Rocky River High School’s indoor track and field team isn’t going to win many meets this season, as the Ravens have just six runners competing. But that’s fine with coach Dexter Feaster, who said he prefers quality over quantity.
This season’s Ravens are all about quality, as two runners, sophomore Kaylan Love-Soles and junior Marie Atwater, have already set two school records. In addition, for the first time in school history, two runners (Love-Soles and Atwater) have qualified for the Class 4A state championship meet, which will be held at Winston-Salem’s JDL Fast Track on Feb. 9.
Love-Soles was a key member of the Ravens’ 4×400-meter outdoor relay team last year but is competing in indoor track for the first time this season. At the Marvin Ridge Polar Bear meet on Jan. 19, he set a school record in the 500-meter dash (1 minute, 7.70 seconds), but his time in the 300 (35.54 seconds) really stands out and is tied for the fourth-fastest time posted this season by a Class 4A runner in the state.
“I love running, and I’m just out here trying to get better every day,” Love-Soles said. “I’ve come out here as a sophomore and just tried to do my best. It’s my first year running indoor, so I’m still learning.”
Atwater, who has competed for the Ravens since her freshman year, said she’s recommitted herself to running and the results are paying off. Atwater already owned the school record in the 400 (59.13) but has added two more records during this season, as her time in the 500 (1:21.70) and the 300 (43.14) are the new school standards.
“This season has gone a lot better than last year,” Atwater said. “I picked up kind of where I left off last year, but I’ve definitely progressed more. It means a lot to me to have qualified for states, because every season I’ve been close to qualifying but didn’t quite make it. So this is rewarding.”
And for Feaster, having two school record-holders among his six runners is exciting, especially knowing that this team is the future of the Ravens track and field program.
“I’m really proud of both Marie and Kaylan,” Feaster said. “They’re making improvements, and people are starting to take notice of their accomplishments.”
Love-Soles said he learned what good leadership can do for a team when he partnered with Tom Mathis, Quinn Buckhalter and Johnny Nunn to place sixth in last season’s outdoor 4×400 state championships, and he’s applying that knowledge to help lead the Ravens this year.
“I learned a lot about what it takes to be a leader from them,” Love-Soles said. “Last year, I was the (relay team’s) only freshman, and I knew that I had to come back this year and be a role model that everyone needs. I looked at their work ethic in track and in the classroom, and now I try to be the best leader that I can be.”
With Love-Soles and Atwater progressing as runners and team leaders as the season has worn on, their teammates have followed suit.
All six of the Ravens have posted personal-best times in January: sophomore Rashaad Brannon in the 55 (6.70); junior Kendall Crowder (37.24) and senior Naquan Evans in the 300 (39.34); and freshman Mya Smith in the 55 (7.64).
“(This team) is the future for us,” Feaster said. “I tell them that you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, because nobody’s staying the same. You have to always work because people are gaining on you, and we’re doing a good job always improving.”
Atwater said she hopes the Ravens’ success brings more girls out to the team in the future.
“We’re doing pretty well this year,” she said. “But I hope we can get some girls to come out who’re serious about the sport and can help us get a big enough team to actually win some of these (team) meets.”
With such a small squad, the Ravens are often forced to focus on individual success. While Love-Soles said he likes the smaller environment, he said he’d also like to get the Ravens noticed for more than just their individual accolades. Still, he’s trying to make the most of the season, no matter how it plays out.
“It’s good because everyone wants the best for me,” Love-Soles said of the small roster. “My teammates (and) Coach Feaster all want to help each other, so I’m trying to make it as good of a season as I can.”
Feaster sees the progression and is pleased with the work the Ravens have put in. And with Love-Soles and Atwater leading the way, the coach believes the future is bright.
“We come to practice every day and work hard, and they’ve been committing themselves to the workouts,” Feaster said. “We don’t have a lot of kids, but one of the things that I’m most proud of is that people respect the athletes that we do have because they see that we work hard and those who do show up at meets come in and run.
“I think that says a lot about us.”