The Best Writing On MileSplit From 2018


Branching Out 

By Cory Mull

A 23-time Virginia state championship coach was the biggest driver of success for Western Branch's track and field team over the last 14 years. What will his impending departure mean for this program? 

Claude Toukene, a former Olympic sprinter for Cameroon, has led the Western Branch High Bruins to 23 state championships and 41 regional titles in Chesapeake, Virginia, and built the program into a national power, one that routinely picks up indoor and outdoor national championships, in the sprints and hurdles. He's won two national coach of the year honors and has been recognized within the state as one of its best, an ambassador for the sport. He's a regular at coaching clinics, a persistente student of his profession, and an optimistic coach always searching for the next way to solve a problem. 

But in December, he made a decision that would change his life, and his high school program's future as well. He agreed to jumpstart a new track and field team at Bryant & Stratton College, a junior college squad in Virginia Beach located just 20 miles east of Western Branch. 

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Jake Merrell Can't Lose

By Cory Mull

He learned how to win from a young age, then became an athlete who refused to lose. Can a small town hero finish his track and field career as one of the most accomplished athletes in Texas history. 

Jake Merrell really wants to catch a fish. 

Like seriously, you don't even know. But nothing is biting at the moment, and it's really bothering him, so the soon-to-be graduate of Turkey Valley High School, and arguably the greatest small school track and field athlete in Texas history, decides he needs a strategy. 

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Christian Smith, The Greatest Story You've Never Heard

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By Rod Murrow

Much like seeing the tip of an iceberg, sometimes when you see something incredible, something even more incredible behind it is unseen. June 30 this year marks the 10th anniversary of just such an event, the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials men's 800m final in which Christian Smith, of Rozel, Kansas and Kansas State University, produced one of the most dramatic and thrilling races in Olympic Trials history.

But that was just the visible tip of the iceberg.

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Pearl River's Conor Burke Continues To Clear New Barriers

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By Mike Kiernan

Conor Burke really wants to throw the discus.

He's never practiced the event. He doesn't necessarily know the right technique. But he is willing to learn.

It's the only state event in which he has not competed in his career.

And Burke has always felt like he could do anything. 

The Pearl River senior has been a "Renaissance Man" of sorts on the track, willing to try anything and everything, both for the purposes of helping the team and for achieving individual goals. 

Most would say he does not have the build to throw the discus. His 5-foot-6 frame does not scream athlete. But when it comes to Burke, you can throw expectations out the window.

"He is the most impressive athlete I have ever coached," Pearl River head coach Gilby Hawkins said.

And that's before you even realize what Burke's limitations are, or what he's managed to overcome, or what he's never made an excuse for. 

Conor Burke is legally blind. 

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Meet The Mighty Mansons

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By Bobby Reyes

Max Manson dangled from the pull-up bar.

Every few seconds he'd gently swing forward and kick his legs upwards toward the sky. Veins popped from his forearms from the effort, though it wasn't much of one for the Monarch junior. For a brief moment he was vertical, just like he is when he pole vaults. 

Beside him a freshman looked on with curious eyes. Max was demonstrating the proper drive technique to the young learner, who absorbed the junior's every word. 

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Turning Back The Clock, A Look At The First Boys Meet Of Champions Race

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By Jim Lambert

Forty-six years ago, many of the top boys runners in the state toed the line at Ocean County Park in Lakewood on a frigid Wednesday afternoon to race each other.

The top 10 runners from each of the seven Group Championship races (Groups 1, 2, 3, 4, and Parochial A, B, and C) all qualified to run, but for some reason 20 of the 70 runners didn't bother to show up.   

The race, held on Nov. 22, 1972, was called the Meet of Champions, the first of its kind in NJ cross-country history. The girls M of C also made its debut in 1972 with a race at Holmdel Park.

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Dialed In

By Cory Mull

Taylor Ewert's focus on the details has not only made her the country's top race walk prospect and an Olympic hopeful in 2020, but she's become a star in high school distance running, too. Here's where the season, and her future, heads. 

There is a question that has been floated many times before, and Taylor Ewert has heard it endlessly. 

Will there come a point when you'll have to give up the race walk? 

Ewert is nice enough to give the notion a thought. She might even give you the answer you're looking for. But behind those brown eyes you have to know something about Ewert, who holds three outdoor American Junior records in the 3K, 5K and 10K race walk and three more indoor American Junior records in the 1500m, mile and 3K. 

