OHS Track & Field Heads to State

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photos contributed to the observer

BY WIL CREWS

SPORTSCREWS
@OPELIKAOBSERVER.COM

OPELIKA —

The Opelika boys and girls outdoor track & field teams are heading to Gulf Shores this Thursday through Saturday to compete in the AHSAA 4A-7A State Championship.

The boys qualified by winning their sectional meet in Mountain Brook last weekend; the girls finished second but did enough for several athletes to qualify for state. Although the boys’ team had won all but one of its current classification sectional meets in years prior, Head Coach Jimmy Johnson refrained from pushing high expectations on his student-athletes and instead opted for a more lighted approach.

“I really don’t try to set many expectations,” Johnson said. “I’m looking for all the kids to hit new personal best. That was my goal for them. I always tell them, it’s not how we start, it’s how we finish … and sectionals and state are how we finish.”

photos contributed to the observer

OHS is sending about 32 athletes to state, according to Johnson, with the numbers split near evenly between the girls and the boys. While Johnson and the rest of his staff of course wish every athlete could make the trip, the leader of the Bulldogs remains proud of how each individual represented Opelika at sectionals.

“Even the ones who didn’t qualify for state hit a personal best,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t a guy or girl that we looked at and said, ‘if you would have done what you did in the regular season you would have been fine.’ They went to sectionals and did more than what we expected of them.”

With a short turnaround before the state meet begins on Thursday, Johnson said the team is focusing on recovery this week.

“Preparation from this week is trying to recover from last week,” he said. “Sectionals was a big undertaking for a lot of those kids. A bunch of them had two, three maybe even four events. Doing that in the course of two days is a lot on them. This week is just trying to get their legs back under them. By the time we get to gulf shores we will have about an hour or hour and a half to practice on the track and get familiar with that … that will be a little more of a demanding practice.”

Leading into the season finale, Johnson remains firm on his stance of subsiding expectations. He emphasized the priority is still to have fun, but added that, despite the alluring location on the Gulf’s beaches, it will take focus to reach the team’s ultimate goals.

“Winning is fun, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But it’s a business trip. If those kids go out there and are able to do stuff that they really didn’t think was possible, we are going to focus on doing what we got to do at state and try to get as many state champions out of as many individual event that we can and hopefully be able to bring one home for the team.”

Having worked with many of the athletes over the course of their high school careers and throughout this season’s indoor and outdoor track & field schedule, Johnson is looking forward to watching the student-athletes bare the fruit of their labor.

“Some of them are going to state for the first time,” Johnson said. “I have seniors and juniors going for the first time … and they stuck with it, stuck with the process, stuck with everything I have been trying to teach them. I had some kids that were on the edge, and I was like, ‘if this kid ever gets it together, they might be special.’ So just watching them get it together and start turning into the student athlete we know they could be is the biggest thing for me.”

Regardless of how the results of the weekend turn out, Johnson, the girls’ team head coach Jonathan Fischer and the rest of the coaching staff have enjoyed watching the student-athletes grow and hope to continue making memories that will last a lifetime.

“Being a coach, you are able to watch the [student-athletes] grow and develop into young men and women,” Johnson said. “High school sports and high school is great when you are doing stuff like this. Those memories are stuff you will never forget. Its’ something you can tell your kids about. You made it, now let’s have fun — winning.”

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