The Ryan boys 400-meter relay team breezed through its district, area and region meets to earn a spot at this weekend’s UIL state track and field meet in Austin. What most people might not know is that coach Janson Head relied on a different combination of runners to get there.
Juniors TJ Walker and Stanley Nwosu have been the only constants for a four-man team that has seen senior Jordan Rucker, sophomore Tra Smith and freshman Billy Bowman Jr. all step in to carry the baton.
No matter the combo, Ryan keeps posting blistering times. The Raiders won gold at district and area with different lineups each time before setting a new school record (41.47) with yet another combo at the Region I meet two weeks ago. After that finish, Head said he debated which foursome should go for gold this weekend.
The Raiders own the eighth-best qualifying time in a very tight race that is slated for 5 p.m. Friday.
“It has raised a huge debate around here,” Head said. “We have five guys for a four-guy event, and they’ve all played a major role in us getting here. Having a fifth guy — not a lot of teams out there can say that.
“I’ll take it, though. It’s a good problem to have.”
Besides its 400 relay team, Ryan also qualified its 800 relay team of DJ Allen, Walker, Tauskie Dove and Nwosu. The finals for that event are set for 6:30 p.m. Friday. Dove will compete in the triple jump at 2 p.m.
But all eyes will be on the 400 relay race, which Head said might be the more competitive of the two relays Ryan is a part of. Rucker, Nwosu, Bowman and Walker — the combination that ran at regionals — are expected to run against a field that includes Richmond Foster, Lancaster, Port Arthur Memorial and Angleton.
Most of those programs have been to state before. This is the first time Ryan has qualified a 400 relay.
“There are a lot of fast people out there. It will take perfect handoffs and speed to win,” Smith said. “We usually do good when someone is in front of us. It forces us to work even harder.”
Fort Bend Marshall owns the top qualifying time at 40.72, followed by Mansfield Legacy at 40.93. All the remaining times, including Ryan’s, are within a hair’s width of each other.
“There’s such a small gap between some of those times,” Walker said. “I think we have a great chance.”
“We broke the school record and all, but I know we are faster than that,” Nwosu said. “We have a chance because there’s no drop-off when we switch from one guy to another.”
Ryan’s lineup carousel was born out of necessity to offset nagging injuries to Rucker and Smith throughout the year. Bowman was called up from JV at a meet in Plano to replace Smith, and the unit didn’t skip a beat while posting its fastest time of the year up to that point.
Bowman went back to JV and remained there through the district meet in April, but was moved up again to replace Rucker at the area meet two weeks later. Ryan won both meets, and with Smith nursing injuries at regionals, Bowman stepped in again.
“I got up here to varsity, and it made me push even harder. I’ve posted my fastest times, and it feels great to contribute,” said Bowman, who runs Ryan’s third leg. “I’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
The only thing left to do is finish the job they started earlier this season.
“[The lineup] hasn’t been consistent all year,” Rucker said, “but there’s good competition between us and it’s unbelievable that we have five guys who will do whatever it takes to get to state.”
Guyer girls make first appearance at 6A state meet
The Guyer track and field team is finally rounding the corner when it comes to making some noise at the Class 6A level.
Freshman Brynn Brown, sophomore Christalee Kirby and senior Eni Akinniyi became the first athletes to qualify for the state meet since the Lady Wildcats competed at the Class 4A level in 2014. Kirby will open the competition at 3 p.m. Saturday with the shot put before Akinniyi (triple jump, 6 p.m.) and Brown (mile, 8:05 p.m.) finish the night.
“We’ve got three girls, and it’s not like just one relay made it,” Guyer coach Megan Hardesty said. “We have three individual girls in three different types of events. We have a variety of talent and it’s super exciting. We’re finally used to 6A competition, and we’ve just had to step our game up.”
Brown, who accepted an initiation to compete in the Adidas Dream Mile in Boston next weekend, enters with the second-fastest time in the mile (4:53.23) and is the highest-seeded Guyer competitor. Flower Mound Marcus’ Quinn Owen, the defending state champion, leads the way with a seeding time of 4:52.76.
Brown competed against Owen at the area and regional meets, coming up just short of a victory each time. She’s confident another small adjustment in her strategy will make the difference Saturday.
“I’m excited, but I’m also kind of nervous because this is it,” Brown said. “I have to race smart and tactically. I keep getting closer every time, so I’m just going to try to go get her. I’d like to speed up the first two laps and kind of time my kick better.”
Kirby is coming off three straight gold medals at the district, area and region meets in shot put and looking to upend top seeds Samariae Bonds of Pflugerville (46-8) and Nya Harmon of The Woodlands (44 1/2). Kirby threw 43-11 at the region meet but spent the last two weeks focusing solely on shot put after falling short of qualifying for state in discus.
“It’ll probably hit me when I’m warming up and I’ll think, ‘Oh my God, I’m at state,’” Kirby said. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve had a lot of dreams come true this season, and I’m glad to add another one.”
Akinniyi, who signed to join the track team at Georgetown, is the lone senior competing at state for Guyer and is in a triple jump field composed entirely of juniors and seniors. After qualifying as a wild card out of a loaded Region I, she is seeded fifth with a mark of 39-9 1/2.
Akinniyi is within striking distance of Dickinson’s Koi Johnson (39-11 1/2), Marcus’ Lorielle Daniel (40 3/4) and Round Rock Stony Point’s Symone Washington (40 3/4). Allen’s Tosin Alao leads the field with a mark of 41-9 1/2.
“For every meet I’ve been in, I’ve had to fight just to move on,” Akinniyi said. “It’s going to be the same type of thing this weekend.”
While Brown, Kirby and Akinniyi are making their first appearances at state, all three competed at the Texas Relays this season. Hardesty said that experience and familiarity with the environment at Mike A. Myers Stadium will pay off.
“They’ve been on that stage,” Hardesty said. “That’s the main reason we like to go to Texas Relays. They know what the boards are like, they know what the ring is like and they’ve been on the track. It’s prepared them for this moment.”
Holland to compete in 100, 300 hurdles for Braswell
Kelaysia Holland may be a 15-year-old freshman, but when she toes the starting line, she means business. And when she toes the line Friday as the lone representative at the state meet for Braswell, she’ll treat it like any other competition.
Whether on the volleyball floor, basketball court or track pavement, Holland tends to be a little goofy. She jokes with her track teammates, but two minutes before a race she’s locked on to the task at hand.
“She’s your typical freshman,” Braswell girls coach Gary Brown said. “She is goofy and is enjoying what high school athletics has to offer. Kelaysia is one of the best athletes on campus, and it will be put on display at the state meet.”
Holland ran the 400, competed in long jump and ran the 100 and 300 hurdles during the regular season. The hurdles races are where she’ll get a chance to compete alongside some of the state’s top athletes at Texas.
Holland took first in the 100 hurdles at the regional meet in Lubbock with a time of 14.95 before finishing second in the 300 hurdles at 45.51.
She was the lone Lady Bengal to emerge from the pack at the regional meet, and is Braswell’s first runner to advance to the state meet.
“We’re so proud of her, but all the credit goes to her hurdles coach, coach Strahan,” Brown said. “[Strahan and Holland] both work each day to be better. It’s them two working together and understanding each other.”
It will be a quick trip for the freshman, as she was practicing one final time Thursday before leaving for Austin, and she’ll return Friday evening.
“It’ll be a business trip, and I know she’ll finish exactly where she’s supposed to,” Brown said. “We hope to send her [to the state meet] the next three years of her high school track career.”