The Pea Ridge Blackhawk track program has hit the ground running as they lead the 4A classification in 11 events through the first two weeks of competition.
The girls' program headed by Heather Wade is considered a heavy favorite to win the 2019 state title. The lady tracksters won both the indoor and outdoor state titles in 2018 and have already won the 2019 indoor title this season.
The boys' squad coached by Asa Poteete, was an eyelash away from a state outdoor title in 2018, and recently claimed the state runner-up trophy in the indoor state championships.
The Lady 'Hawks have state bests in seven events, led by sophomore Blakelee Winn who is atop the leader-board in three events. Winn has the best 100-meter mark in 12.99, and leads both hurdle events as well. Her time of 16.46 is tops in the 100-meter hurdles, and she leads the way in the 300-meter hurdles in 48.24.
Four-time state champion Cassidy Mooneyhan leads girls' pole vaulting in not just the 4A but the whole state. She is the only athlete to go higher than 11'0" thus far this season, with a best of 12'0" outdoors, and 12'6" indoors.
Jamison Toms is the early leader in the state 4A 200-meter with a 28.15 clocking.
The girls have the best 4x100-meter relay in the state (50.82) and 4x400-meter (4:20.82) and lead the 4x400-meter by nearly 10 seconds over the state's second best team in Gravette. The 4x100-meter relay is composed of Shelby Dunlap, Jamison Toms, Mooneyhan and Winn. The 4x400-meter is run by Olivia McCracken, Dunlap, Mooneyhan and Winn.
Making all of this unbelievable success with the girls possible is girls head coach Heather Wade. Over the past five years, she has finished first in the district four times and was second once. The last three state championship track trophies available to 4A schools now rest in the Pea Ridge trophy case.
Coach Wade didn't come into the track program with a ton of experience. However, she did bring enthusiasm and a dedication to excellence, commodities even more essential than experience.
Coach Poteete, on the other hand, came to Pea Ridge with a wealth of knowledge and experience and the swiftness of the boys program is almost unbelievable. He, like Coach Wade, loves the sport and the school could not have obtained a better leader.
Pea Ridge almost unarguably has the best track and field coaching tandem in the state.
Now to the boys side. Connor Escajeda and Justin Koon lead the way in the individual events. Escajeda leads the state 400-meter with a 50.82 mark while Koons is tops in the 110-meter hurdles in 16.26.
The 'Hawks 4x400-meter relay and their 4x800-meter relay lead the state with times of 3:33 and 8:47.6, respectively. The 4x400-meter team is Escajeda joined by Josiah Small, Shaed Cates and Cooper Elliot. The boys 4x800-meter relay team is made up of Kevin Vasquez, Sander VanderVeen, Cates and Small.
Normally, few athletes begin to qualify for state on time/mark until late March or early April. So many athletes gaining berths so early into the season bodes well for the state meet set for Batesville.
Being a track and field fan since my seventh-grade season in 1966, I have seen a lot of track over the 53 intervening years. I had the good fortune to run for legendary track coach Burl Fowler in the 1960s and National Hall of Fame collegiate track coach Ted Lloyd in the 1970s.
When a high school football, baseball or basketball program has bottomed out, it takes awhile to right the ship most of the time. While my own high school, for example, won a state title in 1971, they couldn't win a game four years prior.
However, track and field is a different kettle of fish. There is no defense to be concerned with, and outside the distance events where there are no assigned lanes for most of the competition, most events leave you free to do your best unimpeded.
The boys' program had a meteoric rise last year after years being near the bottom of the conference meets. Poteete's taking over the program has been the catalyst that has seen the boys become a state power in very little time.
As a sport, track is a matter of self-discipline, dedication and technical knowledge. It takes all three to truly be successful.
In the team sports, there have been athletes who have played with injury and overcame the handicap through grit. In track, however, the difference between winning and not placing at all sometimes is a very small spread, especially in the shorter races.
Most Americans don't know that the word "athletics" world-wide is a reference to track and field. Many years ago, the governing body for American track and field was called "The Athletics Congress" or TAC for short. With so many people in the U.S. thinking the TAC was about all sports, the name was ultimately changed to "United States Track and Field" or USATF. This is not so unique as what we call "soccer" is referred to everywhere else in the world as "football."
Track and field is not rocket surgery. It is about learning the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. It is about the most efficient way to throw a round heavy ball or a flat disc. It's about how to jump up (high jump, pole vault) or out (long, triple jumps). The hurdle events is about rhythm and efficiency. Learning how to just barely clear a hurdle while keeping a rhythm while running as fast as possible develops a bunch of athletic skills.
The biggest factor in winning track and field programs, in my opinion, is emotion. Training gets the body ready for competition, technical knowledge raises considerably the chances for success, but attaching emotion to an effort is the magic elixir to attain greatness.
Nothing boosts an athlete's emotion in a positive way is to go into competition knowing that they are prepared and that their coaches are there to support both technically and emotionally. If it doesn't matter to the coach, it won't matter much to the athlete.
The Blackhawk track program is blessed to have a staff who not only are committed to student success, they have the knowledge and expertise to get the most and best out of their charges.
teams to get busy
The boys 2-2 baseball team and the girls softball team will be getting into some heavy action as we approach Spring Break week.
The boys have a two-game winning streak, having beaten Rogers Heritage 10-9 and Valley Springs 10-0 last week. They will be playing three games this coming week in the Ozark Classic Friday and Saturday. They will then play Hampton, Jones, Mena and Charleston in a series of games in the Jarren-Sorters Memorial tournament in Prairie Grove March 18-20.
The 1-0 girls softball team is also set for three games in the Ozark Classic this weekend. They will then have a break until March 25 when they host 5A Siloam Springs. The only game the girls have managed to get in with all the bad weather was a 20-0 victory over Green Forest.
Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted through The Times at email@example.com.Sports on 03/13/2019
Print Headline: Blackhawk tracksters lead the state in 11 events