The Smith-Cotton track and field team found itself having to replace a quality senior class that graduated last spring. The team reloaded, partially with freshmen but also with a strong group of athletes who are trying track for the first time this year.
The group of newcomers is spread out over a wide variety of events, and many of them are already seeing success.
“We just treat them like athletes,” said Smith-Cotton track coach Brad Hagedorn. “That’s all we ever do is to try to create the best athlete we can and find a home for them in whatever the events are. Some of them have been able to learn rather quickly where they’re best at. A couple of others are still trying to find that best spot. If you’re a good athlete, you’re going to be fine.”
Many of the rookies were athletes before they joined the Smith-Cotton track and field team. Logan Parham and Jack Marsh played football last fall. Parham was also a member of the Tigers’ wrestling team. Kevin Salas played soccer.
“I wanted to get faster for soccer season and get in shape to get ready for it,” Salas said.
Parham and Marsh also said they were looking for something that would keep them in shape through the offseason.
“A bunch of the runners and coaches asked me to come out,” Marsh said. “I had nothing else to do so I came out for track to stay active for football so I don’t get lazy and out of shape.”
With an eye toward football and wrestling next season, Parham said he hopes track helps him “stay in shape and get faster.”
Salas, a sprinter on the track team, was talked into giving track a chance by soccer teammate Luke Guier.
“I wanted to get a better pace,” Salas said. “He told me it would help me run fast and give me better form.”
Alex Stewart joined the girls track team this year as a senior but she is already very used to running.
“My first three years I was on the JROTC drill team,” she said. “That gave me something to do in the spring. This year, I was on the Raider team. That ended in November. I just wanted to have something else to do to keep in shape.”
She’s in the middle distances as well as shot put and discus. Running an 800 is a big change from the 10k’s she would do with the Raider team.
“I really had to get a feel for my pace and how I needed to pace myself,” she said. “I’m used to such long distances. I know how to do a 10k perfectly fine.”
The new members of the track team who have been members of other teams in the past came in knowing there would be work to put in.
“If they can come in and do the training we’re requiring of them, they’re going to be successful,” Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn said many of the rookies keep getting better. He hopes they will help the team at the conference meet and beyond.
“Walking the halls all winter I’ve been talking to kids,” Hagedorn said. “We’ve been doing winter workouts since the first of November. Kids that are walking the hallways are seeing us work and they see that this is a pretty good deal. In the last couple of years, hopefully the kids that have been successful in the program are spreading the word.”
The rookies join what was a successful team last season when the boys won the West Central Conference title and sent two relay teams and middle-distance runner Jacob Lamb to state. The 2013 Tigers were especially loaded at the middle distances and that hasn’t changed.
“I’m trying to get as fast as them,” said track newcomer Gavin Holman. “I’m studying, seeing what they’re doing. Maybe I can do the same.”
Luckily with veteran teammates comes a lot of runners to set an example.
“You pick up a lot of things, just the way they start out sprinting in the 400,” Holman said. “They start out and then float and then boost. It’s hard to do. It’s difficult to get used to, especially being the first year.”
Ryan Perkins is running the 4x400 and 4x800 relays, events in which Smith-Cotton sent teams to state last year.
He said he knows the others on his relay team have more experience and coaches often have him running the first leg to give him one handoff instead of two. Still, he feels he has come a long way since the first 4x800 he raced at the start of the season.
“I sprinted the first lap and I died on the last lap,” he said. “Luckily the other school scratched out so we won.”
Perkins played soccer as a freshman and just likes competing. He hopes to stick with track.
“It’s a lot of fun, it really is,” he said. “The coaches are great. The people that run with us are great. It’s a great program.”
“I’ve grown to love track,” Marsh said. “It’s pretty fun. I like traveling to other places, seeing other towns, meeting new people.”