Boys' Track: Greene County oozes potential in unusual year
By BRANDON HURLEY
Uncertainty isn’t necessarily a prediction of failure.
Quite the opposite, actually.
The unknown is generated and molded by untested potential.
Curiosity surrounds the Greene County boys team as the 2021 track season gets underway Monday. Will the glimpses of consistent athleticism be enough to help the Rams shake-off a year hiatus?
The 2020 Coronavirus epidemic eliminated the entire outdoor season a year ago, leaving a talented and well-established program searching for answers.
Despite the run at gold that unfortunately never had a chance to blossom, this new era of track and field athletes are ready for prime time, poised to snatch the baton and secure redemption in the process.
This year’s squad is without a single returning state qualifier, but Greene County head coach Chad Morton feels that notion is far from a deterrent. The squad is littered with promising athletes who patiently waited their turn, suffering through loss with the rest of the nation.
The pandemic certainly had a strong effect on last year’s senior class, and Morton hopes his younger guys can use that as motivation. They must respect what was lost and build off of it.
“I feel really sorry for the seniors (last year) that didn’t get the opportunity, because we had a really good class that worked hard to (be able to) show off the work they had done,” Morton said. “They didn’t get that opportunity. Everybody was just in shock, like wow, this can really be taken away in a short amount of time and to enjoy it, even though sometimes it’s not the best situations. Enjoy it as much as you can.”
The anchor of this year’s Greene County squad will be its athleticism and work ethic. The core has flexed impressive potential on the football field and the hardwood - guys like Bryce Stalder, Jaxon Warnke, Jackson Morton, Max Riley, and Richard Daugherty - have all shown significant glimpses of their natural ability. It’s a strong unit to lean on, but still one that hasn’t necessarily competed on the big stage.
The downfall of having an inexperienced team and losing a season all together, coach Morton said, is trying to catch up the sophomores and freshmen in a short amount of time. Thankfully, with Morton’s involvement in the football program and Greene County’s increased strength and conditioning endeavors, he’s kept tabs on the up and coming youngsters. Morton essentially uses his other coaching duties as a secondary scouting system for track and field, studying the potential breakout athletes from a unique position. The next few weeks of practices and meets are a matter of figuring out who fits where.
“We try to find their strengths, but it’s really like having two freshman classes,” Morton said. “We are able to test them throughout the year, so you kind of figure out who the athletes are and you see some of their skills.”
GOING THE DISTANCE
Stamina is never easy to maintain in the track and field world. The sprint events receive most of the glory, but a well-rounded program, one with a strong dose of distance runners, often produces the most championships.
The transition to overall greatness begins with bolstering the distance runners. That progression has already begun at the Greene County High School.
The Rams have welcomed an influx of cross country athletes into the program, which allowed Morton to scout some of those runners during the fall.
The Rams generally produce several quality sprinters – the 4-by-100-meter relay routinely qualifies for the Drake Relays and the state meet, but shoring up the holes in the 800-meter, 1,600-meter and the 3,200-meter as well as the distance relays has been tricky during the last few years.
Morton noticed a shift over the winter when more stamina-orientated athletes began hitting the weight room.
“They absolutely (are more focused),” Morton said. “It surprised me because, especially with our distance runners, we have a few kids that have joined our winter distance program. They have fed into that so hard. They have set some goals this year that are pretty high.”
Guys such as Logan Woodruff and Ethan Larson hope to spearhead a rising entity, one that Morton believes can help swing a number of meets. The key, the coach said, is creating excitement for the distance events, which is why both he and the Greene County girls’ track coach, Derek Merk, are kicking around ideas to liven up the pre-race atmosphere for the 4-by-400-meter relay during the Ram Relays. They hope to blast some type of raucous rock song, they’ve kicked around the possibility of “TNT” by AC/DC, to generate the necessary buzz for one track and field’s most important events.
“I want kids wanting to run the 4-by-4, wanting to run the two mile,” Morton said. “Not ‘Oh my God, I have to do that?’ I want them excited about doing it.”
Distance running, Morton said, is more a mentality than anything.
The cupboards certainly aren’t bare, the Ram track program is home to more than 40 kids this spring, it’s simply a matter of finding those distance runners.
“It’s about inviting kids to participate, whether it be cross country or track,” Morton said. “We’re working things we can do to promote distance running. Hopefully, if you have an inviting environment and you have something that kids want to be a part of, and I think there are those kids walking the hallways, it’s just a matter of getting those kids to participate.”
FILLING THE VOID
A surplus of depth is perhaps Morton’s biggest issue as the outdoor season nears. Though the Rams may not possess any superstars that will carry the torch this spring, the overall scope of the team is one the coach is excited to deploy.
“We are going to be strong,” the coach said. “I’m loading my relays and I realize I still have some open events I can put kids in. It’s really exciting. Overall, with our senior class, our junior class, and a few sophomores, we will really lean on those (kids).”
The mission, Morton said, is to win a another district title - The Rams were district champs in 2019 - but to also cherish each moment they spend on the track together, knowing that it all can be taken away rather swiftly.
“I want kids to be excited about what their events are and what they’re doing in track and field,” Morton said. “I want kids to enjoy practice, and come to practice and compete and not dread it.
It’s been a long time coming.”
Greene County opens the outdoor track season for the first time in 22 months when they host the Ram Early Bird Relays Monday, March 29 in Jefferson. The meet begins at 4:30 p.m. and will feature the likes of South Hamilton, St. Edmond, AC/GC, North Polk and Ogden.
The annual Ram Relays are set for Monday, April 19 while the Drake Relays will take place a few days later on April 22 in Des Moines.
The 2021 Iowa high school co-ed track meet will be held May 20-22 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.