She has a good-natured stubbornness. She won't say it, but you can sense it. She's never considered giving the race walk up. You don't give up something you love

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Dear Running: I Won't Let You Down

By Anna Hall

You've taught me about myself, you've pushed me to my limits. You made me fear complacency, of missing out on untapped potential. You made me fixated on doing everything I possibly can to be the best version of myself. You taught me how to suffer, and in some twisted sort of way, to enjoy it because pain feels like progress. So everyday I show up, I do what is asked of me, sometimes more. 

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Lighting The Way From Behind: A Lesson For Coaches And Parents

By Rod Murrow

The first thing I realized was something that Dad didn't do. He didn't tell me I had to run. He didn't tell me that if I didn't run I was going to get my butt kicked by my competitors. He didn't say he was going to be disappointed in me if I didn't run. All he did was remove a barrier to me being able to run that I couldn't eliminate myself. Everything else was up to me.

It was up to me to have the passion and discipline to come home after being at a forensics tournament all day, change into multiple layers of clothes and go out into the cold night to run on snow-packed roads. Dad was smart enough to know that you can't make someone want to do something, but he was also smart enough to know that sometimes even motivated people need a little bit of help removing barriers that they cannot remove themselves.

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A Credit To Coach

By Bobby Reyes

We'll start with the khaki shorts, because every coach owns a pair. And then there's the polo shirt in school colors with the embroidered school logo on the right chest. There's the ball cap on top of the head to keep the face shielded from hours in the sun. There's the pair of worn running shoes, Nike Pegasus in this case, with crew-cut socks.

It's the typical high school coach-uniform, and for me, the man in the uniform was Andy Christie.

It's been 15 years since he held the title of my coach, but even now I still call him "Coach."

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Dear Running: Somewhere Deep Inside We Embrace You

By Delia McDade Clay

Under the hot summer sun, it is you that we choose instead of a relaxing day at the pool. In the biting Rochester winters, it is you that we choose instead of the warmth of our beds. We choose you over comfort, because you make us grow. 

We choose each other, too, for that same reason. The "B" on each of our chests make us sisters, and we motivate each other in ways no one else can. Step by step, mile by mile, we become a family that nothing can penetrate. Together, we are made better and stronger. 

If we are being honest, love isn't always pretty. 

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The Long Ago Letter That Continues To Inspire Austin Bourne

By Austin Bourne

While sifting through this drawer overflowing with keepsakes, I came across two pieces of notebook paper folded together. Upon opening up the paper, I quickly remembered what the pages were and why they were so valuable to have been kept for so long. What I found was a letter that I wrote during my eighth grade year about a life-changing race that I ran with my grandfather, Bryan,  in April of 2011.

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There is a commonly held stereotype with city athletes who favor distance running in the fall, winter and spring for their local high schools, and it's this:

They can't hang with their suburban neighbors.

But it's a myth that Clayton Mendez, a senior at Whitney Young High in Chicago and one of the nation's top talents, has done well to dispel in his six years of running.

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Corning's Lindsey Butler Is Conquering New Territory

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By Mike Kiernan

Over the course of the past seven months, some may say she has begun to specialize and focus on one sport. But that may be tough to say about Butler at this point as well. Butler has committed to running year round, but the word specialization may not be fair.

Is she a cross country runner?

Is she a hurdler?

Is she an 800-meter runner?

Is she a pentathlete?

Butler's range is a coach's dream. And she, as well as the coaching staff, began realizing those dreams this past spring when she gave up lacrosse to give the spring track season a try. While lacrosse was a sport Butler loved to play, she began to see the writing on the wall with regards to what her best path was for her future.

Every time Noah Malone runs, it feels like a dream. 

The Hamilton Southeastern (IN) High School junior, who's legally blind with 20/600 vision, considers it like wading through a deep fog. While he may be able to see a few meters ahead, everything else is blurry, rippled. Small details are put in hyper speed.

Unlike dreams, though, Malone can control his own destiny. He can still see the white lines between his lane. He still has peripheral vision. He can still hear the gun. He can still feel the crowd. Before every meet, he also walks the track just so he knows how far he needs to go.

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One More Time At The Line For The Mooney Twins

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By Bobby Reyes

Madison Mooney took short but quick strides along the turf field at Broomfield High. Her brown curly hair bounced with each step and she squinted her eyes in the warm Colorado sun. Her arms moved in a consistent cadence, matching her strides as she bounded off her toes. She oozed effortless speed, even at this more casual pace.

