COLUMBIA — Depth is not an issue this season for the Rock Bridge track and field team. With a team of 170 athletes, the Bruins have plenty to work with.
“Last year’s team had about 140 kids,” coach Neal Blackburn said. “This year we have 30 more. We’re still trying to figure out how to get uniforms for everybody.”
This is the largest team Blackburn has had in his nine years as coach at Rock Bridge. His first team had 63 members. The program has come a long way, but what makes this year so unique is the number of seniors. Out of a team of 170, only 21 are seniors.
One of those seniors said she thinks the numbers don’t mean too much. Nikita Tietsort said she sees the track team as one group independent of classes. Last year was a learning experience for her, and now she is ready to help the newer athletes prepare for the season. If the seniors stand out, it will be through their leadership.
“I mainly tell the sophomores and freshman tricks to keeping their pace and give them pointers on breathing,” Tietsort said.
Senior sprinter Quinn Gray agreed that showing how it's done is important.
“I know what Coach expects and how to get it done," Gray said. "I try to lead by example and work hard every day, and I think the younger classes are catching on.”
In addition to leadership, the seniors bring experience. Gray, a fourth-year returning runner, is a six-time all-district sprinter and was named all-state the past two years. He ran on the Bruins' 4 x 200-meter relay that placed second last season in the Class 4 state meet.
The seniors will help coach younger runners, lead stretches and keep busy pushing each other to work hard. The seniors are spread out evenly across each area and their experience should trickle down to the younger runners.
“It’s exciting to have so much young talent and so many new runners, but it’s demanding,” Blackburn said. “Form, technique and the technical aspects need to be coached, which could be a challenge. But there are a lot of untested skills to tap into which will be exciting to discover.”