(pictured above: Walkertown’s Aaliyah Craft)
The nature of track and field assures that one can always expect the unexpected. Predicting results with any consistency can be a tricky venture because of false starts, botched baton exchanges and mental miscalculations. Even though there are viable contenders in each event, it doesn’t mean that the long-shots won’t find a way to pull off a surprise upset.
Looking back on this year’s state high school track and field championships, there’s no denying that sprinter Aaliyah Craft of Walkertown came through with perhaps the most stunning performance. Craft raised quite a few eyebrows when she beat Deonica Reid of Winston-Salem Prep to win the girls 200-meter dash at the Class 1-A state meet in early May.
“It’s still unbelievable,” said Craft about her gold-medal winning victory. “Now I’m looking forward to doing it again for next year.”
Race conditions in the 200 were far from ideal. Runners faced a strong headwind coming down the final straightaway, which guaranteed that they wouldn’t post fast times. Craft, a junior, was pitted against Reid (1-A state champ in the 100) and Midwest 1-A regional 200 champ Shakai Ward of Elkin. A week earlier at the regional meet, Craft placed third behind Ward and Reid.
The strategy devised by Coach Bob Vera called for Craft to push the pace from the start and then rely on her stamina to propel her through the finish line. Craft came out of the turn with the lead and she won in 26.02 seconds. Reid, who was the runner-up at 26.10, closed quickly over the final 80 meters but was unable to catch Craft, who became the first athlete at Walkertown to win a state championship.
“The big difference was that Aaliyah relaxed and kept her composure all the way through,” said Vera. “Deonica finished strong, but Aaliyah was able to hold her off because of her endurance.”
Familiarity played a role in the proper execution of Vera’s plan. Craft and Reid are summertime training partners who compete for the Next Level Track Club. “I’m used to running against Deonica, so I knew I’d have to get out very fast because she runs so well at the end,” said Craft. “Coach has told me all along that I have the speed part and that’s it’s now a matter of me getting the stamina which will help me to run my best.”
In previous seasons, Craft didn’t fully embrace the idea that consistent training sets the tone for competing at the highest level. As a middle-school sprinter, she got by strictly on athletic ability, but learned later in high school that it takes more than raw talent to excel. It wasn’t until this year that she committed herself to building her stamina. Now she’s dedicated because she’s seen the end results.
“It used to be that I’d be so tired at the end of races,” she said. “Now I can tell that there’s a difference and it’s all because of the training I’ve put myself through. I still feel like I’m dying when I finish a race, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. Looking at how far I’ve come with this year’s training, I don’t want to make any changes because things are coming along so well.”