By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Last year, Brandon Prather was the last man on the podium in the long jump, finishing sixth as a freshman.
Friday in Yukon, Prather took a huge step — both literally and figuratively — as he ascended to the top of the podium, winning the state title with a jump of 23 feet, 5.5 inches.
“It was cool,” Prather said. “Today I felt really good about jumping. There was a little crowd there too, so I had a lot of momentum and I was getting high like I was supposed to. It just felt really good.”
Setting a new personal best is one thing, doing it in front of thousands of people at the highest level is another. Yet, the calm and collected sophomore hardly seemed to break a sweat when the pressure was really on.
“On a big stage, he was pretty cool and collected,” Stillwater coach Rusty Atkins said. “For a young kid, that’s hard to do. He contained his emotion and he was there to compete. He put the time and the effort in and his technique has got better throughout the year.”
“(The crowd) probably helped,” Prather said. “I felt like it did. Just seeing people watching me got me pretty excited.”
Prather may have brought the gold back to Stillwater, but he wasn’t the only one to climb the long jump podium Friday. Senior Abbie Woods finished second for the Lady Pioneers with a jump of 18 feet, 7.25 inches.
“It was an outstanding day for those two long jumpers,” Atkins said. “I’ll be honest with you, Brandon’s was spectacular. Then Abbie pulled one out on her third jump to bump up to second place, that was a pretty spectacular thing. Everybody was watching and everybody was pretty excited about it.”
Woods also qualified for the 400-meter individual race, finishing seventh with a time of 1:01.84.
But the day wasn’t without a little heartache. Senior Noah Gade — the state’s defending cross country champion — couldn’t add to his collection of titles as he lost as Broken Arrow’s Kyle Broaddrick edged out Gade by less than a second in the 3,200-meter run in a race that saw three runners finish within the span of two seconds of each other. Gade recorded a time of 9:38.27, but will get a chance at redemption Saturday in the 1,600-meter run.
“He got second in the 3,200 and just barely — I mean barely — got beat,” Atkins said. “It was kind of an exciting finish.”
But perhaps the biggest surprises came from the relay teams. Both the Pioneers’ 800-meter relay and the Lady Pioneers’ 1,600-meter relay qualified for Saturday’s finals. The Pioneers finished seventh, with a time of 1:30.16, while the Lady Pioneers took eighth with a time of 4:11.65.
“I felt like it went pretty smoothly, besides the end,” Prather said. “Jordan (Brown) kind of started limping again. I think our time could have been better. I’m excited to come back. I want to get on the podium again.”
As far as team scores go, the Pioneers are right in the thick of the team race with 18, thanks in large part to Prather’s title and a second-place finish from Gade. Edmond Memorial leads with 28 points, while Stillwater is in fourth behind Jenks and Broken Arrow.
The Pioneer girls also nearly matched their total from last year, scoring eight points the first day and are tied with Owasso and Broken Arrow for eighth.
“It wasn’t necessarily a dominant day, but the kids fought hard,” Atkins said. “We knew that going into certain events, that we had opportunities to win or place second, or at the very least place in the top five. That’s all you can hope for. Funny things happen when you get to the state track meet. People get a little nervous or they unleash things. But we had a good first day and it was kind of fun and a little more relaxed. The kids have a good attitude and are excited about coming back tomorrow and seeing if we can score some more points.”