WEST JEFFERSON — Coming off a 2018 season that saw 12 Ashe County High School track and field students attend the state meet, head coach Alex Rollins said goals in the 2019 season are very similar.
“Our primary goal for all of our athletes this season is to have fun,” Rollins said. “Second to that, we want to see each of our athletes make improvements in his or her respective event(s) throughout the season. But, more specifically, our team goal is to repeat as conference champions again this year for both the boys and girls.”
Looking past the conference championship, Rollins said it is very feasible that Ashe County could have several state champions this season, including 2018 400-meter dash NCHSAA 2A state champion Josh Hardin.
“Carter Wilson is heaving some state championship tosses in both the discus and shot at this point,” Rollins said. “Josh is just coming off an indoor state championship in the 300 meters, and Tafton Baker is running very well at the moment. On (March 16), he just broke his own school and personal record. For the girls, we have a great 4x800 (relay team) that has ran together for three years. If we can get our speed up a bit, we have a shot to stand on the podium this year.”
Additionally, Rollins mentioned high jumpers Grady Rector and Bella Potter as contenders to compete for their respective titles. Both Rector and Potter competed at the state level in 2018.
Sleepers to make a run at a state title include Tanner Kilby and Mason Shumate, as Rollins said both have monster throws inside of them.
“On Saturday, at the Mighty Viking Invitational, Tanner tossed a shot put that went over 47 feet,” Rollins said. “That was a monstrous throw for him. Mason’s strength is in the discus, and, if he can just put together a round of perfect throws, he’s a got a real shot of advancing to the state meet. It is not unrealistic that Ashe might send three discus throwers to the state meet this year.”
Jason Durr, Melena Howell, Mahaley Cronk, Olivia Randolph, Malory Eller and Zoe Schell were also named as potential athletes who could advance to the state meet. However, Rollins said the “darkest horse” might be Eli Randolph, who in his first competition ran a 4:54 mile.
“He was cross country’s No. 2 runner this past season, and in his first year of track and field, he shows a lot of promise,” Rollins said. “I’m his enemy at the moment, because I’ve been really hard on him in terms of events ran so far this season.”
Rollins looks for Baker to offer corrections and guidance to Eli Randolph, helping him develop throughout the season.
“I will not be surprised to see him break 4:45 in the mile this season and pay a visit to the regional meet,” Rollins said.
The Huskies have participated in three meets this season: at Surry Central, Ashe County and North Stokes, respectively. However, Rollins was less concerned with where the meets were held, compared to if they would be held at all.
“We’ve gotten all three meets in so far this season,” Rollins said. “Compared to last year, we’re seeing a lot more racing early in the season, which is a blessing. Track athletes always give their best performances at competition, so I love having a lot of meets during the season. If I recall, last (season) was so wet and snowy, we lost about one-third of our scheduled meets. So in short, we’re ahead of where we were last season.”
While the meets are being held as scheduled, student-athletes are having to compete in less-than-ideal conditions.
“I keep telling my athletes — like the other spring coaches — to keep pushing through the cold, wind and rain,” Rollins said. “Eventually, we’ll have some good running weather come May.”
LESS THAN IDEAL
Aside from Mother Nature, there is one other major change for Rollins this season. While normally attempting to build squads with around 23 students, the girls team in 2019 is made up of just 14-15 healthy female athletes, according to Rollins.
Numbers matter in track, as Rollins’ strategy in the past was to fill all events with three athletes, the maximum number. This year, Ashe County will not have the opportunity to use that strategy.
“We’re going to have to really place high in our events at the conference championship in order to win,” Rollins said. “There might be a narrow path to victory. The girls we have are awesome. I just wish we had more of them. With their hard work and determination, I wouldn’t bet against them.”
Comparatively, Rollins said the boys team is loaded.
“With our throwers putting out the distances they have been, Tafton running the times he’s posting and a two-time state champ sprinter in our back pocket, we should do very well this season,” Rollins said, “To boot, we have added some really talented first-year runners which are helping us in sprints, jumps and in distance. If we can stay healthy and avoid injury, our boys team should compete very well within our conference this year. Maybe if the stars align for us, we might also win the regional this season, too.”
Both teams have obvious leaders, according to Rollins. He added that the boys team leader for the last two years has undoubtedly been Baker.
“There’s not another athlete on the team that works harder than him,” Rollins said. “On his off day, he typically puts down eight or so miles at a leisurely 6-6:30-mile pace. His leadership is invaluable, and the younger runners really respect him.”
For the girl’s team, Rollins said the leaders are Olivia Randolph and Potter, who lead in different ways.
“Olivia is our silent leader,” Rollins said. “As a coach, you always know what you’re going to get day after day with her distance running. On the other hand, Bella is probably our most versatile athlete on the team. She can put up big points in the vault, long and triple jump. Of course, her specialty is the high jump. She’s the kind of athlete you wish you could enter into six or more events, instead of just the four we’re allowed. Both of these young ladies are awesome.”
Rollins and the coaching staff lead the team, as well. He said the staff’s job is to keep the athletes believing that they can reach the personal goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season.
“We try to keep our sport balanced, with one-third hard work and two-thirds fun,” Rollins said. “If athletes are having fun in a sport, they’ll work harder for you.”