully into the sport, it's likely the kids you are coaching are going to get the short end of the stick. I'm saying this because I've experienced it and I don't like it at all. I've had the pleasure of knowing coaches all across the state and we have some fantastic Track and Cross Country coaches and I'm truly proud to know them! On the other hand, there are schools that have pushed people into coaching track and cross country that are, let's say it nicely, not that interested in the sport. In those cases, the obvious happens - poor performances and poor team results. I believe it is the responsibility of the athletic directors and school presidents to put the same effort towards a track or cross country coach that they would put towards some of the other sports. Really, track and cross country are the basics of every other sport on the planet - running, throwing, jumping... true grass roots sports in every way shape and form! Our athletes in this sport across this state should get nothing less than the best consideration as to the coach that will give them all their heart to make them the best Track and Cross Country athletes they can be. That's not hard to do; there already are a lot of those coaches out there right now! Anything less is not acceptable anymore!
Ok, I feel better now that I got that off my chest! I'll step down from the soapbox and get back to the year in review!
On the track again, Adam Neelly (Gallatin HS) proved to be pretty proficient at the shot put and the discus. His 61-35 and 184-7 in the shot and discus at his Sectionals this year topped the state rankings and also gave him the confidence to capture his first state titles in both events this year. And not to be outdone by the boys, Mikala Thompson of McGavock High School, decided she would set the highest marks of the year in the same two events. Her 149-0 mark in the discus was set on her way to the state championship win and the 46-5.5 shot was marked during the summer AAU Junior Olympic games.
Another impressive track athlete we saw during the 2016 season was Calvin Austin III. Calvin tops the D2 list for the 100, 200 and 400. His 21.41 in the 200M is the top for all divisions. This well rounded athlete is going to be a force in the 2017 season as well.
It's hard to not talk about the 2016 season without mentioning Brodey Hasty, Ben Varghese or Taylor Vroon for either the 1600, 3200 or the cross country 5K distance. These guys were very prominent in the distance events and we will see them this spring for the 2017 track season. A couple of graduated guys were the top dogs in the 1600 though this year, Joshua Bell and Josh Routh had the best times for the 2016 season and are heading off to run elsewhere now. And I cannot go further without mentioning talking about the Winders brothers. Javan, who is not graduated and running in college, was one of the best distance runners as well with a 9:14 and 4:15 (3200, 1600). But could his brother be even better? Titus came on strong in 2016 during the track season but really shined as he got into the cross country season. This junior is certainly going to be in the mix throughout the running seasons in 2017.
The 2016 cross country season was probably one to mark down on the all-time best in my opinion. If you happened to be at the 2016 TN classic meet, then you got to watch those athletes run through a monsoon. It was a classic cross country meet and one that put the athletes through a very demanding race through some very demanding weather. And if you went to the Brooks Twilight, then you ran in a different sort of wet - humidity! The year saw some pretty challenging weather events but nowhere did the athletes look like it bothered them.
The state boys meet for AAA was an expected outcome but that didn't take away any of the excitement in that race. As we all know, Brodey Hasty won and Taylor Vroon was second. Ben Varghese had a problem and had to drop out, but not before pushing these guys to a blistering first mile that by no means was comfortable for anyone. Titus Winders finished in the third spot and pretty much solidified the group as the top athletes to watch in the 2017 seasons as well. Brodey went on to defend his 5K title in the Nike cross nationals southeast regional. Brodey and Taylor were the only two boys to break under the 15 minute barrier, and they did that in impressive fashion - Brodey hitting 14:32.20 and Taylor a 14:57.40! Nice running guys and can't wait to see what the 2017 track season brings and what times these guys hit!
To finish off a probably the strongest performances for the 2016 season among Indoor, Outdoor and Cross Country, I'm going to get on the line and say the girls cross country was the standout. There were nine seniors in the top 25 for the girls 5K in 2016. Six of those ran under 18 minutes. And of that group of six, only one is a senior. That is Niamh Schumacher who has the second fastest time of 1718.27 for the girls 5K in 2016. The others with the sub 18 include Niki Narayani (17:56), Erica Fisher (17:44), Sasha Neglia (17:32), and Annika Sleenhof (17:22). But clearly the one that stood out this season in cross country was Rebecca Story.
Rebecca has a top ranking in the 5K and season best time of 17:12.03. The 2016 year has been very good to Rebecca too, with a state win in the 800M on the track (2:17.50), state win in the 1600 (4:58.40), state win in the track 3200 in 10:58.91, and then on to a state win in cross country. That's a lot of state titles. And to think that early in her middle school career, she ran the cross country two mile in just over 13 minutes and ended up 88th overall in the KYA championships. Of course, that sub 10 at the HokaOne in Knoxville was lots of fun to see! And as impressive as all that is, the cream of the crop came at the very end of the year when she ran to a sixth place finish in 17:38.40 at the Foot Locker south regional. That sixth place spot got her a spot in the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego's Balboa Park. Rebecca ran a very smart race in the park and slowly moved up the pack to get a 3rd place finish in a time of 17:35.43! That finish gave her the opportunity to be selected by the USA Track and Field committee to represent the USA in the 4K cross country run in Scotland. Unquestionably one of the best stories of the year!!
No doubt I left off a lot of great athletes and performances, but there's only so much space and time! The bottom line is that the sports of Track and Field and Cross Country are growing in this state. We are seeing records fall, a lot of great performances by a lot of great athletes, and more athletes coming out for the sports. The depth of talent in this state is also growing. There are probably a lot of reasons for the growth in our sport. The level and shear number of injuries we see in some of the other sports has likely been a factor in Track and Cross Country's growth recently. You can get injured in track and cross country but not usually to the degree we see in soccer or football or basketball. And certainly not as career threatening as we see in those sports either. So with all that in mind, let's see who else might try their hand in track and cross country in 2017 and let's see how good we can get this year!
Happy New Year and see you on the track and the grass in 2017! - Coach Ted