On the Right Track: Track and Field team epitomizes variety in athletic ventures, displays talent in many events


Meghan Kennedy, Staff Writer

Constant clapping and screaming rings from the crowd as they cheer on the team.
On the track, you see the athletes down in ready position, eager to take on the competition.
The seconds seem to turn into years as they await for the signal to go.
You look to your right and see a huge group of athletes practicing their jumps.
On the field, javelins soar, shot-puts float and discuses fly.
You look to the left, and you see a small group of people walking around, only having a long pole as their equipment.
The team stands on the sidelines chanting each other’s names, encouraging them to finish strong.
Once the signal is given, the athletes jump up and run as fast as they can.
Their arms pump, hoping to gain the momentum needed to win the race.
After a few quick steps, the jumpers force themselves off the ground and float through the air as if they’re weightless, only to land a few seconds later.
The throwers take their needed steps, bring their equipment behind their head and propel it forward as they patiently watch to see where it lands.
First comes the run, as the pole vaulter generates as much speed as possible.
A few seconds pass and, before you know it, they’re mid-air and their life is in the hands of a slender piece of fiberglass.
The crowd erupts with cheers as they support each athlete on the Blue Valley Track and Field team.

Junior Annie Little participates in the 100-meter sprints, 200-meter sprints and 4-by-4 relay.
Little has run track for seven years, starting through a Catholic Youth Organization team. Little said track takes up a large time commitment.
“We have practice from 3-5 [p.m.] every weekday and then sometimes from 10 [a.m.] – 12 [p.m.] on Saturdays at the beginning of the season,” she said. “When we have meets, which are typically on Fridays or Saturdays, they last anywhere from 5-8 hours.”
Little said her practices vary from day-to-day.
“If we’re inside, we run laps around the school and do push ups, squat jumps and stuff like that,” she said. “If we’re on the track, on Mondays we do 300s usually. On Tuesdays, we do shorter sprints like 60-meter to 150-meter. On Wednesdays, we run ‘Oregons’ which are 400s, and we have to get them in a certain time zone. Thursdays are typically pre-meet days, so we’ll do the same workout as Tuesdays but less intense. We’ll practice our starts and handing off the baton if we’re in a relay. Fridays we have meets, usually.”
Little said she chose to run sprints because she doesn’t enjoy distance running.
“I strongly dislike running distance, which is funny because I run cross country, but it keeps me in shape,” she said. “I’m just better at sprints than distance. My body is just built like that.”
Little said the sprinters share a close bond.
“Some of the hurdlers and middle-distance runners are also sprinters, so we’re all super supportive of one another,” she said. “We push each other at meets and at practices.”
Little said her favorite thing about track is seeing her training pay off and achieving her goals each week.
“It’s great all the sprinters on the team are close, and we can all push each other to do better,” she said. “The coaches are great —  [Eric] Driskell and [girls sprints coach Manal] Siam are so encouraging and supportive of me.”

Senior Josh Washington competes in the high jump, in addition to the 200- and 400-meter sprints.
Washington has been participating in the high jump event since eighth grade at Prairie Star Middle School.
“The high jump coach almost didn’t let me jump in eighth grade either because I was only 5’2”, but I talked her into it,” he said. “It ended up working out great.”
Washington said he likes high jump because it’s one of the few events that doesn’t make him tired.
“I don’t like getting tired because it’s no fun at all, unless you get to sleep afterward,” he said. “I picked it because I’ve just always been able to jump high. For example, I dunked my first basketball when I was 5’8”, so I thought I should give this a try, and it ended up being my best event. My high jump teammates and I have a special bond with each other and [track coach Peggy] Rose.
Washington said the practices are his favorite part about track.
“They are so much fun,” he said. “Just everyone is so comfortable around each other, and the funniest stuff happens. People are always doing something crazy, and everyone is so goofy — it’s just hilarious.”
Washington said the high jump group has great team chemistry.
“Everyone who does high jump is really close to each other,” he said. “It’s just a fun group to be around. We all are really relaxed around each other, and that’s just how you have to be to do high jump — relaxed. People may think teammates don’t matter in this event, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Being around my teammates is great simply because everyone there all cares about each other, and they are all behind each other 100 percent. When I got hurt at Regionals my sophomore year, my teammates were right there behind me to let me know I would be all right.”
Washington said his main goal is for the team to have a successful season.
“I want all the high jumpers to be able to go to State,” he said. “Personally, I want to be healthy all season and be consistent with my jumping. Since I was constantly battling a knee injury sophomore year and then it got worse at Regionals, so I couldn’t do track at all junior year, I just want to be injury-free all season and see my teammates do well.”
Washington said his coaches have greatly influenced him in his event.
“Coach Rose and Coach [Eric] Driskell were the first coaches who really made me feel wanted, and they really cared about me,” he said. “It was the first time where a coach really pushed me to be my best, and they made me feel like I was important. Even when I don’t feel like trying my best, I always will because I know that’s what they want me to do, and I can’t let them down.”

