Buffs try to forget nationals

By Matt Hill

   It may have been a bleak week at the NAIA Outdoor Nationals for the Milligan College track and field team, but the fact three of the four qualifiers are back with a strong recruiting class coming to the program, giving head coach Chris Layne something to smile about.
   The Buffaloes struggled in Olathe, Kan. last week, but Layne has tried to put that out of his mind and look at the bright side.
   "We had higher expectations, but unfortunately that didn't work out," Layne said. "Three of the four were freshman, though. Hopefully, they've learned a lot for the next go around."
   The biggest disappointment might have occurred when Marta Zimon, who took home Milligan's first ever national championship in any sport after winning the women's 5,000 meters during the National Indoors at the Mini-Dome in March, had to pull out during the same event outdoors last week due to tendonitis.
   The tendonitis started for Zimon six weeks ago, but the pain had subsided right before nationals. But once the race started, the pain was too much to take for Zimon and she was forced to pull out in the middle of the event.
   "As soon as she got about 2,000 meters into the race, Marta asked me if she could pull out and I said 'Of course you can,'" Layne said. "I just waved her off the track."
   Megan Lease also raced in the event, and had a rough day as well. Lease finished 20th.
   Lease has competed in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, so Layne feels her legs were weary.
   "Megan came in fairly tired," Layne said. "It was the simple case of being the first time in her career that she has ever run three seasons in a row. I think her legs needed a break."
   On the men's side, another freshman that struggled was former Science Hill standout JaKeith Hairston. Hairston plated a 19th-place finish in the long jump.
   Layne feels this will be the last time Hairston finishes so low in nationals.
   "That young man will be an All-American very soon," Layne said about the two-sport athlete. "We'll prepare him next year so that he's ahead of the game when outdoor track starts."
   The lone Milligan senior to qualify for nationals was Ryan Starr. Starr netted an 18th place finish in the 5,000 meter run.
   "Ryan said to his dad afterwards that 'It's only a race,'" Layne said. "He's on his way to grad school at Duke on a full ride. He's got a year of eligibility left, so he might try to run some track at Duke."
   With the disappointment of nationals behind him, Layne is now focusing on next year. It should be much improved, as a strong recruiting class will come to West Carter County.
   On the men's side, Josh Ferry and Sean Bowman headline the class.
   These two runners from Indiana are considered steals by Layne.
   "These guys are possibly are most decorated domestic athletes to come here," Layne said. "I think they're going to make an immediate impact. To Milligan, this is like signing two blue chippers."
   Former Science Hill standout J.R. Collie has decided to transfer from the University of Tennessee to join Layne's budding program at Milligan.
   "J.R. is a guy that didn't see much action at UT, but will help us in track and cross country," Layne said. "He will help us on our distance medley relay team indoors and our 4x800 team outdoors."
   Greeneville's Bradley Blair will do double duty for Milligan. After he plays basketball in the winter for Milligan, Blair will do hurdles and jumps for Layne.
   Johnson County standout Matt Cornett may also join the Buffs' track team. Cornett is already going to play basketball and golf for Milligan, but has not ruled out doing the high jump when he can.
   Cornett is a two-time state qualifier in the high jump, finishing third last year.
   "We would love to have him," Layne said. "We'll sit down with Coach (Tony) Wallingford, and see if we can work something out. Tony has been very supportive of letting his players do track and also about what we're trying to do here. I think it's great. I want it to work out. We've never talked, but hopefully we will soon."
   The girls program should also start making headway next year in field events with a couple of local standouts, Allison Langrel and Morgan Hyatt, joining Layne's program.
   Langrel, the star athlete from Daniel Boone, should give Milligan a major threat for nationals in jumping events.
   Langrel is also playing volleyball, but Layne doesn't expect that to be a problem.
   "Allison has expressed interest in track," Layne said. "Our time with her will be limited, but volleyball is over with before basketball. I have an idea on where she can help us, but that has to be agreed on."
   Hyatt, a lifelong Elizabethton resident, won the Class AAA state shot put and discus her senior year at Dobyns-Bennett. Hyatt went to Western Carolina, but has now transferred to play volleyball and compete in field events at Milligan.
   "With Allison and Morgan, we'll be a threat in more than one area next year," Layne said.