John Tyler boys track coach Torey Elder knew his team would be in for stiffer competition with the move from Class 5A to 6A, so he prepared his team with three meets in Dallas.
With the District 11/12-6A area meet set for Thursday in Mesquite, Elder hopes the preparation pays off.
“I think the biggest difference (in 6A) is going to the Metroplex, Dallas area,” Elder said. “The competition was a lot better.
“I think our guys will be ready. They’re prepared and they just have to go out there and do their best and put their best foot forward.”
A number of John Tyler and Robert E. Lee athletes will hope to qualify for the regional meet from Hanby Stadium on Wednesday. Track events begin at 11 a.m. with the running finals to start around 6:15 p.m.
The top four finishers in each event advance to the Class 6A Region II meet in Waco on April 28.
The Lions have five athletes competing in seven events, including the 400- and 800-meter relays. Ke’Tavion Humber is running both hurdles races, while Caleb McMiller and Jerry Young are in both relays and the 100. Young is also the lone Lion in a field event, hoping to qualify in triple jump.
Lee qualified for area in both boys and girls events.
On the girls side, REL senior Mary Claire Neal will compete in the 1,600 and 800; junior Mah’Layzga Johnson will compete in shot put and freshman Sarah Niedrauer is running in the 3,200.
On the boys side, REL’s 800 and 1,600 relay teams will be on display, along with distance runner Haftu Knight (3,200, 1,600), 300 hurdler Benjamin Dene and last year’s state runner-up in pole vault, Branson Ellis.
Lee boys coach Aaron Babino said junior Nathan Niedrauer received a welcome surprise when he was informed that he would be able to compete in shot put after the fourth-place finisher couldn’t make it.
ROBERT E. LEE BOYS
Babino wants his athletes to understand the finality of Thursday’s competition.
“There’s no more we are going to this meet next week (and we’ll improve), it’s you have to qualify for that meet next week,” Babino said. “It’s time to show up or go home.”
Babino said his two relays have shown tremendous improvement over the last month. The Red Raiders’ 800 relay is comprised of Dominic DiPaolo, Davion Thompson, Matt Taylor and Garrett Gowin. That group finished third at district in a time of 1 minute, 28.90 seconds.
Lee’s 1,600 relay is made up of Taylor, Zaylon Walker, DiPaolo and Thompson. It qualified by finishing fourth.
Babino said the 800 relay team needs to drop two seconds and the 1,600 relay five seconds to reach regionals, but said he believes his athletes are in the right mindset and have more in the tank to give at area.
“Most of my track team are football players and have been going through a tough offseason,” Babino said. “Bootcamp is over and our legs are a lot fresher now.”
Dene finished fourth at district in the 300 hurdles, which Babino said is an accomplishment in itself. With a time of 41.32, he enters the area race as the eighth seed.
“I always tell my kids anything is possible,” Babino said. “Last year his (Dene) fastest time was 45 (seconds) and now he’s running a 41.”
Leading the pack in his event is Ellis with his district-winning mark of 15-0. Babino does not expect too much trouble for Ellis in qualifying for regionals, adding he has jumped 16-0 at earlier meets this season.
A multiple record-breaker could be on the outside looking in at regionals if he doesn’t go even faster. REL sophomore Knight set new 11-6A meet records in the 1,600 and 3,200, but Babino said he “is about to face some big-time competition in area.”
Knight’s record-breaking time in the 3,200 of 9:49 is good enough for the fifth seed at area, nearly 30 seconds behind fourth seeded William Hunsale of The Woodlands.
In the 1,600, Knight’s record time of 4:28.26 seeds him fifth again, nearly 14 seconds behind Hunsale’s fourth-seeded time.
“Haftu is going to have to PR in order to advance to regionals,” Babino said.
Added Dennis Baker, REL distance coach: “Haftu is running well and he has to take this as a learning process and try to stay with those Woodlands runners.”
Nathan Niedrauer is thrilled to be going to area at all, thanks to being the first alternate as the fifth-place district finisher. Babino said Niedrauer will have to better his district mark of 42 feet, 4 inches by a large margin.
“He is going to have to throw at least 50 to have a chance, but he’s done that in practice,” Babino said.
JOHN TYLER BOYS
Last year in 5A, John Tyler qualified nine athletes and relay teams for the regional meet, a number that won’t be matched this year.
But the Lions do have hopes of reaching state after missing out last season.
Among the top contenders for state for JT is Humber, who finished first in 11-6A in the 300 hurdles and second in the 110.
Humber went 39.16 to win the 300 by more than half a second and his time of 14.67 was 0.19 seconds behind first-place Brodrick Calhoun of Mesquite Horn.
Both of his hurdles times are second best in the area coming in, but there’s room for improvement, Elder said.
“We showed him this week on film a couple things he can work on in practice that he should be able to go low 14 in the 110 and mid 38 in the 300,” Elder said.
Humber has been coached this season by hurdles coach Travis Eckels, who took over the position after the death of longtime coach Michael Johnson in January.
“He has done a real good job of working with our hurdlers,” Elder said.
The 100 will feature a pair of Lions: Young, a senior, and McMiller, a sophomore.
In the district meet, McMiller took third at 10.61, just ahead of Young in fourth at 10.83. Elder said he thinks McMiller can go 10.5 and Young at least 10.7.
“I think we have a good chance of getting both of them out to the regional track meet,” Elder said.
Young is also competing in the triple jump after taking silver in the 11-6A meet at 44-10, the third-best distance coming into the area meet.
Additionally, McMiller and Young run the first two legs of the 400 and 800 relays. Michael Givens-Washington and anchor Kitan Crawford round out the two teams.
John Tyler almost qualified its 1,600 relay team for area, finishing 0.02 seconds behind rival Lee for fourth last week.
Nonetheless, Elder said he expects the 400 relay to perform the best after turning in a time of 42.28 to take second in last week’s district meet.
“I think we have the sixth best time but if we come out there and do our best I think we should be able to make it,” Elder said.
ROBERT E. LEE GIRLS
Lady Raiders distance runner Neal has reached regionals numerous times in the 1,600 and 3,200, but has been unable to break through and qualify for state.
This year it will be difficult just to get to regionals, thanks to a stacked area field, but Lee coach Demeeka Jones said she believes Neal could produce the result needed to reach regionals in her newest event, the 800. Neal qualified at district with a time of 2:22.35. The top seed at area is Emily Mills of The Woodlands with a time of 2:17.12.
“The other district (12-6A) is faster in the distance races while our district is better in the sprints,” Jones said. “Mary Claire is seeded fifth in the 1,600 and she is going to have to do some work to get (one of those top four spots). She will have to drop 20 seconds (at least).
“In the 800, she is seeded sixth, but that is Mary’s best shot to make it out.”
In girls shot put, Johnson has already surpassed expectations, so Jones sees no reason why she can’t do the same at the area meet.
“Mah’Layzga is sixth coming in and all of the girls above her have thrown 38 and above,” Jones said.
Freshman Sarah Niedrauer is representing REL in the 3,200 and, like teammate Neal in the 1,600, faces an uphill task to finish in one of the top four regional qualifying spots. Her district time of 12:11.31 seeds her fifth, with fourth-place Lourdes Vivas of The Woodlands coming in at 10:58.34.