Since Ryan transitioned from the comfortable confines of Class 4A into the daunting areas of Class 5A, the success across all sports hasn’t come as easily as it has in previous years.
But for Ryan’s 4x400-meter relay team, a step up in classification or a rotating lineup of runners hasn’t made a difference.
Instead, the relay team has shrugged off those obstacles and for the third straight year, the Raiders will have a 400 relay team competing at the state’s highest level.
Ryan will hope to reach the podium for the third straight year at this weekend’s Class 5A state track and field meet. The Raiders will compete on Friday in Austin at the University of Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium.
The Raiders enter the finals with a qualifying time of 3:15.92, trailing Houston Nimitz and Kingwood for the top times.
Ryan head coach Janson Head said getting kids to run the mile relay instead of the shorter sprint relays is difficult to sell. That problem no longer exists for Head.
“We’ve had some great kids, and they’ve kind of bought into our system,” Head said. “We’ve established a little tradition in it, and now, they want to be on the mile relay. It’s the last race of the day for a reason. ... It’s really turned into a sense of pride for our team.”
Head said his team will have to break the school record of 3:15.10 by around half of a second to have a good shot of landing on the podium.
A.J. George, Terrell Cross, Zac Black and Korey Chappell represent the four legs of Ryan’s prize horse that’s won the silver medal at the state meet the last two years.
Chappell and Cross were on last year’s team that lost to El Paso Burges in the finals last year.
With two members of last year’s team gone, Head was in need of quality replacements, a theme that’s been consistent for the relay team over the last few years.
Chappell, the anchor of the team’s leg and a senior, said with the departure of key members of the team, he’s pleasantly surprised with the this team’s ability to recover and return to the state championships.
“Honestly I didn’t know who we were going to have running after Sterling [Fuggett] left and [Daniel Martin] and all the good runners we had left. I didn’t know how we were going to do,” Chappell said. “And our younger guys came up, and they stepped up to the plate. And they’ve been doing good ever since. I’m surprised.”
Chappell’s the lone senior on the team. Black and George are both juniors, while Cross is returning to the state meet as a sophomore.
This weekend’s meet will mark the first time Head will have the same four runners in the 400 relay in successive meets. The emergence of Black toward the end of the year and Chappell’s recovery from a hamstring injury caused rearranging of the lineup toward the end of the year. Head said the team has started to coalesce as the season progressed.
The Ryan head coach was also quick to point out the work ethic of the entire team has been unsurpassed by previous teams he has coached.
“This year, this bunch has worked harder, as a whole, and better than any group I’ve ever had,” Head said. “They come to work every day. They come to practice every day.”
George, a member of the school’s honor guard and the Air Force ROTC, echoed his head coach’s sentiments. George said one of the motivating factors for the elevated work ethic is to send Chappell out on a strong note and show Ryan can compete with the state’s best relay teams.
“We want to do it for him,” George said. “But this is our first year in 5A. Everybody’s doubting us, so we have to go out there and show them what we can do.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.