Lincoln High track and field head coach Bob White saw his boys 400-meter relay team finish first at the A-1 district meet last Wednesday at the Beechner Athletic Complex, but he began having his doubts about whether the gold medal was going to stand when the results were being read over the public address system.
“I kept hearing these unbelievably fast times for fourth, third and second place, I thought something happened and that we got disqualified,” White said. “Then all of a sudden I hear, ‘First place, Lincoln High with a time of :41.95.’ I had no idea we were under 42 (seconds). That was pretty neat.”
The foursome of junior Darius Luff, seniors Dauntavis Lawrence and Zion Perry, and junior CJ Jones on the anchor leg broke the Links’ 400 relay school record, and the :41.95 was not only the fastest time recorded in the state this spring, but it also puts the Links seventh on the Nebraska all-time charts.
It’s the fifth time in the past two seasons the Links’ 400 relay school record has fallen, all of them with a different combination of runners.
The first two legs of Luff and Lawrence put Lincoln High in the lead, “then Zion ran an unreal curve, he took off like a bobcat when he got it (the baton),” White said. “Zion’s exchange to CJ was the best we’ve had all year and CJ finished it off.
“At state, if we get those first two legs around with Darius and Dauntavis as fast as we did at districts, we could have a lot of fun on Saturday.”
Luff, Perry and Lawrence are experienced track athletes with a record of success. Luff won the 110-meter high hurdles last year at state as a sophomore despite a hamstring injury, and is the heavy favorite to sweep the Class A 110s and 300 intermediates this weekend at Omaha Burke Stadium.
Perry, a Super-State wide receiver who is signed to play football at Central Missouri, is one of the top sprinters in the state this spring. Lawrence, a Midland football recruit, advanced to state in both the long and triple jumps and has been among the state leaders in both events this spring.
This is Jones’ first year out for track after playing baseball his first two years of high school. He was at the state meet watching last year, “and besides getting my shoes all dirty and getting wet, it was cool,” he said.
Jones’ speed as a wide receiver in football helped him earn all-state honors last fall, but it has taken time to learn the intricacies of running track.
His steady improvement during the season has been key in bringing down the relay time.
“I knew it would be a hard adjustment because football speed is a lot different than track speed,” Jones said. “Now I feel like I have both.”
Immediately after the 400 relay on Saturday will be the 110 hurdle finals and the 100 dash finals. Both Luff and Perry are hoping to have the momentum of a gold-medal relay performance going into their individual events.
With Lincoln High tabbed as the meet favorite, a relay win also keeps the Links on course for winning their first Class A boys track team title since 1960. White has been the Lincoln High head coach since 1983 and began at the school as an assistant in 1978.
“I don’t feel any pressure. I’m approaching it (the 110s) as just another race,” said Luff, who won the 110s at districts in :13.97, a personal best that’s also the second-fastest electronic time recorded in Nebraska. His :38.50 in the 300s at district was also a personal best that leads the state charts this spring.
“I won’t be nervous; I know what it’s like down there (at state),” Luff added. “I’m not worried about the other people in my race. I’m going for a time.”
Perry was undefeated in the 100 and 200 this spring until districts, when Elkhorn South senior and Nebraska track recruit Alex Nelson won those events with times of :10.55 and :21.30 (tied for sixth all-time), respectively. Perry ran personal bests of :10.61 and :21.78 to take second.
“I’m glad I raced him last week; now I have a feel for what I’m up against,” Perry said. “I just want to run my race and maybe turn it around on him (Nelson) this week. I think I can still bring my times down further.”
Lincoln High triple jumpers Lawrence and Samuel Joseph will set the tone Friday with junior Leeaaron Berks starting things off Saturday with the 800-meter run, the first event on the track on the meet's second day. Berks, the state runner-up in the 800 last year when he was at Lincoln Northeast, had the second-fastest time in the Class A district meets with a 1:55.80.
“We all have pressure, and what I do in the 800 will set the pace for the rest of the day,” said Berks, who also qualified in the 400 and runs a leg on Lincoln High’s 1,600 relay. “There are bunch of us right there together in the 800. It will come down to whoever wants it the most.”