The Vilonia Junior and High School track programs are proving that success breeds success.
The junior high boys and girls teams are continually showing they are the best in the River Valley Conference with the girls winning eight straight conference titles, while the boys have won nine in a row.
Both teams won the April 20 River Valley Junior High Conference meet in Russellville, marking the eight and nine straight conference titles, but it also marked 11 of the last 12 titles for both teams.
Lady Eagles coach Casey Craun and Eagles coach Tommy Stephens said that success has been planted now by tradition.
A tradition goes back now 16 years for both coaches.
“Years ago when we got here there wasn’t a whole lot of tradition,” Stephens said. “We had to fight and scrape. The old saying ‘winning breeds winning.’ We started winning and having success, now our kids expect to win at all times. WIth that said, we have a large participation number every year.”
That success the junior high is having has carried over to the high school as well.
Stephens said the high school girls are projected to win the state title and the boys are projected to be the state runner up.
But before Craun and Stephens got to Vilonia, along with high school boys coach Michael Stout, a six-time state championship winning coach (three at Vilonia in 2012, 13 and 14), and girls coach John Steward, and throwing coach Matt Cain, the track teams were nowhere near where they are now.
“The year before we got here, the boys and girls at the high school combined for one point,” Stephens said. “We tell our kids that all the time. The year before we started and this is even the high school guys combined to score one point in the state championship, and now we’ve won.”
Craun said what helps is the camaraderie among the coaches.
“Between us and our two high school coaches that have been here 15 years, and some of our assistants are a bit newer, but we’ve been able to work together and sustain some success due to a common goal and all working together,” he said. “We’ve all been able to swallow our pride and not worry about egos. It’s for complete success for the program and the kids.”
For the two coaches, though, it’s seeing the success the kids have and getting to coach the kids.
“The kids always want to do their best,” Stephens said. “When you get to a track meet and they PR (personal record), the excitement on their face just shows that they’ve done better than they ever did in their lives and that can happen several times throughout the season. You get that immediate feedback of them putting in work for a week or two and then they go out and perform and hit a PR. So, they’re fired up and excited and then you get to start over again and hit another PR. It’s exciting to help them to see how much hard work will carry over for them.”
Craun’s response was similar.
“The kids that we deal with everyday are phenomenal kids,” he said. “We really enjoy seeing the effort that they put into track and the effort they put into trying to improve. Seeing someone put in the hard work and improve is a joy to see.”
Stephens said setting those PRs come quite often.
“At this conference track meet, weather conditions were not favorable at all. It was cold and all that. Of my 39 entries, there were 21 PRs that day. [Craun] had 23 of 39, so well over half of our entries were personal bests on a day that says you shouldn’t PR. That’s a testament to the kids. It was a championship, so they stepped up.”
And, it’s not just at practice these kids are working.
“There’s not a time that you drive up here to the track after hours or on a weekend that there’s not somebody not putting in extra work on their own,” Craun said.
Stephens and Craun also point to the ability to share dual-sport student-athletes among other coaches on campus.
“That’s one thing we’re fortunate to have in our partner sports, where other coaches work really well with us,” Craun said. “We’re able to share athletes. For example, I have softball kids that are also on the track team. They’re both in the middle of their season, but we’re able to work it out with other coaches and programs to do both.”
So, about that April 20 River Valley Conference meet, it was not ideal weather conditions for a track meet, but looking at the results, one will see numerous season best times for these student-athletes.
For the girls, Jada Young, Karen Cole, Kinlee Mears, Haven Buck, Abby Wertz, Sophie Havens, Lexy Heston, McKenzie Brown, Laney Matyja, Ryleigh King, Arianna Sanchez, Breanna Phillips and LaNaya McLaughlin all recorded season best times at the conference meet.
For the boys, Austin Walls, Kody Shock, Eddie Flores, Caleb Hogue, Jonah Bell, Landon Jackson, Josh Lawrence, Ryan Hale, Lance McNew, Drake Cauthren, Skyler Cole, Jimmy Check, Jordan Roberts and Bo Steward all recorded season best times.
Jada Young was the high point scorer among all girl participants, while Austin Walls was the high point scorer among all boy participants.
“To see them go out and perform at the level they did in the weather that was there, they should have never done that,” Stephens said. “But, I think it’s an attribute to their character, especially with that being the conference championship, so they stepped up when it was on the line. They did their best when it mattered regardless of what the weather was. That was something I was really proud of both groups of kids.”
These coaches are going to try their hardest to continue to keep this legacy up for Vilonia track and field, but if this dominating run should ever come to an end, one can always look back and say that these Vilonia track and field teams are special.