Whether they are a veteran varsity athlete or a student looking for a fun P.E. credit, the season for the track team is already looking up, and Girls’ Head Coach Jamal Fenner and Coach Leslie Riggins can explain why. With this year’s population boom within LASA’s freshman class, the LBJ track team population has also seen an increase. More football players have also been recruited to the track team and almost all of the girl’s varsity sprinters have returned to the team as well. Not only does this mean that there are more people competing, but there is more room for the track team to improve.
“Our chances of winning any meet are much greater when we have numbers,” Riggins said. “If everyone performs well and does what they’re supposed to do, we’re more likely to win. I don’t think there’s any real disadvantages to having a big team.”
More athletes generally means more people competing in different events. This increases the chance of having athletes that get higher placements in each event. The higher the placement in an event, the more points the team gets. That’s why having more competitors on a team increases the chance of winning a track meet. There are other added benefits that contribute to the success of the team and the success of the individual as well.
“When you have numbers, it’s always a good thing,” Fenner said. “You have athletes that are going to push each other and try to get better. Depth is another thing. Never turn your back on having depth, because you never know when someone won’t be able to run a relay. So you’ll always want to have someone that can compete at the same level as the person that went down.”
Riggins has been coaching track and field for 32 years, and has a lot of experience with different team dynamics, but he always sets high standards for his athletes. There was a time when his team would win the state track meet every year. His team was sponsored by Nike, and they would be invited to compete around the country. Riggins has coached two Olympic athletes and coaches Junior Olympic national champions in the summer, so he is used to achieving high levels of success.
“Hopefully we can win district and regionals this season,” Riggins said. “We came close last year to winning the regional meet, and we missed winning the district meet by less than five points. But I think we can win district this year too.”
Competing at state competitions is challenging enough, but with an experienced coaching staff and hard-working athletes, Riggins may reach his goal for another State Championship ring. And the Jaguars have more than just numbers on their side to do this. Last year the varsity boys and girls qualified for the Texas Invitational Relays, an annual track meet that selects and invites high school and college teams from across the country to compete against each other. Most of the varsity athletes also have also competed in at least one regional track meet. LBJ sophomore Caroline Anyatonwu, LASA sophomore Rachel Horowitz, LASA senior Kendall Brice and LASA junior Hannah Porter competed in the 2016 UIL 5A State Track Meet. This experience with high-level competition has been working to condition the Jaguars for high-level success.
“Last year, everyone was pretty young,” Riggins said. “We didn’t have any seniors on our relays. But this year we have a lot more experience on the team and we have faster girls this year, so we don’t have to coach as hard. Most of them know how to run a relay pretty well in terms of handoffs and starting and things like that. So this year I’m making sure they’re strong and able to compete even better.”
Although the Jaguars experienced a lot of success last season, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Instead, there were several cases of shin splints, pulled muscles, relay mix-ups and other problems that set the team back. Fenner said this season the team has recovered and learned from these set-backs, and they’re ready to tackle new obstacles.
“One of the most exciting things is having all of our girls back,” Fenner said. “We’re looking healthy and we were able to have all of our relays at the first track meet. Now I’m excited about later in the season and getting out there and getting through relays and getting to state.”
According to Fenner, it’s safe to say that this track season will be filled with first, second and (maybe) third place medals. He has a motto to reflect the Jaguars’ journey to success. Last season, the motto was “if you grind you will shine.” This season, the team has an updated motto.
“We’re all we need,” Fenner said. “That’s the motto. There’s a lot of teams gunning against us because last year, we were the only Austin team to make it to State. We know that there are people in our area that don’t want to see us be successful, so we want to go out and show them that we’re the best team in central Texas.”