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MOST PEOPLE DREAD MONDAYS. LOATHE THEM. FORT BEND CHRISTIAN ACADEMY TRACK AND FIELD COACH DEON MINOR EXCITEDLY AWAITS THEM.
His girls relay teams managed to do something special each week, often in record-breaking fashion throughout the 2022 season.
“It’s like every single week, I’m looking for something good to happen with these girls,” Minor said.
In the first couple of months of the season, the girls’ relays set four school records.
The 4x100 of senior Angel Nwodu, junior Brooke Coleman, senior Gabbie Washington and freshman Bayleigh Minor, Deon’s daughter, set a new mark at 48.04 seconds and the 4x200 of Coleman, Nwodu, Washington and Minor established a new pace at 1:41.09.
The 4x400 of Washington, Coleman, junior Daniella Herrera, and Minor reset at 3:53.40 and the 4x800 of Minor, Washington, freshman Sidney Arnold and senior Madeline Font went 10:23.29.
The 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 records were broken at the prestigious 94th Texas Relays on the grounds of the University of Texas in Austin in March.
“It showed me what I believed these girls could do,” Minor said.
Washington added: “We’re really strong mentally in practices and work really hard. We know that’s how we’re going to run in the meets. Coach tells us every practice that everything we do has a purpose. We know that. We had a goal, and that was State.” THE
PAIN OF PRACTICE
But how did they get to this point? How did they go from a sixth-place finish at the TAPPS State Track Meet in 2021 to this?
Minor’s practices are a big ingredient to the Eagles’ success.
He plans the season’s training program 4-6 weeks in advance. Instead of doing speed work at the start, like most teams do, Minor prioritizes volume and strength. He said that has helped avoid injuries.
By the time Minor has the girls doing speed work around late March, times are fast because strength has been built up.
By mid-April, about a month before the State Meet in Waco, the Eagles were running like a fine-tuned machine.
“We’re a very competitive group,” Coleman said. “We like to push ourselves to new limits. We’re proving to ourselves, not just everybody else, what we can do.”
Nwodu, Washington and Coleman were on the State Champion 4x200 relay last year. Nwodu is also a State Champion in the 100-meter dash.
Coleman is finally healthy after running at about “70 percent” last season because of a hip injury. She still finished second at State to Nwodu in the 100 meters.
“Especially while I was injured, I was working on my mental side of things,” Coleman said. “Coming into this year, I was just so much better mentally and physically, and that transitioned onto the track. I’m more confident in what I’m out here to do.”
Bayleigh Minor may be a freshman, but her credentials belie her years. She is a 10-time AllAmerican and AAU Junior Olympics champ in the 400 meters.
She also played middle blocker for the Eagles’ State Championship volleyball team in the fall.
“If you have good team chemistry, like we do, a team can do anything,” she said. “We have a lot of talented athletes where we don’t want to just be successful for ourselves, we want to do it for the team.”
Herrera, a move-in this year from Colombia who has been running for six years, has quickly assimilated to the American culture, on and off the track.
“There’s so much talent,” Herrera said. “It was scary at first. I didn’t know if I was really at the American level of running. But so far, I’ve done well, with the help of my teammates. ‘
“Once I got put in the relays and helped break one of the records, that’s when I knew I would be fine.”
‘IRON SHARPENS IRON’
Minor has something this season he hasn’t had in his time at FBCA so far. Depth. “I can move kids around, and they’re really good at making adjustments,” he said. “They’re trusting what we’re doing.”
Minor will switch runners around in relays. For instance, he feels Bayleigh is a better runner on the second leg, so he often tried Herrera or Washington as the anchor. Minor was also working junior Lani Brown, a volleyball standout, more and more into the mix, running her with the district champion 4x200 relay in late April.
“Last year, we had only six girls,” Washington said. “If one person was out, we kind of just had to work with what we had. Now, we have more alternates, and if something goes wrong, we know there’s always somebody there to step up. It’s great to have more competition at practice. Iron sharpens iron.”
FBCA won the TAPPS 5A District Championship, scoring 226 points as a team. At the TAPPS South Regional Meet at the end of April, FBCA scored 156 points to that Regional crown.
At the TAPPS State Track & Field Meet in May, FBCA girls brought home the team State Championship for the first time in program history.
