Nansemond River High School freshman Brandee Johnson takes off for the 300-meter leg of the 1000-meter sprint medley Swedish relay championship after senior Kieaira Middleton's hand-off which ended the 200-meter leg. Junior Mia McClain ran the 100-meter first leg and sophomore Kara Lyles turned in a superb 400-meter anchor leg. The team finished third in the event to net All-American status at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor 2013 event in Greensboro, N.C. last Friday. (Aquilla Redding photo)
Nansemond River High School freshman Brandee Johnson takes off for the 300-meter leg of the 1000-meter sprint medley Swedish relay championship after senior Kieaira Middleton's hand-off which ended the 200-meter leg. Junior Mia McClain ran the 100-meter first leg and sophomore Kara Lyles turned in a superb 400-meter anchor leg. The team finished third in the event to net All-American status at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor 2013 event in Greensboro, N.C. last Friday. (Aquilla Redding photo)

NRHS track hits national stage

Published 10:34pm Friday, June 21, 2013

Five track and field athletes from Nansemond River High School qualified to compete last weekend in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor 2013 event at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C.

The 4×200-meter relay state championship indoor team from earlier this year — which produced the school’s first All-American relay team at the indoor nationals — proved to be the highlight again. Senior Kieaira Middleton, junior Mia McClain, sophomore Kara Lyles and freshman Brandee Johnson placed in the top six in two relay events, Johnson did the same in the freshman 400-meter dash, and all were consequently named All-Americans.

“As a whole, what we set out to do for Nansemond River this year was successful — start building that program,” Warriors coach Justin Byron said.

In explaining the difference between a track team and a track program, Byron said that a team might have a good year and then have to rebuild after star athletes graduate. A program establishes a platform for consistent success at a high level. Byron believes Nansemond River has the quality of athletes to help make this happen.

Despite the graduation of track star Shakeela Saunders last year, he said, “The team was able to be even more successful this year, and I think that’s the key to the program.”

“This year, I think, indoor and outdoor, they went to the (national) meet expecting to place top three every time they stepped on the track,” he said.

The Nansemond River relay team came in third in the unusual 1000-meter sprint medley Swedish relay championship, which featured a 100-meter leg, followed by legs of 200, 300 and 400 meters. The team’s time was 2:15.55, just under seven seconds behind the first place-finisher.

Johnson finished third in the freshman 400-meter dash with a time of 56.46 seconds, less than two seconds behind the leader.

The team also ran the 4×200-meter relay in the championship division, which was the highest level of competition. The Warriors placed fourth, with a time of 1:40.47, about four seconds off the leader.

Sophomore Zakiya Rashid competed in the discus throw, finishing 19th out of 32 with a throw of 123’7” in the championship division. In the emerging elite division for the shot put, she finished 24th out of 42 with a throw of 37’2.5”.

Byron said his runners were accustomed to running medleys, but they typically involve sequences like 100-100-200-400 or 200-200-400-800. He explained the strategy he employs.

“Whenever you’re running a medley, you have to have a strong leg on the last leg, because they have the most distance to run,” he said.

“I just evaluated how Kara Lyles was doing through the district, regional and state meets, and I felt like she was a great anchor leg,” he said.

Her performance running the 400 stunned Byron; she cut three seconds off her individual mark.

“She runs the open 400 around 58.5, and then she split 55.5 at the meet,” he said. “That’s a huge drop, and she actually moved up from sixth place to third place on the anchor leg for us to finish top three.”

He explained his choices for the other legs.

“Brandee had the fastest 300 time indoor, and Mia had the best block start, so she went first,” he said. While the 200 is not Middleton’s best distance, he said, “She actually ran very, very well.”

The meet was not without its hiccups, though. Byron said a bad exchange in the 4×200 cost the team nearly a second, and one leg in the medley did not go as intended, but he left the final event of the 2012-13 track season happy.

“Every time they stepped on that track, they got a medal. Every time they stepped on that track, they got All-American honors,” he said. “Even though everything isn’t going perfect, you’ve got to be a very ungrateful person to not be happy about that, and I’m happy.”

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