The Mountain Ridge High School track and field team is entering the 2021 season looking to begin building a winning culture.
The program features 140 student-athletes, roughly 90 boys and 50 girls.
For the boys’ head coach, Chad Miller, he welcomes having a large group. He wants a deep team and believes it will help in building the program for years to come.
“Superstars will come and go,” Miller said. “We want to rely on a healthy base or group of athletes that we have every single year. We’re reloading every year, and we don’t want to have to take any steps back.”
Entering his fourth year as the head coach of the boys’ track and field team, Miller said the program as a whole is in a drought. The girls’ team last won the district title in 2017, while it has been over a decade since the boys’ team has won it.
That said, Miller likens this year’s team to turning over a new leaf. He said the program has worked extremely hard and is excited to get the season rolling.
“These kids respond,” Miller said. “They’re doing all the right things and all the things we ask them to do, and you can’t ask for anything more. Results are results, and those results are going to be a byproduct of just doing the right things.
“State titles, district championships, school records, all that stuff will happen if we just keep grinding doing the right things.”
Like many other high schools across the country, the team has been through a lot due to the pandemic. There were no scheduled offseason workouts, and getting together via Zoom was a regular occurrence. Miller said the team is hungry to compete.
“They’ve been through a lot, especially when you look at the seniors,” Miller said. “They’ve been through more than most teams. I think more than any other team that I’ve been a part of. The seniors are resilient. They love track, and they love being out here. They just appreciate having a season, and there’s something to be said for that about being around other people that enjoy track and enjoy doing what we’re doing. It makes them really unique.”
Despite not being able to plan offseason workouts, senior Austin Clayton said many of the student-athletes took it upon themselves to stay in shape and work out so, when the season began, they would be ready.
They will get their first opportunity to prove that on Friday, March 26, when the school will host its annual state qualifier meet.
This year’s edition of the meet will feature a smaller group of teams due to the pandemic, but Miller acknowledged that getting to host a state qualifier is a huge opportunity.
“It’s great for promoting the program,” Miller said. “It’s fun to be a part of; it’s exciting. Even our athletes that don’t compete in it get to help work it. Everybody’s involved; everybody has a job and a stake in the meet. It’s a showcase for our school, too. We get to show off this wonderful facility. It’s more than just a track meet; it’s a great community experience. It’s a lot of work to host, but it is well worth it.”
For Clayton, who runs the 800-meter and mile events, he said it’ll just be good to get back to competing. He believes the individual work each student-athlete put in during the abnormal offseason will be put on display at the meet.
“We’re all just excited to bring a win back to (Mountain) Ridge,” he said. “Also just getting as many people competing as possible; for a lot of our athletes, it’s their season opener. We’re all excited to get a lot of first, second and third places and compete as a team.”
Miller believes Clayton, along with a few other talented athletes in the program, will have a real shot at competing for individual state titles this year.
Girls’ head coach Kelly Saufley loves the camaraderie the program carries. Regardless of age or ability, the team just wants to see each other succeed. She believes it will be a huge contributor to building that winning culture.
“They kind of treat each other like a family,” Saufley said. “There are different groups, but they are like one big family. Especially our older (athletes) who have big track hearts and love track. It trinkles down to the younger (athletes). They bring them in, and they help them and push them. Everybody is just working together toward the positive aspect.”
Clayton said he is excited to have a positive environment for the upcoming season. He is looking forward to getting the team excited to compete and “get one with the process itself.”
Now in his senior year, Clayton will mentor some of the younger student-athletes, and he welcomes it.
Saufley has noticed upperclassmen taking on that mentorship role. Similar to a seasoned veteran mentoring a talented rookie in professional sports, it can go a long way for development and future success.
“Our juniors and seniors are really good mentors. Not only helping (the underclassmen) through all the skills but teaching them how to be positive. Like, even if they had a tough practice, just reminding them how great they did and how they will show improvement in the future.”
With the stage set for Mountain Ridge track and field to create that winning culture, Miller will weigh team goals heavily. Winning a district title this season is at the top of the list.
“We as coaches will start to put an emphasis on team goals,” Miller said. “I want every athlete to understand our team goal is a district title. We want to win that. We want to set bigger goals down the line, but let’s just start with our district.
“Let’s take back our district. It’s our turn to impose ourselves in that conversation and hopefully take a team title.”