Around Texas, every high school track and field postseason begins with the district meet — the first of four meets over the ensuing month-plus that culminates in Austin at the UIL state track and field championships.
Although the herd thins with each round of the postseason prior to that grand finale, the action ramps up in early April each year with the running of the district meets — a stage where McKinney North begins to separate from the pack.
The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs are coming off a clean sweep of a competitive field at the 10-5A meet, held March 31-April 1 at Lovejoy. That includes North’s boys and girls varsity and junior varsity programs — all of whom finished atop the district standings by at least 38 points.
That’s been a familiar refrain at this time of year. At the varsity level, the Bulldogs captured their ninth consecutive district title and 11th over the past 12 years. On the girls side, the Lady Bulldogs have won seven straight district meets and nine of the past 11.
They’ve gone on to find success deeper in the postseason, including at state, but that groundwork is laid with a successful performance at districts.
“Winning district is one of the goals we set each year. We start one meet at a time — just trying to become team champs at a meet and then have our eyes on the rest,” said Melvin Crosby, North boys head coach. “I think we approach it the way we would any other meet — we want to go win the meet as a team, so all those guys buy into that concept that although track is individualized, they all buy into doing their part — whether it’s earning one point, 10 points or 20 points, they buy into wanting to go get their points for the team.”
It’s a mindset that isn’t fostered overnight or over a handful of weeks but through years spent donning the Bulldogs’ navy and orange, and one of several ways that North’s track programs have been able to sustain success in one of the most talent-rich regions of the state.
“I think if they’re able to be part of something all four years, they’ll invest more into it,” said Jessica Richards, North girls head coach.
That type of retention is significant — getting athletes involved in a program as freshmen so they can learn about the expectations and work ethic required and develop the kinds of habits that will make them mainstays in the team’s success for years to come. Fortunately for those underclassmen, they don’t have to look far for guidance.
“Freshmen come in and they already know how things work because the other girls are talking to them,” Richards said. “When you’ve got the expectation from the coaching staff, plus that expectation from the girls within the program — not only expecting themselves to be at that level but also communicating with the ones coming in, explaining how we do things and what we need to do in order to be good.”
It’s a cycle that replenishes itself annually, with athletes motivated to build off the success of their predecessors. Richards and Crosby both stress a family atmosphere at North — one that goes beyond a student’s four years in high school. Richards noted that during last year’s COVID-19 shutdown that the program would conduct weekly Zoom meetings and occasionally invite a North track and field alum to speak to the team, including ones who went on to compete in college.
“Just so they can see the bigger picture and see how it’s set up and what there is to life after track and field. Trying to keep it within the family,” Richards said.
An extension of that approach is developing a selflessness and flexibility to do what’s best for the team. When the Bulldogs compete in a postseason meet, there’s no stone unturned in preparations. Throughout the season, sprinters will get chances to record open times in the 100-meter dash, plus the 200 and 400, and run varying legs on all three relays — all with the coaching staff taking note of what works best so the team can deal its best hand for the postseason.
“We look down the line — if you’re running an open event and it looks like you have a chance to get to regionals but maybe not enough to score points in that event, but you can help us on the 4x200 relay, eventually you’ll come off that race and go on the 4x200,” Richards said. “We have those conversations early and clear communication about the overall big picture is paramount for the program.”
As the Bulldogs have worked to instill that culture, Crosby has seen plenty of growth over his tenure.
“The part I’ve seen is the maturity of the young men who come into the program prior to really knowing what track and field is really all about,” he said. “As they go through the years, they really start to appreciate the value and the workouts and realize what’s at stake if we don’t push ourselves. They come in with the mindset of knowing what to do to achieve what they want to achieve.”
The program’s results back up that mentality. In addition to a combined 16 consecutive district championships, the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs produced a total of six top-five team finishes at the state meet between 2015-19 — highlighted by state championships won by the North girls in 2016 and 2017. Over the past decade, the two teams have combined for 29 medalists at state.
One of the constants in that run has been the success of the team’s relays — no coincidence, considering those events are worth double points in Texas. Richards said the program centers its training around the 400 and 4x400 relay — the latter emerging as a staple in North’s success at state. Between the Bulldogs and the Lady Bulldogs, they’ve medaled in the mile relay nine times since 2012.
North prides itself in racking up points elsewhere, too. At the state level, they’ve qualified athletes in every event but the 800, shot put and pole vault over the past decade. That depth shined at the recent district meet as well — the girls placed 15 athletes in the top three across 12 events, and the boys had qualifiers for the area meet in 11 events.
“We have some phenomenal event coaches who take a lot of pride in coaching their events,” Crosby said. “If it isn’t as successful as they think it can be, they’re at the drawing board trying to figure out what can be done to improve it — what can they do to help build these athletes into being championship caliber.”
District champions from North included senior Darrell Rougeau in the 200 (22.30); junior Kody Blackwood in the 110 hurdles (14.50) and 300 hurdles (39.11); senior Cameron Banks in the discus throw (146-0), the boys 4x100 relay of senior Rico Paul, senior Jacobi Balous, junior Jorge Torres and junior Oscar Macias (42.97); the boys 4x200 relay of Balous, Rougeau, Torres and senior Myles Squalls (1:28.10); sophomore Caitlin Coffie in the 200 (25.92); senior Spencer Van Dyke in the discus throw (131-6); and sophomore Alexandra Harber in the pole vault (12-6).
Richards noted that the district title win was particularly gratifying for her girls, many of whom are underclassmen and hadn’t competed in a meet of that caliber. They won’t have to wait long to try and build off that, joining Frisco ISD for the 9/10-5A area meet on Wednesday at Frisco Memorial Stadium.
The top four finishers in each area event will qualify for the Region II-5A meet, which takes place April 23-24 at The University of Texas at Arlington. The top two placers in that meet advance to state, scheduled for 5A programs on May 7 at Mike A. Myers Stadium at The University of Texas at Austin.
“From here on out, it’s going to be very tough,” Crosby said. “Being in area competition with the Frisco schools and all the talent those programs have, followed by Region II where a lot of the individuals you see will be on the podium at state, it just shows in the North Texas the kind of talent that’s in here.
“For us to stay steady, I think we could do some good things but it’ll be tough with the competition we have.”