A strong contingent of the East Lansing Trojans track and field team is headed to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Finals Saturday (June 3) at Rockford High School.
The team is anticipating great success as they send five boys and six girls to compete after an overall successful spring season.
Qualifying to compete in the 4×800 relay are seniors Sam Booth and Evan Newcombe and juniors Eden Lampe and Ryan Sunderman. Senior Temilola (Temi) Okubanjo will compete in the 200-meter dash.
Competing in the 4×200 relay for the girls are junior Janelle Brown, senior Tyrah Daniel, freshman Lola Fore Ogunfolabi and sophomore Gabrielle Pruitt. Brown will also compete in the 300-meter hurdles and Pruitt in the 100- and 200-meter dash. Senior Nia Long will compete in shot put and senior Anna Delgado in the 1600-meter and 3200-meter runs.
“The kids, they’ve had a really long season that’s been filled with a lot of ups and some downs,” Coach Octavis Long said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity, but that’s normal in a team sport. It’s just how you manage that adversity and how you can overcome those obstacles so you can have success towards the end of the season, when it counts. That’s exactly what our boys and girls teams have done this year, facing that adversity earlier in the season, but bouncing back to have a great, successful season.”
Track team members credit strong comradery as fueling their successes.
In comparison to past seasons, many Trojan athletes emphasized the team comradery and how important it has been for the success of this team.
“We’re really close and it’s been really fun,” Lampe said. “I’ve had a lot more fun this season compared to other seasons. And we got good, so that was fun.”
“I agree,” Booth said. “We do a lot of things together. We don’t just practice, but we hang out together, and we got out to it. We’re super close and I love that about our guys.”
Going into the state meet, the athletes are excited to push themselves even further and see what they can accomplish.
In preparation, the team is focusing on fine-tuning specific things in order to improve times, as well as getting into the right headspace.
ELHS track athletes are peaking at the right time.
On the boys’ side, Coach Long said, “continued progress” is a focus.
“Our kids are starting to peak at the right time,” he said, “and we want to see that continue.”
Coach Long mentioned the recent improvement of the boys 4×800 relay team that set a PR in the regional meet with a time of 8:04, which is 12 seconds faster than its previous best.
“They’ve practiced really hard in the past week and they’re really tough,” Coach Long said about the relay team. “Another PR is expected. If we can PR and maybe go under that 8-minute mark, we have a chance to place in the top eight.”
In order to reach the 8-minute mark, the boys are focusing on their hand-offs and tapering off mileage as a way to be more rested.
Also peaking at the right time is senior sprinter Okubanjo.
“He just ran the conference meet this past Wednesday (May 24) and he was the winner in the 100-meter dash with a 10.99 and in the 200-meter dash with a 22.25, and he had a personal record in the long jump of 21-3,” Coach Long said. “So, he’s peaking at the right time. I’m fully expecting him to run under that 22-second mark (in the 200-meter dash) and even get into the finals himself.”
Okubanjo started running last year and has improved rapidly, dropping time and improving his form. His goal for the state meet is to win the 200-meter and, if he can’t do that, to at least place first in his heat.
Coaches and athletes have seen great improvements on the girls track team.
Coach Long also stressed the immense improvements of the girls team. This sentiment was backed up by the girls’ head coach, Charles Pollard, who also commended his athletes.
“They’ve been working very hard this year and I feel good about their chances at states,” Coach Pollard said. “I’m just hoping that they’re gonna do the best that they can do and be happy with what they’ve done.”
The girls 4×200 relay team is seeking to place high at the state meet. They owe a lot of their success this season to their communication, encouragement and consistency.
“We’re all really comfortable with each other and we’re able to really communicate with each other, which is a really important part of a team,” Fore Ogunfolabi said.
Nia Long has been competing in shot put since she was 8 and remains undefeated in the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) in her high school career. Her current PR in shot put is 38-4, which she threw her junior year. This season she has been throwing in the 37-foot range, but is pushing to that 39-foot range in order to place in the state meet.
Long is excited for the state meet, as she didn’t have high hopes for her senior season.
“I wasn’t confident at all that I was going to qualify,” Long said. “So making it to states, I was proud. I made my dad proud and my mom, so I’m really happy that I was able to please everybody.”
Pruitt missed last season due to an injury, but has become a star this year, according to Coach Long.
This year, Pruitt was regional champion and conference champion in two events (100-meter dash and 200-meter dash). Her current PRs for these events are a 12.62 in the 100-meter and a 25.67 in the 200-meter.
Pruitt continues to stay motivated and focused on her goals.
“I’m seated 10th right now in the 200-meter,” Pruitt said. “I’m only two spots away from being on the podium, so I’m trying really, really hard to get on the podium.”
Anna Delgado goes into the state meet as the person to beat.
According to Coach Long, Anna Delgado “is the person to beat in the state in whatever she wants to run.”
Going into the state meet, Delgado is seeded first in the 1600-meter and second in the 3200.
“She’s PR-ing and running faster every time she runs,” Coach Long said. “For the state meet, the only difference is that she’s gonna have competition, and that’s just gonna fuel her fire even more and push her to hopefully winning both those races and breaking those school records again.”
Delgado’s current PR’s for these races are 4:48 for the 1600 and 10:34 for the 3200. Delgado said the 3200 is her favorite event and is what she’s most looking forward to running at states, as she has been running it since sixth grade.
“It’s a really good race to test yourself and push yourself,” she said.
Delgado is not only focused on her times and placement at states, although she does hope to win the 1600, she is also focused on her mindset during the Saturday meet.
“I’m really just trying to focus on the way I talk to myself during runs, especially at such a big meet like this, it’s really important,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that your body can do a lot, you just have the right mindset to do it.”
Delgado is planning to continue both her athletic and academic careers next year at Northwestern University, where she will be running on the Women’s Track and Field Team. Delgado was deciding between Northwestern and Michigan State University, but opted for the Chicago B1G school because of the Northwestern coaching staff.
“Their approach was a much more holistic approach to the athletes,” Delgado said. “It was like ‘Yes, you run for us, but you’re also a student and you’re also a person, so focus on your mental health,’ and I really loved that.”
Honor Roll Meet worked as a warm-up for ELHS track team members.
In preparation for the state meet, the team competed in the Greater Lansing Honor Roll Meet of Champions on Tuesday, May 30, at Waverly High School.
“This is a local meet for all the teams in the Lansing area,” Coach Pollard said. “They invite the best athletes in the Lansing area to compete. This is a very good tune-up meet for our athletes because they’re competing against people they don’t normally compete against.”
On the boys team, Okubanjo placed second in the 200-meter, with a time of 22.39. The 4×800 boys relay team ran a 8:37, placing eighth in their race.
The girls 4×200 relay team placed first, running a PR of 1:44. Pruitt ran a 25.82 in the 200-meter, finishing second in the race. Delgado ran her PR in the 1600, placing first with a time of 4:48, cutting four seconds off her previous PR. Nia Long placed third in shot put, throwing a season record of 37-feet, 2-inches.
The ELHS track athletes hope to see plenty of community members at Saturday’s meet. Coach Octavis Long said it is the community support that fuels the team’s passion to represent East Lansing well.