By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s hard to tell whether the Stillwater High School track team is preparing for regionals or a wedding.
When Stillwater takes to the track in Ponca City on Saturday, there will be something old, something new, something borrowed and — if Stillwater High School track coach Rusty Atkins has his way — plenty of blue.
“The kids are very excited,” Atkins said. “My job is pretty much over. I’m just trying to get them in a position where they can have success. Now I just get to sit back and watch them perform and hopefully good things will happen.”
It’s rare that Atkins ever gets a chance to sit back and enjoy a meet, but that’s what happens when the surroundings are so familiar.
Stillwater will be running on the same track it ran on less than a month ago (the old) — a surface on which both the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers had some success earlier this season.
“It’s huge because the kids are familiar with the surface and the way the layout of the track is and where all the events are going to be held,” Atkins said. “It’s a familiar setting, which is always a good thing. It’s part of the reason we go there because we took a gamble thinking that Ponca City will probably host a regional.”
The surface won’t be the only thing familiar to Stillwater at regionals. Stillwater will supply the starting blocks for regionals (the borrowed), as a return favor for using Ponca City’s timers at the Stillwater Invitational.
“That’s a good deal for us,” Atkins said. “If anything else, it’s just a comfort thing. They already know how the blocks work, where the settings are and they can quickly get into them without having to make any adjustment to it.”
Stillwater’s comfort level may be a little higher as it heads into regionals thanks to the familiar settings, but it’s the new things that perhaps worry Atkins the most — especially in the Pioneers’ 1,600-meter relay team.
“You’re always a little nervous when you haven’t done it enough,” Atkins said. “We have some kids who came back from the qualifying team last year, Davyn Thompson and Lucas Secrest, and we’ve actually borrowed two guys from soccer that are probably going to get a chance to run on two of the legs. ... We haven’t run one in such a long time, we’ve just really been trying to hone in on the exchange.”
The Pioneers may have a couple new faces in the 1,600-meter relay team, but Atkins is confident Stillwater will be sending several relays to state.
“Our boys 400, 800 and 3,200-meter relays look really strong,” Atkins said. “Our girls 1,600 looks to make it back to the state track meet once again. If we end up running the 400 and 800, they have an outside chance at best, but that’s if we end up running them.”
Anchored by three seniors, the Lady Pioneers’ 1,600-meter relay appears to be the favorite in the regional. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some pressure that goes along with it.
“That pressure is probably from themselves,” Atkins said. “We bring three members back from a team that ended up fifth in the state last year. That’s pressure they put on themselves. They know my expectations. Our fourth member that we’ve brought along is a sophomore, so she might be feeling a little more pressure because the other three members are all seniors and she doesn’t want to let them down. But she’s a competitor and they believe in her.”
Relays may make up a majority of the state qualifiers this year for the Pioneers, but not all.
Long jumper Abbie Woods already has her eyes on state despite just picking up the field event a month or so ago. Brandon Prather has the same goal for the Pioneers after qualifying for state as a freshman last season.
Even pole vaulter Becca Worthy has her eyes toward the skies, hoping to clear 10 feet and qualify for state with a new pole.
“Going into the regional meet, Becca’s probably sitting in the No. 2 or 3 spot in pole vault,” Atkins said. “The problem that we have right now is that she’s progressing so fast that we’re having to find poles that will work for her and help her keep getting better.
“It’s a good problem to have, but it’s also an expensive thing because those things are not cheap. But you have to try to help the athlete as best as you can. She’s working on a bigger pole right now, so hopefully it’ll help her get over that 10-foot mark that she’s looking for.”
Even with so many state qualifier hopefuls, it’s likely that Atkins won’t be renting a tux any time soon. But he is prepared to watch as both teams take their first steps to state.
“Both the boys and girls want to finish top three in the region,” Atkins said. “That’s always a goal. You have to score a lot of points and it’s not necessarily by winning all the events. It’s by scoring the seconds, the thirds, the fourths on down to six points. For us to do that, we have to have everybody on their A game and producing to score those smaller points, so we’ll give it a shot.”