Saturday, August 06, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Local track club racking up wins, personal bests

Leader sportswriter

From upperclassmen to 11 and 12-year-olds, it’s been an outstanding and productive summer for several local track and field athletes, as those athletes have continued to set personal records, rack up wins in various events and continue to improve as the school year approaches.

Cabot High School senior to-be Britton Alley, who won the Class 7A state championship in the 200-meter dash in May, represented Arkansas at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque, N.M., during the first week of June.

The Great Southwest Classic was an invite-only meet and consisted of athletes from across North America, and Alley competed in three different events, including setting a personal record in the 200-meter dash with a blistering time of 21.98.

With that finish, Alley became the only returning high school runner in the state to break the 22-second barrier in that event. Also this summer, Alley won the USATF (USA Track and Field) 100- and 200-meter state championships in the 17-18-year-old age group, and he finished second in the 400-meter race.

“The 100 was a tough one, because he had a collegiate athlete in that that was still able to compete in that age group,” said Elite Performance Track Club coach Jason Alley of Britton. “The 200 he won in dominating fashion, but after this Arkansas meet, we decided to shut it down, as far as competing, because he really wanted to get into the offseason work.”

Britton Alley has been working with Arkansas Baptist College track and field coach Cedric Vaughn for about a year and a half. Vaughn ran track for legendary track and field coach John McDonnell at the University of Arkansas from 2001-2005.

After his days of running for the greatest track and field program in collegiate history, Vaughn later joined D1 Sports Training in Little Rock as a speed and conditioning coach.

Then in 2010, Vaughn started the track and field program at Arkansas Baptist College, and in addition to his coaching duties at ABC, Vaughn works individually with upcoming sprinters like Alley and several other elite sprinters in the state. Vaughn says he expects a big senior year from the Class 7A 200-meter state champion.

“Britton is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the 100, 200 and 400,” said Vaughn. “He’s special and he’s going to do some great things. It’s going to be an honor just to coach him.

“I definitely think Britton will knock down some school records – definitely in the 400 and definitely in the 200, and he has the capacity to knock it down in the 100 also. I think he’ll definitely knockdown some school records.”

Another Cabot Panther that Vaughn coaches is junior to-be Conley Hillegas. Hillegas had a good sophomore year at Cabot. He didn’t compete in any summer meets and has only been working with Vaughn for a couple of months, but the head ABC coach says Hillegas is only getting better and better and his confidence continues to grow with the experience he’s gaining.

“It’s hard to explain someone that didn’t know who he was and then all of a sudden he comes out here and just busts tail,” Vaughn said of Hillegas. “He just kicks tail. I’ve got a guy named Kennedy Lightner (a very talented sprinter from North Little Rock), who is pretty much one of the fastest guys in the state.

“He (Hillegas) looked me in the eye and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to beat him just one time,’ and did it. I was like, ‘Well now you’re starting to believe in yourself.’ I think that they would run repeat 300s. So we’re running 300 meters and rest, then 600 and run another 300 meters. And so he came out there and kicked tail and did it. So I’m super proud of him.

“When you get a kid that starts believing in themselves they do amazing things.”

Vaughn expects great things from both Alley and Hillegas next year.

“Both of them are rising stars,” Vaughn said. “They’ve got great potential, very great athletic ability. I definitely think that they will have a great, great year with the way that they’re training.”

Alley and Hillegas aren’t the only two locals that have stood out this summer, though. Junior to-be Stuart Nickell, of Cabot, won the AAU state meet for the 15-16-year-old age group in the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter races in Hot Springs on June 11.

On June 25, Nickell finished third in the 1,500-meter race at the USATF state meet held at UALR, and he finished second in the 3,000-meter race. Although he finished second in that 3,000-meter race, he shattered his previous best time by a whopping 15 seconds.

Nickell competed again at the USATF Region 9 Championships, which was held at Missouri State University on July 10, and finished eighth in the 1,500.

“Man, he is a hard-working kid and he runs and runs and runs,” Jason Alley said of Nickell. “He should have a good year in cross country this year.”

Though it mainly consists of Cabot athletes, the Elite Performance Track Club isn’t reserved only for Cabot athletes. Club participant Dakota Smith of Palestine-Wheatley set a personal record in the 400-meter race this summer and Alyssa Dohm of Des Arc, who was a Class 2A state champion in three events as a sophomore, also competed well this summer for the club.

As far as younger EPTC competitors, Cabot’s Levi Griffin won the 11-12-year-old boys shot put at the USATF state meet this summer, and did so after only two weeks of practice.

“The kid’s a natural,” Jason Alley said of Griffin. “He’s as strong as a bull and has really, really good feet. Moves well and is explosive, tons of potential. Levi should be a force. The week after the Arkansas meet, we were practicing and he improved his distance by six feet.”

Jacobi Briggs won the 11-12-year-old girls 100-meter race at the USATF state meet and finished second in the 200-meter race. Riley Eckert finished fourth in the 100-meter race, fifth in the 200-meter race and second in the shot put in the same age group at the state meet. It’s her first year competing with the team.

“She’s a good athlete,” Alley said of Eckert.

Jersee Grubb finished third in the 100- and 200-meter races in the 11-12-year-old girls age group at the USATF state meet.