One more hurdle to conquer: Maynard, Rams have high expectations at state track and field meet

In high school track and field, there are races as short as 100 meters and as long as 3,200.

But for some teams, the season is more like a marathon as they navigate through speed bumps and hurdles en route to a potential trip to State.

Many times runners shift from one event to the next as coaches look to find which events best fit the athletes and where athletes might better serve the team in terms of points.

It can be an ever-changing process as squads inch closer and closer to the postseason.

As the season winds down, some athletes adjust to new events, others may be coming off injuries to attempt a late-season return to the team, and others still might be set in their positions but still striving to find the right rhythm to meet personal bests and competitive results.

Perhaps no team better exemplified that process this year more than Raceland.

“We’ve definitely had some ups and downs,” Raceland coach Randy Helton said. “We were very young first of all; we only had seniors. Then we lose Ty Tyson.”

Tyson tore his Achilles tendon early on in the Rams season, which caused Helton to spend a great deal of time trying to find out who his fastest guy was and see who needed to go where to fill the void.

“We had to totally revamp,” Helton said. “We had to change relays, move guys around, and at the time it just felt like I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But we had no margin of error from that point on.”

Thankfully for Raceland, the team got Ayden Cooper cleared for a return in the final weeks of the season.

“We were very fortunate that Cooper got eligible,” Helton said. “But it was just a topsy-turvy season.”

Cooper went on to set a personal record of 11.78 in the 100-meter dash for a fifth-place finish at the Class A Region 7 meet to help boost Raceland’s team score.

The Rams boys team finished in first place at the Class A Region 7 meet, edging out Pikeville 117-113.

“We thought Ty’s injury killed us because that was probably 25 points gone right there,” Helton said. “But to the kids’ credit, none of them thought we were done or that we couldn’t do this. They just refocused, tried to revamp, and went on like business as usual. Luckily it worked out for us.”

Helton said the necessity of change made it easier for his athletes to adjust.

“Whether they liked it or not, it wasn’t anything they complained about because they knew we didn’t have any other option,” Helton said. “They had to be in that spot so they understood.”

One athlete in particular, however, knew her spot on the Rams team this season from the get-go.

Sophie Maynard has a laundry list of accomplishments when it comes to the hurdles.

She’s currently ranked fifth in the state for the 100-meter hurdles. She is a three-time state indoor hurdles champion and has nabbed multiple top-five finishes at State in the 100 and 300-meter hurdles, including a third and fifth-place finish respectively at last year’s state meet.

Maynard has also dominated the Region 7 hurdles since she started running varsity. She’s finished first at three straight region championship meets in the 100 and 300 hurdles. In her seventh grade year, she was runner-up in both events and finished in fourth and third respectively at State.

In short, Maynard was destined for the hurdles regardless of what happened around her this season.

“She’s definitely used to it,” Helton said. “I think the only pressure she really feels at this point is the pressure she puts on herself. It’s more self-induced because everyone in the area knows who she is and what she does.”

Maynard showed some of that self-induced pressure when talking about this season.

“I do wish I had put more work into the offseason,” Maynard said. “But I feel very confident in how this season has gone compared to my previous years. My times in the 100-meter hurdles have been very consistent and have significantly improved as the year has gone by.”

Even with Maynard’s sustained success, there have been plenty of obstacles besides the hurdles on the track that she’s had to get over to achieve what she has thus far.

“The last two years she’s been dealing with a hip flexor,” Helton said. “It creeped up on her after she ran the 300 at State and we didn’t think she was going to be able to do the triple jump.”

Maynard says the hip injury has been her biggest obstacle to overcome this season.

“I’ve been dealing with it for about 3-4 years now,” Maynard said. “(It’s) made me sit out many meets and not be able to practice to my full abilities.”

But not all of Maynard’s obstacles are physical. She says the mental aspect can weigh heavily throughout a season.

“Hurdles are more mental than physical,” Maynard said. “Getting over that barrier can be tougher than actually getting over the hurdles. But my coaches, friends, and family have been helping me every step of the way and I am more than thankful.”

The support seems to be paying off given the success Maynard has already had, with plenty of time left to accomplish more. Maynard said that past success helps build her up to go after that future success.

“Being a three-time indoor state champion prepares me mentally,” Maynard said. “It helps me a lot with my confidence as I approach this meet. My coach, Anthony Frisby, has been by my side pushing me to be the best that I can be.”

“My biggest setback is my mentality and getting into my head,” Maynard added. “But achieving my past championships has helped me overcome this and given me much more confidence to get through the rest of this season.”

In addition to her skills over the hurdles, Maynard has also shown prowess in the triple jump competition, although she didn’t compete in it last season.

Maynard excelled this season in the event much like her hurdling, taking first place with a personal record 33-3 in the region meet.

“She said she wanted to do it,” Helton said of Maynard working through the pain. “And she went out there and PR’d by two feet and won it. When it matters, she’s going to be there. She knew what was on the line and now she’s got a chance to score at State there as well in her hurdle events.”

Though she’s only a sophomore, Helton says Maynard is a leader for the team.

“There’s somebody who has experience and can show the other kids, ‘Hey, we’re not just going to be happy to get there,’” Helton said. “They see her and they know they can actually compete and do something once we do get there. She’s not a ‘rah-rah’ type of person, she goes out and does her thing, but all the younger kids watch her and they learn from her.”

The Rams will hope to have even more achievements to show the younger kids next week.

Raceland will be represented 23 times at the state meet across 19 events. The Rams have eight events where they enter with a top-10 posting in the state among Class A competitors.

It includes three different top-10 postings by Sophie Maynard who enters the 100-meter hurdles with the second-best region meet time, 300-meter hurdles with the eighth-best time (49.04), and fourth-best triple jump mark (34-04.75).

Raceland also boasts the number one mark in the mixed long jump event with Gatlin Stephens posting 24 feet at the Class A Region 7 event, the best in the state at all region meets.

Helton says his team is going into the meet like they would any other.

“It’s a big deal to go there, but they seem to take it all in stride,” Helton said. “They treat it just like any other meet. We start our kids young here so once they’ve been there and see what it’s about, they don’t have that deer in the headlights look when they get there.”

Maynard is ready to compete.

“I’m very excited for this upcoming meet,” Maynard said. “(I’m) wishing every competitor good luck and a safe competition.”

The Class A state track meet will take place on Thursday at 9 a.m. at the University of Kentucky Outdoor Track and Field Complex.