“This year’s program has been wonderful,” declared Cotton, who is making his 19th straight trip to take athletes to the prestigious national meet. “I am very proud of them (the Express athletes). I am looking forward to the Junior Olympic games in Houston. We had three national medalists last year in New Orleans and I am hoping for more this year.”
Coach Cotton almost doubled the number of local qualifiers for this year’s Junior Olympics, which will be held July 28 to Aug. 4 in Houston. The veteran track and cross country coach carried 10 participants to New Orleans last summer.
In order to get a chance to compete in the JRO Games, each athlete had to compete in two qualifier meets. The first was the district qualifier, which was at the University of Tennessee’s Tom Black Track on June 17. The top 16 in each event then advanced to the national qualifier, which this year was also held on the UT campus in Knoxville, June 28 to July 1.
“The national qualifier is a larger scale meet with athletes from Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Along with having to compete with top athletes from two other states, the stress of qualifying is heightened with the knowledge that only the top five in the individual events and the top four in multievents will get their card stamped for qualification to the JRO Games,” stated coach Cotton.
“We started the 2012 season with just 25 kids, so to have 19 qualify for the nationals is tremendous,” he praised. “These kids have worked hard all summer for a chance to compete in the AAU Junior Olympics and now they will get a chance to do just that.”
A quartet of Express athletes qualified in three events at the nationals.
Vivian Smith earned a spot in the long jump, high jump and heptathlon, while Whitney McConnell will run the 800-meter, 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter races.
Cy Cy White with throw the discus and shot put, plus compete in the high jump. Lane Delay will battle in the discus, shot put and 3,000-meter racewalk.
A half dozen other Express members will compete in two events apiece.
Malachi Hewitt will do the 1,500-meter racewalk and shot put, while Casey Beck and Victoria Godaker will run in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races. Charles Smith is slated for the 200-meter hurdles and the pentathlon, and Justin Ward will toss the discus and shot put. Paul Patterson will race in the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter events.
Also traveling to Texas to for a shot at a national title will be Ben Daniel (shot put), Taylor Ayers (high jump), Seth Cannon (high jump), Toren Beck (3,000m run), Desmon Simpson (javelin), Kendra Edwards (shot put), Brianna Daniels (triathlon), Cheyennne Ayers (1,500m racewalk) and Ta’ Shayla Goins (shot put).