Junior Mattie Stafford participates in the 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles and the 4-by-4 relay.
However, she said 100-meter hurdles is her favorite event.
Stafford said she has hurdled since eighth grade at Prairie Star Middle School.
“It was a total joke,” she said. “I was so bad, and everyone knew it. I went into track freshman year thinking it would be fun and a great way to get in shape, but then I some how turned out to be good. Everyone was laughing and making jokes about how bad I was in eighth grade and how I just came into it with this overnight talent or something. It was so funny.”
Stafford has been on varsity since her freshman year. She said her 2013 season didn’t end the way she had hoped.
“I pulled my hamstring mid-season, which took a lot of time off for my season,” she said. “I made it to State, but didn’t perform as well as I hoped, or as well as I did my freshman year. However, I was, in fact, the Regional champion taking first place in the 100-meter hurdle, which is what qualified me for State. That was really cool because the year before I battled for that but became runner-up, so it was a really good feeling this year to hold that place.”
Stafford said her weekly practices consist of sprints on Mondays and Wednesdays and hurdles on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Thursdays are pre-meet days, so you work on your specific events to prepare yourself for the meet the next day,” she said. “We work harder our first day back, then ease off when it comes closer to meet day. Stretching and warm-ups are so important in track, and it’s taken very seriously — a good 45 minutes is just warming up and stretching. If you get hurt, your whole season is thrown off, so that’s why the coaches stress warm-ups so much. Same with cool-downs — we have to run half a mile and stretch before we can leave practices.”
Stafford said her goals for this season consist of being EKL champion and Regionals champion. Also, she said she wants to make it to the State finals.
Stafford said her favorite part about hurdles is the adrenaline and excitement.
“Not many people take the risk to run them because they’re so afraid of getting hurt, but I don’t fear it at all,” she said. “I have such a passion for it, and it’s something I can do on my own. I’m my own team. I’m only competing with myself, and that pushes me to work harder to strive for more. Also, just being able to say, ‘I run in a straight line and jump over bars that stand up from the ground.’ I love it.”
Stafford said she looks forward to track every year because of the family atmosphere.
“I look forward to track season for the group of athletes that I am surrounded by who enjoy running just as much as I do,” she said. “We all become so close because we spend every weekday and every Friday night together. When you spend that much time together and long bus rides, you learn to talk about stuff other than just track and build new relationships. You open up to one another with people you never thought you would come that close with. It’s a special bond that makes going into track season so exciting and ending so hard.”

This is senior Rachel Campbell’s second year participating in the distance event, but she has run track all four years of high school.
“[Running cross country] helps because you build up more endurance and have a good base of training,” she said.
Junior Ryan Edmonds competes in the 4-by-8 meter relay, the 4-by-4 meter relay and the open 400 meter. He said he initially did not plan on running in distance events.
“I was going to run sprints,” he said. “Our coach, Coach [Diana] Huber, had been looking at me and decided to see how well I would do in the 800 meter. I ended up getting a pretty good time for never having run it before. There are high expectations this year, especially coming from such good seasons the previous years.”
Campbell said this event takes a lot of endurance, running six days a week.
“Our practices usually last from 3:15-5:30 p.m.,” she said. “We run a one mile warm up, and then we either do a track workout or run off site — usually four to five miles.”
Edmonds said he hopes to improve his times, make it back to the State meet and qualify for the University of Kansas Relays. He said the coaches are always there to give support and advice.
“The coaches have been phenomenal in their motivation,” Edmonds said. “It doesn’t matter whether they are your coach or a coach from another area of events. Each coach pushes the entire team, always being optimistic and wanting you to improve.”
Campbell said her goals this year are to run a sub-six minute mile and to personal record in the 800-meter. She said the distance group has an unbreakable bond.
“We are all really close because when you run mile after mile after mile together, it creates a really tight bond between us all,” she said. “We call ourselves the distance clique. It’s what I’m best at — it’s fun, and I love all my distance girls.”
Edmonds said his favorite thing about track is the people.
“My freshman and sophomore year I had so many great memories with that group of runners,” he said. “Every practice is always different in terms of what goes on, but overall they’re just an amazing group of people. Everyone pushes one another to become a better athlete, whether it’s running side by side in practice or on the field yelling at you while you run.”

