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A contingent of distance runners from the Nansemond River track team goes to work during practice last week at Nansemond River High School.

Coach hopes to make team into program

Published 11:49pm Friday, December 28, 2012

The coaches of Nansemond River’s indoor track team aim to make it a perennial state power even as it moves forward in the wake of talent lost to graduation.

“They’re young, but they’re competitive,” coach Justin Byron said.

Byron explained that he, fellow head coach Robin Hirsch and the assistant coaches are trying to transform Nansemond River’s indoor track squad from a team into a program.

“We expect to build each year and continue to get better and better until we’re able to really dominate on the state level,” he said.

The boys’ team loses four major contributors who graduated, while the girls’ team will miss state champion Shakeela Saunders, who earned her diploma as well.

“Both of those are voids that are going to be hard to fill,” Byron said.

While Byron admits it will take a while for the boys to get back to where they were, they will have freshmen who will contribute in the field events. But the girls are a different story, thanks to what Byron describes as an amazing freshmen class that has an example to follow.

“Focus, discipline and leadership are probably going to be our biggest challenges,” he said. “It’s really not going to be the talent. Like I said, losing Shakeela Saunders is always going to be a struggle, but she left an impact of winning. She left that culture here.”

Three girls that Byron is looking to for leadership are junior Mia McClain, senior Kieaira Middleton and sophomore Zakiya Rashid. McClain and Middleton should both be standouts in the sprints.

“Mia and Kieaira both won district titles last year, Mia in the 55 (meter) and then Kieaira in the 500 (meter),” Byron said.

Rashid was impressive as a freshman in the shot put and looks to continue on that path.

Because of the wealth of new talent, Byron expects the girls to be just as competitive in the relay events as they were last year.

“We were able to open up at the first meet in the 4×200,” he said. “I believe we ran 1:47, which put us top five in the state.”

The team included young runners like sophomore Kara Lyles and freshmen Randee Johnson and Jada Philson. Byrone explained that Lyles has the most range on the team, competing in everything from sprints and relays to field events.

One of the headliners among the freshmen class is Claire Janek, who is already the leader of the distance running group.

For the boys, seniors Jason Philson and Nate Chandler will be counted upon for sprints. Chandler is part of a promising 4×800 relay team that also includes juniors Addison Hagberg, Sydney Johnson and Ben Littlejohn.

The freshmen that Byron expects to be competitive in the field events are a couple of Amateur Athletic Union All-Americans — Kenneth Smiley, who specializes in the shot put, and Joshua Stills, who performs the long jump.

Byron is looking forward to seeing all the young Warriors develop and plans to push them to that end.

“We’re going to need that leadership, we’re going to need that focus, we’re going to need that rapid maturity from these 14- and 15-year old kids that have to really step up now to compete in what is the hardest district in the state, by far,” he said.

Nansemond River will be in action next Friday for the Southeastern District Invitational at the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton.

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