Ruston High’s track and field program has lofty goals every season, and especially now, with a very plausible shot at challenging for state championships.
But to reach that level, RHS competitors have to take the first strides to qualify by placing in the top four at the District 2-5A championships this afternoon at ULM.
Not to overlook winning the district crown. That’s on the list of goals when competition begins at 3:30 p.m. today for field events, 3:45 p.m. for the 4×800 meter relay, and 5:15 p.m. for the other running events.
The Ouachita boys and girls teams figure to be Ruston’s toughest challengers for 2-5A supremacy, with Alexandria Senior High also in the mix. A top six finish in each event earns team scoring.
“There’s lots on the line, and we’re excited about our chances,” said RHS coach Allen Whitaker.
“Yes, we want to win district, but the most important goal is to move as many athletes as possible forward to the regional championship. We’ve stressed that to the kids.”
While Ruston is an obvious favorite for the district titles, and there are some RHS performers whose marks show they’re likely to move on to regional and state competition, today’s meet marks the start of a different standard. It’s now or never. The only route to regionals is a top four district finish. The only path to the state meet is a top four regional performance. Nothing prior matters.
“You just don’t show up and advance. Our kids have to be the best version of themselves in this meet,” Whitaker said. “Whatever that lines up to be, I’ll be a proud coach – if it’s a PR (personal record) and they don’t advance, or score, I’ll be proud.”
Last week’s competition at district rival West Ouachita, which included ASH and Ouachita in the field, was a proving ground for less accomplished Ruston competitors.
“The West Ouachita meet gave us a gauge on our developmental athletes, seeing their performances and telling them they may be able to score at district, maybe even challenge to make the regional meet,” he said. “We’ve been piecing it together all spring long. We knew who our top guys and girls are, so last week it was all about identifying those athletes who can sneak in and move on in their events. We’re hoping they rise up (today).”
Two who aren’t on anyone else’s radar, but could emerge at the district meet, are Bearcats quarterback Jayden Osborne in the boys high jump and sophomore Tyana Jackson in the girls long jump.
“Jayden had barely worked out at the high jump but cleared 5-10 and barely missed at 6-0. He could be a sleeper who could score and maybe make it to the regionals,” Whitaker said. “Just a great athlete.
“Tyana is ranked fourth in district but she pulled off a jump in practice this week that will shock some people if she’s able to do it again at the district meet. She can be one of the best long jumpers in the state if she keeps working and developing,” he said.
There is a bigger picture. The Ruston coaches have talked to their athletes about being grateful for this opportunity. It wasn’t available last year after the pandemic halted prep spring sports.
“I’m just glad we’re getting to compete. We’re not taking it for granted,” Whitaker said. “Our kids have been working very hard, some of them on their own during quarantine, and this is when all that work pays off. It’s gratifying as a coach to compete (today).”