ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond Senior boys and girls track teams have been working hard leading up their season-opening meet next week.
Both teams have been at full strength for the past two weeks now that basketball season is over. Girls coach Reggie Miller returns for his ninth season at Richmond, while boys coach Ernie Purnsley takes over for the first time in his career.
“We’ve been looking pretty good,” Miller said of the girls team. “Right now, we’re on the first step of the ladder. Each day, we want to move up — to the second, third and fourth steps on that ladder.”
Miller is excited about a few key runners who are returning this season, including reigning conference champions Harmony Jones and Taliah Wall.
Jones was a member of last year’s 4x100m relay team that went unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference and finished 14th overall in the 4A State Finals. The junior runner — who Miller calls a “capable athlete who you can put anywhere on the track” — will also see time in the 4×2, 4×4, 200m, 400m and any other event that she may be asked to compete in.
She also runs cross country and indoor track.
“We’re working on our block come-outs and speed right now. I really just want to build up my speed from last year,” Jones said. “I want to go to school for this, so I’m trying to get a scholarship as best as I can.”
Wall, who finished up basketball season recently, is preparing to defend her title as the SEC’s best 100m hurdler and make her second trip to the State Finals — where she finished 16th overall as a freshman.
“We’re hoping the time she ran in the states last year is the same time she runs in the first meet. And then from there on, we want her to improve,” Miller explained. “She’s been getting her workouts in and it’s almost like I’m seeing the same Taliah Wall from last year. It’s probably going to be hard to stop.”
On the boys’ side, Purnsley has been pleased with the team’s progression heading into the first meet.
Although the first-year coach wants his team to perform at a high level next week, he doesn’t expect perfection. Purnsley understands that all tracks lead to the SEC championship meet in April.
“We’re still learning the kids and I’m sure we’ll be putting different combinations together,” he said. “Our goal is to peak at the end of the season.”
Senior hurdler Magic Ward and junior sprinter Dante Miller are two Raiders who should enjoy some first-place finishes for the boys. Ward finished first at the conference championship meet in both the 110m and 300m hurdles, while Miller placed second at the meet in the 200m dash.
Miller’s top highlight from last season came at a conference meet last March when he ran an impressive 10.46 in the 100m dash to beat out Scotland’s Zamir White.
“It’s great to have guys who were here last year and have that experience,” Purnsley said. “We’re counting on those guys to provide great leadership for us.”
Though both teams have a handful of athletes who will have an impact on the track, the biggest influence for the Raiders may be in the form of a new face outside of the lanes.
Olympic gold medalist Bianca Knight has been helping coach both teams throughout the preseason. She was a member of the USA women’s 4×1 team that took home gold at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Knight also competes in the 100 and 200 meters and has gold medals from the 2014 IAAF World Relays and the 2011 IAAF World championships in the 4×2 and the 4×1 relays, respectively.
“We’ve got one of the best track athletes in the world. You can’t get any better than that,” Purnsley added.
With all of the new and old faces joining together in order to produce the best results, on and off the track, both Raiders track squads seem poised to a have a successful year.
“I don’t want to put them out there like that, but if they keep working hard the way they are in practice, they’re really going to be something to watch,” Miller said.
Richmond will host Hoke County and Purnell Swett next Thursday, Mar. 16, at 4 p.m.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.