By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston High School’s girls track and field team has received a double dose of Gatorade for the Lady Bearcats’ efforts during the 2021-22 school year.
RHS graduate Bryanna Craig has been named the 2021-22 Gatorade Louisiana Girls Track and Field Player of the Year, following December’s announcement of junior Lily Garrett being named the Gatorade Louisiana Girls Cross Country Player of the Year.
Both were the first Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the Lady Bearcats.
Craig’s award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes her as Louisiana’s best high school girls track and field athlete and makes her a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Girls Track and Field Player of the Year award to be announced in July.
Craig, a jumper, middle distance talent and heptathlete, won the high jump at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Class 5A state meet, adding a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter dash and taking fifth in the 100, lifting the Bearcats to second place as a team.
Her personal-best of 5-10 in the high jump this spring was tied for 12th in the nation among prep competitors in 2022.
Craig, who is moving on to Purdue University, where he father Raffeal was recently named an assistant track and field coach, capped off her prep career by winning a bronze medal at the USATF U-20 National Championships in the heptathlon with 5,388 points, ranking her as the nation’s No. 2 score among prep competitors this spring.
That also ranks Craig as No. 13 in American high school history for girls heptathletes.
“I’ve wanted to be Gatorade winner of the year since I started high school, but of course that was in (New) Jersey before we made the moves,” said Craig, who attended high school in Texas as a junior. “I’m so glad that even though I moved I was still able to get it. And I’m proud of Lily, too. It was a good year at Ruston.”
Craig started garnering national notice during her freshman year in New Jersey.
“To me, it’s not about how you start, but how you conclude your season,” said Erik Boal, an editor for DyeStat. “Craig picked it up late and was stronger in the postseason. Her performance at USATF U20s was the best I’ve seen her look since she first broke 5,000 points back in 2019 at USATF U20s in Florida as a high school freshman.”
Craig said having a father who is a track coach gave her an early introduction to the sport.
“I started track when I was four year old,” Craig said. “I was just a kid running around the track, but it got into my blood early. That’s what sparked it.
“My dad has always been there throughout my track career. He knows what’s good for me and what’s not good for me, so I’ve always basically followed in his footsteps and doing that, along with God he’s brought me success and I’ve been blessed to have him as my father and coach.”
While she loves being a heptathlete, Craig does have a favorite event.
“I like the high jump the best,” Craig said. “I feel like that’s the event I’m most consistent at. With my other events I feel like I have to adjust. I’m not as consistent in the other events and sometimes get frustrated and upset. But I still love competing in all of them.”
Craig, who originally signed with Louisiana Tech before making the move to Purdue with her father, who will coach multi-events, triple jump and high jump at Purdue, said she expects her track and field career as a Boilermaker to be much like it has been.
“It’ll be like high school,” Craig said. “I’ll always compete in the high jump, but I’ll compete in other events, too, and if there are multi-events for a heptathlete, I’ll compete for that, too.”
Former Ruston High head track and field Allen Whitaker, who has just taken over as coach at Scottlandville High School, said he enjoyed the challenge coaching Craig brought to him.
“Coaching a multi-event athlete like Bryanna kept me on my toes,” Whitaker said. “She kept me researching all of the events. You have to be competent to coach all of those events. So she made me step up my game as a coach.
“With her coming from New Jersey to Texas to us, we wanted to make that a seamless progression for her. She came right in and jumped right into our culture at Ruston High. I knew right away she was going to be fine because of her work ethic. She’s a special athlete.”
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