By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Brandon Prather doesn’t like to lose at anything — period. So it’s easy to see why a sixth-place finish in the long jump at last year’s state track meet might bother the Stillwater High School sophomore.
“I feel like I’m ready this year,” Prather said. “I knew everybody that was in (the long jump) last year were seniors, so hopefully I can perform well maybe even win it.”
Now, he’s hoping last year’s frustration leads to a little more success as he and several other members of the Stillwater track team make a return trip to the two-day Class 6A state meet beginning Friday in Yukon.
“It’s really exciting,” Prather said. “We’re just going to go out there and have fun and try to take home some more medals.”
It hasn’t been an easy road back to the state tournament for Prather. Injuries have slowed his progression and even caused a little bit of a sophomore slump. But he’s found a way to fight through it and now he’s back on the rise after winning the Ponca City regional with a jump of 21 feet, and a half inch.
“I feel really good,” Prather said. “You hope those injuries don’t start up again. I know when I missed a big part of the season because I was ineligible and because of the injuries, I didn’t feel good when I came back. I got third in my first meet back, so that was frustrating.”
Coming in an unexpected place — at Stillwater’s home meet in Pioneer Stadium — it turns out that third-place finish became a turning point in Prather’s season.
“It was tough,” Prather said. “There were so many people who came to watch me jump. You always want to do well in front of the home crowd, but it was just a struggle. That’s the thing about injuries, you want to perform your best, but at the same time you don’t want to risk another injury.”
But Prather isn’t the only one returning to state with aspirations of bringing home some gold. Senior Abbie Woods also has her eyes on the gold in the 400-meter dash after finishing third last year. Woods finished second in the 400 at Ponca City with a time of 1:02.3 and will be competing along side fellow senior Chablee Sanders.
“Abbie is just a tremendous athlete,” Stillwater coach Rusty Atkins said before Stillwater’s regionals in Ponca City “It doesn’t matter what she does, we know she’s going to give it everything she’s got. I would love to see her make a return trip to state and possibly even improve on her finish last year..”
Like Prather, Woods will also be competing in the long jump — an event she picked up with a little less than a month left in the season. Woods will also anchor the 1,600-meter relay team, the only relay team the Lady Pioneers will be sending to state.
The Pioneers will also be competing in three relays — including the 800-meter relay, where Prather will likely be the second leg.
“We’ve got some good relay teams,” Prather said. “We’ve kind of been battling injuries there, too. Jordan (Brown) pulled a hamstring, but we’re still hoping he’s able to go. If he’s not, we’ve got other alternates ready to go and that helps a lot. I know that Chuck (Neal) has been working hard get on the team so we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Along with Woods and Prather, Becca Worthy will also compete in the pole vault after surpassing the 10-foot mark in regionals, while Noah Gade — fresh off regional wins in the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs — will go for another individual championship after winning the individual cross country title last fall.
While several athletes — including Prather and Woods — are vying for their chance at glory, the Stillwater sophomore is also just hoping to see Stillwater put up a few more points than last year’s combined total of 14 points.
“We’re definitely hoping to score a lot more points,” Prather said. “I felt like we did really well in regionals, finishing in second place and I’m hoping that carries over to state. Last year our relay teams kind of choked a little bit, so that’s one thing we have really been working on in practice this last week.”