AFTER LEADING HER TEAM TO FORT BEND CHRISTIAN ACADEMY ’S FIRST STATE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST WINTER, HEAD VOLLEYBALL COACH ALEX EDWARDS LOOKED OVER HER ROSTER FOR THE UPCOMING 2022 SEASON.
So, what is next?
Long after the celebration had settled on a magical 35-4 campaign that finished with a sweep of Prince of Peace in the TAPPS 5A State Championship in Waco, Edwards came to an eyebrow-raising conclusion.
A repeat is doable, if not probable.
“I did lose four critical people, but at the same time there are pieces that stepped up who are returning,” Edwards said. “I have some upcoming leadership that will be good … it’s exciting to see how they’ll all apply their version of what a leader is.”
Only four seniors graduated from last season. Yes, they were some program stalwarts, like outside hitter Bailey Hanner, one of the best to ever wear the forest green, gold and white, and libero Avery Hodge. But the Eagles return two of their top three attackers and their top blocker, and they will have experienced options at libero.
Edwards will need to find a setter. But otherwise, things are looking pretty good once again for the Eagles.
“It’s very possible we can do it again,” incoming sophomore Layne Bulow said. “If we can find the people to fill in some of the key roles, we definitely have a great shot at doing it again next year.”
Bulow led the team in aces with 86 and ranked second on the team in digs (6.8 per set). Incoming sophomore Bayleigh Minor led in blocks (65) and was second in kills (2.2 per set).
Incoming junior Oyinkansola Ajimotokan was second in blocks with 56 and had 102 kills.
“We should be really good, and I think we can repeat,” Minor said. “We just have to keep working. The girls coming back, we know we have to step up. But we definitely could go back-to-back.”
Along with incoming senior Shea Stone (108 kills, 64 aces, 4.8 digs per set, 4.1 assists per set) and incoming junior Hadley Hodge (2.4 digs per set), the core is there. Incoming freshman Laycee McGrady, a projected star and daughter of former NBA star Tracy McGrady, and defensive specialist Lillian Drennon are expected to assume significant roles next season as well.
“The future of the team is unknown, but the part I do know is the core we do have coming back, we can win another State championship just with that,” Edwards said. “Anybody additional is a bonus.”
Bulow, Minor and Ajimotokan are gamechangers.
“[Bulow] can be a sixrotation outside (hitter), but she’s also a great libero. She can fill whatever void we need. She wants to be our next Bailey Hanner and she’s capable of it,” Edwards said. “[Minor] is such a stud athlete. She is growing as a leader and a competitor and is continuing to evolve, adjusting from an individual sport like track to what she’s learned in a team sport like volleyball. Her mental game and leadership are stronger.
“On the court, she can do anything. She can jump higher than anyone. She’s so quick.”
Edwards added about Ajimotokan: “I’m excited to see her just get more confident. I think after the training she’s getting and after the year she had, she’s going to be such a big threat.”
In her second season last year, Edwards had enough on the roster to where she no longer had to practice with the team and could have quality scrimmages and drills. The team began to reap what was sowed in the 2020 season.
“Year two was different because we went through it, we grinded, we learned,” Edwards said. “We understood what we were doing was working.”
Edwards is a passionate leader who brings a celebratory energy to every practice, let alone a game. She expertly manages and balances time to where kids can still be a regular high school kid, seeking their input often before and during the season.
“She gave me a lot of confidence,” Bulow said. “She had faith in me. She helped me be more aggressive with my hitting and be on my feet more as a passer. Little things like that are a big deal.”
Edwards often moves players around, even inseason, to mix and match talent to positions. She’s always evaluating, always observing, always tinkering. It’s something that can frustrate most high school athletes. Not these Eagles, though.
They know Edwards has their best interests at heart.
“Coach Alex moved me around from right side to middle, and I trusted her,” Minor said. “We trusted what she was doing. Let her do her thing. She’s a tough coach, but she’ll push you exactly as hard as you need it. She knows what it takes for you to be better.”
It’s impressive how the program’s culture has turned around from two years ago. No longer is Edwards stressing about getting more girls in the program. Now she’s looking forward to meshing and molding an experienced, young, talented team and repeating as State Champs.
“We now have this target on our back and this expectation that people now want us to meet,” she said. “There is a different pressure moving forward, and so I want to see the response. The nice thing is we can build upon what we already have.
“We’re leaving off on a really good high and we can just continue to grow from that.”