PREP TRACK & FIELD: Miners find stride as they head to Masters
Special to The Union
“Oh, it’s no joke, it’s just that it’s such a hard thing, such a slim chance; you have to be so lucky even after you are so good.”
This quote from the John L. Parker, Jr. novel “Once a Runner” encapsulates well the nature of championship competition in track and field. For most of the long spring season preparation is the name of the game; results are important, even essential to an athlete’s progression and success, but ultimately all the hard work — the proverbial and sometimes literal blood, sweat and tears — leads to the same eternal endpoint of a season. All the many workouts, races and long days of effort culminate in the most important race, jump or throw of the season. For the four Nevada Union track and field athletes set to compete in the Sac-Joaqiun Section Masters meet today and Saturday, it remains to be seen if they will be lucky, but it is undeniable that they have been very, very good.
Seniors Garrett Gough and Jai Williams, and sophomores Mackenzie Morgan and Travis Selby have already had remarkable seasons to this point. For Morgan and Selby, who advanced from the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championships in the 800 and 3,200 meters respectively, to advance to the penultimate stage of California track and field as sophomores is a testament to their abilities and perhaps a harbinger of even greater things to come. For Gough and Williams, it’s a chance to leave a lasting legacy for themselves as they end their Nevada Union athletic careers.
Morgan and Selby would not have been considered odds on favorites to advance from Sections, to be frank. While both of them had run well and put themselves in the position to advance, it took gutsy, PR setting races for them to be where they are now.
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Morgan took a 2:24.49 personal best in the 800 into the Sections race and came out with a six second improvement at 2:18.76, good for fourth place. To say that a 6 second PR in the 800 is atypical is a gross understatement, but the fact that she did so with an even split (two 1:09 laps) is genuinely incredible. For Morgan herself, the performance allows the luxury of taking everything that comes after as gravy.
“I mean I wasn’t really expecting to get this far,” said Morgan of the upcoming race. As for her goals at Masters, the strategy is simple.
“I just want to PR. I don’t really care how far I have to push it,” said Morgan.
Selby had already put together a solid season going into the D-III championships, running 9:55 for the 3,200 meters, but in stacked field at that distance in the D-III championships it was clear he would need something special to move on. Put simply, he had something special, to the tune of an 11 second PR in 9:44 for fourth place.
“I don’t take it for granted, and it’s just an amazing opportunity,” Selby said of moving on.
His goals for Masters mirror his fellow sophomore teammate.
“My expectations are to go and run as hard as I can, go for the PR,” said Selby.
Travis’ father and Nevada Union track and field head coach Kevin Selby noted the similarities between his two underclassmen’s races.
“They both committed early and took huge risks, and that was the difference for them,” said Kevin Selby.
The “being so lucky after being so good” maxim has an unfortunate but equally true corollary; after you’ve been so good, you can still can be incredibly unlucky. For both Garrett Gough and Jai Williams, this is especially true. Both Miner seniors have had their fair share of bad luck over the course of their track and field careers. For Gough, injuries and illness have derailed seasons seemingly destined for deep championship runs; for Williams, an ill-timed injury prior to his final season at NU might have meant his athletic career as a Miner was already over.
Injuries are a constant part of all sports, and there’s no such thing as a well-timed injury. The struggle of returning from a significant injury is always difficult, but for a high jumper to regain the massive explosiveness necessary to excel in the space of a season is a daunting proposition. Yet here Williams stands, advancing from the D-III Championships with a mark of 6-foot, 3-inches in third place.
“The key for him has been patience,” said Kevin Selby, adding that, “the challenge mentally of overcoming a significant injury is just as difficult as the physical preparation. To get back out there requires a lot of courage and he has demonstrated that throughout the season.”
Kevin Selby also points out that there have been plenty of struggles and speed bumps along the way, particularly early in the season, for Williams.
“It has been his willingness to work and be patient that has brought him to where he is now,” said Kevin Selby.
Garrett Gough had already run 9:26 in the 3,200 last year before being unable to make it to the starting line at Sections due to injuries and illness. He placed fourth at the California state meet in cross country and is currently ranked 10th in the state in the 3,200 with a time of 9:09. He has won every 3,200 he has raced this year save one. The question for Gough was not whether he was capable of going through to Masters, but rather if he would be unlucky again. Indeed, after being so good, Gough knows better than most that luck still has a part to play. This year, he was good, and didn’t need any luck to win the D-III championship. Gough won in a time of 9:20, which was 15 seconds faster than the second place finisher.
“It’s been a really beneficial season, a lot better than last year,” said Gough of his run to Masters. “I’ve been really enjoying it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can push myself in the coming races.”
Fully healthy and prepared, Gough believes himself ready to make it to the coveted state meet. His coach fully agrees.
“He’s demonstrated that he can run against the best competition in the country; he’s done that in cross country and on the track,” said Kevin Selby of his star distance runner, adding, “He’s been in very high level races and he’s ready to do it again.”
Kevin Selby also emphasized Gough’s leadership and mentorship of his younger teammates, as well as Williams’ enthusiasm and support of his teammates despite being in separate disciplines within the sport.
Morgan, Williams, Selby and Gough have all been good. They have set astounding PRs at the perfect time; they have fought back from brutal injuries; they have laid it all on the line and overcome the odds; they have dominated and become among the very best at what they do. To move on again they may have to be very good and very lucky too. To hear it from the four Miners and their coach, the only certainty is that they’ll give it everything they have.
The Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet will take place today and Saturday at Davis Senior High School.
Kael Newton is a Nevada County native and freelance journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KaelNewton on Twitter.
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