When the run was complete she relaxed her shoulders and her arms dangled by her side. She stood trackside and spoke meticulously of the days ahead. She exuded the knowledge of a runner who very well knows the track by the inches.

And she likely does. Madison has been leading races and turning left since her freshmen year.

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Behind The Meteoric Rise Of Harvard Bound Thrower Sam Welsh

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By Cory Mull

The summer before Sam Welsh's junior year at Concord Academy, he spent much of it on a dirty field spinning around in circles. 

But perhaps that's not so surprising now, considering Welsh's work ethic and his future plans in Boston. It's been less than two years since those fast few months learning the discus and shot put with his father, Theo Sawyer, in between moments studying professional throwers on YouTube. 

And yet in that time, the 6-foot-4 and 240 pound Welsh has spread his wings and taught that discus to fly, earning personal and state records, even national best marks in the process. 

He recently put down a US No. 1 discus mark of 212 feet, raising the hope that he could reach 220 feet by season's end. 

When Andrew Wheating arrived at his first high school practice at Portland Madison last fall, it didn't sink in that he was a coach until teenagers starting asking him rapid fire questions. 

Can I do this after practice? 

How many miles am I doing? 

Hey coach, why does this hurt? 

"It was really weird to tell you the truth," said Wheating, 30, an Olympian and former University of Oregon great who retired in January after seven years as a professional runner with the Oregon Track Club Elite. "The first couple of days of practice, while the head coach addressed the team, we would then split off and do our thing. And kids would start asking me questions. I would nod my head. Who me? Oh yeah, I'm a coach. I totally forgot. 

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Mary Rodriguez Overcomes Narcolepsy To Qualify For State

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By Will Grundy

On Monday, October 22, Cypress Woods senior Mary Rodriguez qualified for the Class 6A state race as the 10th and final individual qualifier from Region 2-6A. She was 25th overall with a time of 18:48.34. 

She put her body through the same torture, made the same sacrifices, and trained through the same humid and hot conditions in the Texas summer months.

And her reward was knowing that she went through the same qualifying processes as every other 6A state meet qualifier.

But what makes her different, and what makes this story unique, is also what makes her journey so special. 

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Colin Baker is a perfect example of achieving a goal if setting the mind to it.

The Academic Magnet senior approached his coach, Brian Johnson, as an eighth grader with the dream of reaching Foot Locker Nationals by the end of his high school career.

On Saturday, Baker can say it's a dream come true.

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When you think of Indiana and high jumping, your mind might go straight to new state record holder Nate Patterson, or to US No. 1 Katie Isenbarger.

The Indianan's are both arguably the best ones out there due to their PRs. However, there's another jumper who seems to be forgotten about, yet is a 2-time state champion. Shelby Tyler, a senior at Noblesville High School, has had stellar success at previous state meets and in postseason competitions.

Tyler describes jumping against Isenbarger these past few years as a "blessing." And it's a rare opportunity, she says, that you get to compete against the US No. 1 jumper week-after-week during the regular season.

Never Sacrifice The Gift

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By Laurel Pfahler

With just a few meets remaining in his high school career, a senior distance runner won't settle for anything but the best outcome. 

Dustin Horter kept staring at his watch. 

With each lightning strike, he knew another 30 minutes would be lost, and there was a chance he wouldn't walk on the graduation stage. 

To go or not to go? To race or not to race? 

But it wasn't so much of a question. After six weather delays at the last district meet of his career on May 18, the Lakota East (OH) High School senior was already focusing on the starting line. He was staying. 

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Britten Bowen Will Run The 2018 Season Unattached

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By Bryan Deibel

Britten Bowen felt like her state athletic association and her school were holding her back.

So the Ann Arbor Pioneer (MI) High senior, one of the top hurdlers in the state of Michigan -- and potentially in the country -- made a decision that few athletes before her have.

She decided to run unattached to close out her high school career in 2018.

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Tierra Robinson-Jones Steals Show At NCS Bayshore Champs

By Damin Esper

UNION CITY -- Oakland Bishop O'Dowd High School senior Tierra Robinson-Jones is a delightful interview. She answers questions, not just with a yes or no, but with stories, some from her childhood, some from more recent times. It's impossible not to like her.

