ROCKINGHAM — What started out as a program with over a hundred student-athletes in February has boiled down to just three remaining Richmond Senior High School track and field participants a little more than three months later.
Emerging from the grind of the season are a senior, a junior and a sophomore on the boys’ team, all of whom are just days away from the biggest meet of their careers.
Emerson Wall, Tyrene Stanback and Aaron Coleman are the final three Raiders representing Richmond and will compete in the NCHSAA 4A state championship meet on Saturday.
For Wall (triple jump) and Stanback (high jump), it will be their first time going to states. Coleman (110-meter hurdles) participated as a freshman last year with Scotland High School.
All three are coming off strong performances at the 4A Mideast regional held last weekend at Green Level High School. In order to clinch a spot to states, student-athletes had to finish in the top-four of their respective event.
John Rich, who has coached alongside Reggie Miller this spring, watched the two jumpers and hurdler warm up at practice on Wednesday.
Even this late in the season, Rich was impressed with their focus to do the smallest things correctly. He noted that not everyone makes it to the third week of May and a chance to bring home a state championship.
“These three guys are so well-deserving to go to states, and they’ve put in the work each and every day,” Rich said. “They give 120 percent each day and are really up to the task to perform well.
“All three of these guys still haven’t reached their full potential, which is a good thing, and I’m really excited to see what they can do.”
Emerson Wall: Injuries haven’t slowed him down, hoping for podium spot
A safety for the Richmond football team, Wall broke two fingers during his senior season last fall. Later in the year, he suffered a broken ankle that ended his football season and put his track and field season up in the air.
Not deterred by the injuries, Wall rehabbed and made his way back to 100 percent for track and field. Starting his jumping career as a sophomore with both the long and triple jumps, he hopes to cap his career with a podium spot.
“I started with the long jump and gave the triple jump a try, too,” Wall explained. “Early on, I liked the long jump but now I’ve really become a triple guy,
“Getting to represent Richmond means a lot because this is my first time going to states,” he added. “My injuries haven’t slowed me down. They’ve been a chance for me to wait my turn and now I will get the opportunity to prove myself at states.”
At the 4A Mideast regional, Wall qualified for the final flight after jumping an even 43 feet in the preliminaries. That awarded him another three attempts in the finals, as he set a new personal record with a mark of 43 feet, 10 inches, notching a fourth-place finish.
“Emerson has overcome a lot with injuries and could have also made it in long jump,” Rich said. “His first phase eats up a lot of his jump and I tell him all the time that if he uses his arms more in the second phase, he could go 45 or 46 feet.”
Something that Wall hopes will fuel a successful performance on Saturday is his connection with his teammates.
“We created our brotherhood early in the season,” Wall said. “We were all doing similar events and were around each other a lot. That led to us forming really good chemistry and we all want each other to do well.”
Tyrene Stanback: Advice from older brother helps first-year high jumper
Even though it’s his first year participating in track and field, Stanback has had experience with the high jump.
His older brother Javares Stanback, who graduated from Richmond in 2022, was the Sandhills Athletic Conference champion last year and finished fifth overall in the 4A state championship.
Using Javares’ success as motivation, Stanback has excelled this spring and set his personal record of 6 feet, 3 inches during a conference meet at Scotland.
“I needed to find a sport that I was familiar with and my brother Javares told me that I would be good at high jump,” Stanback said. “Since he went to states last year, I gave it a try and have been really successful with it.
“When I’m jumping I really focus on my technique and try to get everything right with my bend,” he added. “To set a new PR I need to keep practicing with my bends and do backflips on the mat. My expectations are to get up to 6-4 or maybe 6-6.”
In Cary over the weekend, Stanback was one of three jumpers to clear the bar at 6 feet, 2 inches at the 4A Mideast regional. An inch shy of tying his PR, he qualified for states by taking third overall.
“Tyrene hit 6-3 at Scotland and we feel that he can hit 6-6 or 6-8 if he arcs more,” Rich explained. “He’s flat going over the bar sometimes and if he can really bend, he should be able to clear a higher bar.”
The week leading up to the 4A state championship has been filled with a lot of excitement, and the support from the community is something Stanback said the trio of Raiders is using as motivation.
“It’s a big deal for the three of us to get this chance to compete at states,” Stanback said. “All this week I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations from people and that means a lot. It’s exciting and I know we’re ready to compete.”
Aaron Coleman: Round two at states, looking to improve from 2022
One advantage Coleman has in his corner is state championship experience, which saw him take fifth overall as a freshman in the 110-meter hurdles last year. His time of 15.71 seconds was just over half a second off the podium in the 3A race.
This spring, Coleman’s fastest time in the 110 hurdles has been 14.93 seconds, a mark he hopes to best when he explodes out of the blocks on Saturday. His journey to running hurdles started at Scotland when he was just considering the idea of running track.
“I started hurdles in October of my freshman year,” Coleman said. “I was wrestling at the time and I wanted to try track. My coach asked to see me do hurdles and I jumped over them pretty well, and it kind of went from there.
“I’ve met a lot of cool people running hurdles and I really enjoy being able to compete against them in an event that can be challenging. The biggest challenge is remaining consistent each race, and the key is to be mentally focused while I’m running.”
At the 4A Mideast regional, Coleman took third overall with a time of 15.16 seconds. He trailed only Desmond Smith (14.36 seconds) and Matthrew Smith (14.37 seconds) of Hillside High School.
With a few tweaks to Coleman’s technique, Rich thinks he can be near the top of the field.
“Aaron is just a sophomore and has done so well,” Rich noted. “If we can clean up his block start, get his lead leg down quicker and rotate his trail leg more, it’ll help him.”
“When I run, I run against myself,” Coleman explained. “I don’t think too much about what the other guys are doing so I just try to be better than I was in my last race.
“Coach Rich tells us all the time that the work we put into practice will pay off in the race. That’s why we’re working so hard to prepare.”
The NCHSAA 4A state championship will be paired with the 2A title meet at North Carolina A&T State University on Saturday. Coleman, Wall and Stanback will all begin their respective events around 10 a.m.
“All three have a great work ethic and share that in common,” Rich closed. “From the beginning of the year they’ve listened, asked questions and gone through their drills to make them better.
“I’m most proud of that effort. As long as they give their best and try their hardest, I’m satisfied.”
Follow The Richmond Observer on Twitter @ROSports_ for live updates throughout the meet.