WOODSTOCK -- River Ridge’s girls track and field team moved back into the county’s top tier this season under coach Barry Lakes.
After struggling to break into the top half of the county standings in recent seasons, the Lady Knights surged to runner-up finishes in the county and Region 6AAAAAA championships, and a 17th-place finish in the Class AAAAAA state meet.
“The difference was the leadership we had with the senior runners,” said Lakes, the 2019 Cherokee Tribune Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year. “They taught the younger kids what it takes to be a successful runner, and I think we saw the difference throughout the whole team this season.”
Such senior athletes as Macy White and Chidimma Uwaomah may have stepped up to lead the younger athletes and provide River Ridge with points, but it was not without work. Lakes said he could remember when White and Uwaomah were freshmen themselves, and the work they have put in since has made the biggest difference.
“We saw them grow from young athletes to outstanding athletes,” Lakes said. “You saw them grow as people, too. You could see how fast they are right away, and they carried it all the way through their senior years.”
Lakes also credited his staff with the improvement the team has shown. He said their specialized training was crucial, but even more important was their ability to get athletes to buy into a rigorous training schedule.
“You don’t really have to push them that much,” Lakes said. “They come in ready to work with the other coaches we have. I have to give a lot of credit to them. The coaches we’ve had, they put in so much work to get the kids to buy in.”
With a goal of making practices as difficult as possible, Lakes said the meets themselves always felt fun with less pressure. Still, it was always important to make sure his athletes had lighter moments mixed in with all the training.
“I believe if you’re not having fun, you don’t need to do it,” Lakes said. “We always try to start off with a little bit of fun. We have a gimmick or a joke we try to do with the kids. We let our funny kids keep the kids laughing. We try to do whatever we can throughout the season to help the kids have a good time.”
Next year, expectations will be at an all-time high for River Ridge to continue its ascent. Some of the top athletes will be moving on, but with a new culture established and an example left behind for the younger groups, Lakes did not foresee any drop-off.
“It’s always better when you can win,” Lakes said. “When the kids start winning meets and doing well, you get more buy-in. I think the younger runners definitely saw that this year. They showed they have the potential to fill in those spots, and I think our program is going to be in pretty good shape for the next five or six years.”