Panthers’ relay team learning on the run

Published 5:58 pm Wednesday, April 19, 2017

PINETOWN — Experience is not an issue for Northside’s 4-by-100 relay team. Jackson Midgette and Zach Jenkins had never run track before. Tyrece Taylor and Raydarius Freeman don’t have a ton of experience between the two of them, either, but it hasn’t held back the Panther foursome.

They chalk it up to teamwork. All four possess tremendous athleticism. Jenkins’ conditioning is derived from his soccer career. It helped him hone the ability to sprint for short bursts or to pace himself for an entire game.

Midgette, Freeman and Taylor all played on the football team. Midgette was a mobile quarterback for the Panthers. His speed was an asset to the team on both sides of the ball. The same can be said of Taylor and Freeman. Both played linebacker, and Taylor was also a talented running back.

For those three, their history as football teammates has helped cultivate the chemistry for a successful relay team.

“It’s less about one person, and more about the whole team,” Freeman said. “You give yourself for the team, not just one person.”

Midgette added, “We started from the first day. We knew we were going to be a whole team. We took it from there.”

Even with that relationship the three of them had, and the synergy they began developing as a relay team with Jenkins, it wasn’t an easy process. In their first meet running the event, Taylor said there was a miscue in him passing the baton off to Midgette.

It resulted in a disqualification, but was fuel to the fire of four determined athletes.

“We were a little nervous at first,” Taylor said. “Even though we got disqualified, we would have come in first. We had a bunch of mistakes, so it made us work harder because we wanted to clean up those mistakes. That way, we would hopefully come in first again.”

Since then, the four have finished cleanly in first place in most of their meets. They have a pair of top finishes coupled with a second-place finish, according to the team results on Milesplit.

“Before practices started, we all did sports,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been out here working hard. We’ve tried different people in different spots, and we just feel really good about our chemistry. It’s all clicking.”

The goal is concise for each of them. The 4-by-100 team has punched its ticket to the 1-A eastern regional. They each want to get there and earn a chance to compete for the state championship.

The road up until this point has been bumpy. Four-year runner Kenan Wilkinson was originally part of the four-person unit, but pulled his hamstring. He now serves as a backup. Even if he’s not out running with the team, his experience has been valuable in getting the Panthers this far.

“It’s exciting seeing them because they’re so fast. Especially Zach, the fourth man,” Wilkinson said. “I love watching them. … They’ve all got the speed, so it comes down to the handoffs. They need to get the handoffs. After that, they’ll be awesome.”

The relay team and the rest of the Panthers still have the 1-A Coastal Plains Conference championships ahead of them before regionals. With plenty of goals left to accomplish, they’ve prepared themselves well.