Senior Amy McClain has been pole vaulting for two years.
“I was introduced to pole vaulting in the summer [before] my junior year,” she said. “Then, I continued practicing at an indoor facility during the off-season and went out for the BV track and field team that spring, and I’ve continued.”
McClain said she wouldn’t be competing in the pole vault event if it weren’t for her coaches.
“It was actually [track coach Manal] Siam that encouraged me to try out,” she said. “Coach [Tyler] Lasche is also the stage lights manager, so I met him through Drill Team Spring Show. I was always intrigued at it, and he offered free summer lessons, which also encouraged me to try out even more.”
McClain said she enjoys the pole vaulting atmosphere.
“It’s very relaxed, and I love the feeling of going in the air over a bar,” she said. “Also, I like how there are different aspects of pole vaulting than just running for miles.”
There are only two returning vaulters this year.
McClain said other athletes interested in pole vault should still try out even if they are intimidated by the sport.
“It isn’t as bad as it looks,” she said. “I think it’s really fun being able to go in the air using a pole. It’s a lot of technique, and it’s very unlikely for someone to get hurt. It’s really low key and super fun.”

Sophomore Matilda Brooks participates in the 300-meter hurdles, 100-meter hurdles, 4-by-1 relay and 4-by-4 relay. She ran relays in middle school, but she said she began to take it more seriously her freshman year.
Brooks’ relay group consists of juniors Annie Little, Mattie Stafford and Gabby Gunnerson.
Brooks said she really enjoys being apart of a team event.
“I think my favorite part about relays is that it’s different from any other event,” she said. “You work as a team to reach your goal instead of running individually.”
Brooks said it can be difficult to get the technique down when running relays.
“It definitely takes a lot of tries to get the hand-offs and steps right,” she said. “You have to be very dedicated, and we practice our hand-offs and steps every day during the season.”
Brooks said her individual goal for the season is to work on her personal records. As a team, she said she hopes to see her relay group qualify for State.
Brooks said her favorite memory is making new friendships through her experience.
“We are definitely a family,” she said. “Everyone is so supportive of one another, and we push each other to reach new goals. We push each other to do our best, and we all have become very close.”

Junior AJ Harris competes in the shot-put and discus events. He has done shot-put since kindergarten and discus since third grade. Harris said his dad acts as a mentor and coach in his events.
“My dad’s whole family threw shot-put and discus, so he started teaching me when I was in kindergarten,” he said. “He comes up to my track practices for the high school. It means a lot that he’s always there supporting me, and I know he’ll make me better every time he trains me.”
Senior Caleb Kjergaard also competes in discus, shot-put and the throwers’ 4-by-1 relay. Kjergaard said he started track in fifth grade.
“I was really chubby, so I wasn’t fast enough to run,” he said. “Since jumping events are a battle against gravity, and I wasn’t light enough to jump very far, I figured throwing events were an area I could excel in. I just stuck with them for eight years.”
Kjergaard said a typical practice consists of stretching, throwing and minimal running.
“I usually warm up by doing some fake stretching and hiding in the bathroom when we have to run to get loose,” he said. “Then, AJ ‘Crazy Horse’ Harris and I go up on the hill and joke around with the coaches for a while and pretend to do some work. I usually get about 20 throws in for both shot-put and discus, and then I go home and eat.”
Kjergaard said his favorite part of throwing is dominating the other kids at meets with Harris.
“Either that, or, like, when it gets to be really nice weather outside and I’m just spinning in circles throwing implements somewhat far,” he said. “It’s relaxing.”
Kjergaard said he enjoys throwing more because he’s so close with his teammates.
“AJ and I love each other,” he said. “He sets me up with a bunch of babes, and I try to entertain him with jokes and stuff. We have rap battles quite often during practice and bus rides. He’s an incredibly good athlete and a good competitor. We throw basically the same distance, so it’s always a good competition.”
Kjergaard said there is a strong team chemistry among the throwers.
“We all have a common hate in running, and there’s never any drama,” he said. “AJ and I become best friends from the start of the season until the end of the season. Once the season is over, we basically break up with each other, but, in the end, we all love one another.”
Kjergaard said his goals are to break his old personal records, win EKL and Regionals and place at State.
“[Last season] I got first in discus at the EKL meet and third at Regionals,” he said. “I haven’t ever done well at State, and I’ve been there three times already.”
Last season, Harris broke the school record for shot-put with a throw of 53 feet and eight inches.
“I finished fourth at State for shot-put and fifth for discus,” he said. “I want to break the discus record and make to the State meet.”
Kjergaard said his coaches have motivated him to improve by keeping him working hard.
“Even though Coach [Eric Driskell] isn’t my event coach, he’s been a huge influence on me the past four years, and we’ve become pretty close,” he said. “Coach [Paul] Brown is basically the nicest and smartest person I know. Coach [Lew] Rowe is my favorite coach to mess around with. They’re all great coaches, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.”