When did she first decide that she was a runner? Well that came when she was 5 or 6. She was at her grandmother's house with her older brother. When they started to walk home, a dog began chasing them, nipping at her brother's slightly torn jeans leg. Robinson-Jones turned around and outran her brother back to her grandmother's house. That alone was impressive because she was wearing flip flops.

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McKenzi Watkins Continually Inspired By The Memory Of Her Father

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By Brandon Miles

For years, The Brian Watkins Invitational -- an event held by Potomac Senior High -- has remembered and honored the meet's 3200 meter race winners with a special awards presentation.

But this year's version was specially unique for another reason. 

It honored the life of Brian Watkins, a former distance runner who died tragically in a 4-wheel vehicle accident in 2000, because his daughter, McKenzi Watkins, was competing in the race.

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Drew Bosley Wants To Bring A Title Home

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By Cory Mull

Cross country had been about much more than winning for some time before state. The Wisconsin native, arguably the top boys runner in the country, lived and breathed this sport. He loved its community, the kinship, the wide network of teammates and competitors, the grittiness of racing, the fleeting and emotional toil of a challenge, the fastidiousness of running's unseen hours. All these things help drive him forward, taught him important lessons, kept him motivated to improve. 

But if Bosley was being honest, what cross country represented most in his life was family. 

His father, Andy, had been a high school coach at Homestead for as long as he could remember. His mother, Laura, had taken him to his first cross country race when he was 2 in Kenosha. He had walked past his family's kitchen table for years, glancing at those All-American trophies dad earned at the University of Wisconsin and mom at Wisconsin-Parkside. 

By the time he stepped into the hallways of his father's alma mater, he saw Andy's Gatorade Athlete of the Year banner from the track and field season in 1992, his school records in the 1600m, the 3200m and the 5K. All this history was staring at him right in the face. 

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The Tragedy Of Te'Niya Jones, Who Lived Life The Right Way

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By Cory Mull

If you had known Te'Niya Jones, or if you had understood where she had grown up or what she had gone through, you'd know why she was searching for something more in her life. 

"Te'Niya knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do," said Guy Thomas, her former high school track and field coach at Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Florida. 

Jones had graduated at the top of her class at Dunbar. She had enrolled at the University of Kentucky with expectations of someday working in the medical field. And she was a former star athlete who had dreams of running--of competing, really--for the world's best hurdle coach in Lexington. 

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The Next Wave & The Diminishing Performance Of New York State Records

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By Kyle Brazeil

Records are made to be broken. Every athlete knows that. However, it would still be nice to hold on to them for awhile.

The rate at which records are dropping is incredible. Since the year 2000, an average of 18 Class Records are broken per year by combined genders in the Indoor Season. That number has remained steady, even though, in theory, as records continue to drop, they continue to become harder to break. As this trend continues, we're starting to see a redefinition of "Greatness." Once-in-a-generation athletes are becoming once-in-a-decade. Once-in-a-decade athletes are now, maybe even less so.

A curious Katelyn Tuohy walked off the indoor track Saturday at Liberty University with a question needing answered. 

Just moments after the North Rockland (NY) High sophomore had set a new national record in the 5000 meters at The VA Showcase in 15:37.12 -- barely a month removed from her course record and first-time win at Nike Cross Nationals -- someone had said her race was the fourth fastest in the world at that point. 

Tuohy knew her time had been good -- certainly a monumental result considering she surpassed the former national record of 15:55.75 last achieved in 2017 at New Balance Nationals Indoor by Brie Oakley, who graduated from Grandview (CO) High and went on to produce a great freshman debut with the University of California, Berkeley. 

But fourth in the world? 

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Satisfied For Now, But Sean Burrell Has More To Achieve

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By Cory Mull

Just over a week has gone by since Sean Burrell had the meet of his life. 

And it left the Zachary (LA) High sophomore pretty satisfied.  

But what was most impressive wasn't the fact that Burrell won four district championships in the 110mH, 200m, 400m, and 4x100.

It was the way in which he achieved them. 

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Kelly Makin was able to experience "Hayward Field magic" one last time before she finished her high school career in Oregon. 

The Sunset (OR) senior, set to compete for the University of Washington this fall, finished with two OSAA Class 6A championships in the 800m and 1500m on May 19 in Eugene, taking her second straight wins in those events. 

And yet, she couldn't help but feel like the moment was a little bittersweet. After all, this would be the last time any high school meet would take place at Hayward Field before its demolition this summer.