The Laney Track and Field team burst around the track again and again over the course of the afternoon practice, pushing themselves to approach every pounding step with consistency.
Team members cheer while coaches yell pointers as the runners round the curves. After they collapse, breathing heavily at the end of their races, they are sure to get some high fives and words of encouragement.
The team practices six days a week to perfect their running form and improve personal records for best time in individual races, relays, hurdles, and jumps.
Head coach Kevin Craddock is in his second year with the Eagles. His approach focuses on maintaining proper form in order to achieve excellence during the races.
“Technique wins out every single time. When everybody else falls apart, generally you win by holding it together,” he said.
His approach is paying off. Each member of the 11-person team is consistently improving their times each week, he said. A team of new runners usually does better as a second-year team, but the season is already looking good for these freshmen.
“They’re well on their way to hitting qualifying numbers to state championships,” Craddock said. “They all get to come back next year, and with our track record, the second is the year of domination for the girls.”
One reason the team may have an edge on the competition is because their schedule pits them against many Division I University teams.
“They’ve been getting a lot more exposure than previous teams,” said former hurdler Nia Vance. “When they do run against junior colleges, it will be a lot easier because they’ve been running against those bigger schools.”
The fierce competition provides motivation for the team to work their hardest.
“Six days a week, rain or shine, tired or not, broken leg or not, you’re practicing,” said Stephanie Blackmore, who runs the 200-meter and 400-meter races for Laney.
The team focuses on their core strength as well as running technique. They incorporate yoga stretches into their routine on the field, Craddock said.
Last year was a small team, former team member Mariama Hilburn, who ran individual and relay races, said.
“We had five people on the team. Two hurdlers and jumpers, one 400-meter runner, one 800-meter runner, and a 100-meter runner. We all had a good year,” she said.
The year went so well that all five received a full scholarship to a four-year institution.
Some of those who have moved on to other schools regularly return to Laney’s campus to catch up and encourage their former teammates, said Blackmore.
The camaraderie and team atmosphere helps the runners stay focused in their studies as well, she said.
“Even when we’re not at practice we’re usually together.”
Eva Hannan is a writer and sports editor for The Laney Tower