Shelby County track and field coach Nick Edwards has high expectations for his team this year — especially the girls’ squad.
The Rockets boast defending state discus champion Navaeh Acklin and state runner-up in the pole vault Maddie Reed, as well as senior Jaci Woods, who is eyeing the school long jump record. Those three are joined by a deep class of runners, and all that has the coach setting the bar pretty high for his athletes.
“We’ve got a lot of significant returners from last year — especially on the girls’ side," he explained. "We’ve got Naveah, defending champ in the discus. Maddie is coming off her second consecutive indoor state championship. Jaci has been ranked high in both the long jump and triple jump the last couple of years. We’ve got a good group of girls in the middle distance and distance runners as well as sprinters and hurdlers. So I think our goal this year for the girls’ team is to try to be top five in the state and get a trophy.”
Reed, in particular, had a strong showing at Saturday’s indoor state championship — not only defending her state title in the pole vault but also finishing second in the 60m hurdles in her first time running the race. She also runs the 300m hurdles and has the capability of scoring in the state meet in all three events. Edwards believes adding the short hurdles to her repertoire will only benefit her in both pole vaulting and long hurdles, citing former Kentucky star Sydney McLaughlin as an example.
“That’s the event that McLaughlin went back to to really work on her hurdle technique. That’s going to translate well and then her speed — the speed work she’ll have to do for the hurdles will help her pole vaulting. That’s going to be her main thing,” he said. “She had a disappointing state championship last year, and it’s difficult to say that because she was still the state runner up. We were all disappointed with that meet because she should’ve won it by a foot and that’s the expectation this year.
"Winning that is her first goal and then it’s about how close she can get to breaking the state record. It’s almost an expectation. Her PR is 11-6 and 12-2 is the state record. If she doesn’t increase her PR by nine inches, that’s kind of a disappointing season. Now, she has to do that at the state meet for that to count and so there are other factors that play in. The expectation is that she’s going to win the pole vault; it’s just about how high can we get her.”
For Acklin, the goal is not resting on her state championship laurels.
“Obviously Navaeh is the defending champ so everybody knows who she is now," Edwards said. "It’s on her to make sure she puts in the work to improve because everybody else is improving to beat her. She won it on her sixth and final throw of the competition so it wasn’t like the gap was that massive – there were already girls right there. For her to win it, she’s going to need to go at least 10 feet farther — maybe 15 — and even then there’s a chance it might not. So she’s really got to put in the work. We really hope she comes along in shot put and gets to where she is in discus in the shot put because that makes our team even better and then the chances of getting a top five finish in state go up even more.”
Because of basketball season, Woods only had a week of practice prior to jumping in the indoor meet and still performed well. But it’s her former teammate’s record that she has on her mind.
“For Jaci, her last year and I don’t think she’s placed in state in the long or the triple. She has the goal of breaking the school record in the long jump. She was eight inches off of it last year. That’s Jayla Prewitt’s record and I think the fact that she jumped with her makes her want it even more. She’s only about eight inches away so it’s a realistic goal for her,” Edwards said. “Those events with Maddie and Navaeh and Jaci are kind of our core points and then we have to build off of that to get as close as we can to winning the team title.”
On the boys’ side, depth is the key.
“A lot of the football kids came out and our sprinting for us. (Football head) coach (Marcus)Harris talks about how much he wants the team speed to improve and we’ve talked about how typically on the boys’ side, if you have a really good track team, it translates. With that depth, I think our boys’ relay will be really good in the 4x100, 4x200, and 4x400. I think the 4x4 has a chance of being really high if we can stay healthy,” Edwards said. “Dustin Wells has been around for a long time and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a big contributor. Javon Hunter just ran his first meet Saturday and had a pretty good time and he can be really helpful. Our boy pole vaulters, if they can progress, have a chance to be scorers in state — Gus Reed and Ian Alacron. Our middle distance group, we’ve talked about Max but then Jace McDowell, Keenan Brangers, Lucas Courtney and Khalel Gaddie, there’s a decent amount of depth there that could lead to our 4x800 being decent.”
Last year, high-jumper Bishop Bale injured his knee and it kept him out for the year. If there were any doubts about his explosiveness coming into the season, his 6-foot jump in the indoor state meet erased them.
“I think a top-three finish in state isn’t out of the question for him at all. He’s at that point now where he’s getting close to getting interest in schools as well,” Edwards said. “This junior year for any of our juniors is a big year — like in any sport, if you have a good year as a junior, that’s when you start to get recognized. I know he’d love to go to college to high jump. Getting him as high as we can get him, one that places him high at state for him and for us as a team, and then it gets schools looking at him.”
Edwards believes his team has a strong chance to put in a good showing in the region and the state meets, especially with the depth in the relay teams.
“All four relays have a good chance. I’m hoping we can send eight relays to state, all four boys and all four girls. That would be big. It’s been awhile since we’ve done that,” he said. “That’s the thing — you build to how you’ll do at region and when you’re at region, it’s about how many numbers you can send to state. The more numbers you send, the better chance you have of scoring high. If we can get a lot of numbers at state, then we’ll score high in state.”