When they have a championship-caliber team, some coaches pretend to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room. But not Westlake head track and field coach Robert Wilson.
With a boatload of talent back this year from last year’s girls team, the AAAAAA champions, and the boys team, which placed eighth, there is talk of a title sweep for the Lions’ program at this year’s state championship meets. And Wilson does not shy away from the topic.
“We talk about it every day in practice,” Wilson said. “Our girls were dominant last year, but last year’s boys team didn’t realize how good they were until it was too late. I’m not going to say we’re going to win [a state championship], but at the end of the day, we do think about May.”
A sweep of the state championships is rare in the state’s highest classification. According to the Georgia High School Association, since Georgia high school girls began competing in track and field in 1968 (boys began in 1951), the girls and boys titles have been won by one school just five times – Columbia (1983) and McEachern (1998) won AAAA championships, and Marietta (2001), Stephenson (2002) and Redan (2005) won AAAAA crowns.
Westlake has served notice early this season that it has intentions on being the sixth school on the list. Both Lion teams have come out of the gate flying. Their latest performances came at the expense of the rest of the schools in Fulton County as the school won both the boys and girls titles at the Fulton County Championships on Monday. The boys won by 62 points over second place Roswell (143-81) while the girls were 101 points better than Johns Creek (173-72).
The Westlake girls are in search of their third state championship (2009 and 2013). The Lions won last year’s state title by more than 30 points over Mill Creek, largely on the efforts of senior SheKara Martin – currently one of the top sprinters at Auburn – who won the 100 and 200 meters.
Martin also anchored the 400-meter relay team that won by nearly two seconds. The team that finished second was Westlake’s B-Team, a testament to the talent in the program.
“Last year, we had that big time hammer in SheKara,” Wilson said. “But this year we have a lot of really, really good runners who have had that experience of being in a state championship meet and winning it.”
This year’s leaders include seniors Ariel Terrell, a hurdler and sprinter who has signed with Tennessee, and Aubree Collins, a 400/800 meter runner who has signed with East Tennessee State, and juniors Alex Johnson (200 meters), Kayla Stinson (hurdles) and Mia Phillips, currently ranked fifth in the state in the long jump.
The Westlake boys are seeking their second state title (2006). The performance of the Lions’ 400-meter relay team at last season’s Georgia Olympics was indicative of its untapped potential. Westlake had the fourth fastest time in the prelims but trimmed nearly half a second off of that time in the finals to win the event over favored Grayson.
Wilson said this year’s group has dedicated itself to holding each other accountable.
“I can cuss and fuss all day, but it won’t have the impact of your peer telling you to get your stuff together,” Wilson said. “That has really been the difference this season.”
Team leaders include seniors Joseph Woodbury, currently ranked second in Georgia in the high jump, and Josh Willingham, a 400 meter runner who Wilson said has “really busted out of his shell this season.”
Other major contributors are junior Treymane Flagler, one of the state’s top hurdlers, sophomore Nigel Warrior, a triple jumper who is considered by many to be the best safety in the 2016 class, and dynamic freshman Rashaad Pollard, one of the nation’s fastest ninth graders who is currently ranked second in the state in the 100 meters.
Still, Wilson is aware that a lot has to go right to win one championship, let alone two.
“You can have a lot of talent, but you also have to get some breaks along the way,” Wilson said. “And there are some great teams out there. McEachern (girls) is hungry and Archer (girls) is really good. And Shiloh (boys) is loaded.”
But Wilson is confident that both of his teams will be ready at championship time next month in Jefferson (boys) and Albany (girls).
“We stay humble. I don’t believe in doing any trash talking,” Wilson said. “But we step on the track with confidence. With the athletes we have our practices are serious, so when you get to a meet, you know you’re ready because you’ve been competing in practice all week.”
iDareU Middle School Showcase
iDareU, the premiere football training group in the southeast, is hosting its third annual combine/camp for middle school students.
The iDareU Middle School Showcase is scheduled for Saturday, April 5, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at the group’s Roswell location – 11595 King Road. Pre-registration is $50, through March 20. The walk-up registration fee is $60. All participants will receive a t-shirt, have their photo and all measurable listed on the iDareU website, and the top performers will receive awards at the end of the event. Current iDareU athletes include UGA cornerback Shaq Wiggins, South Carolina safety Chaz Elder, Stanford defensive back Ronnie Harris, Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson, and high school all-state performers ML King defensive back Wesley Green, running back Eric Swinney and linebacker Khari Lain of Sandy Creek, offensive tackle Dallas Warmack and linebacker Natrez Patrick of Mays, Our Lady of Mercy defensive back Christian Coleman and Creekside defensive back Cameron Jackson.
Visit i-DareU.net for more information and to register online.