Photo by Sam Chandler.
Hoover High School junior Ava Weems, seen running at the JV Invite Jan. 10 at the Birmingham CrossPlex, will help lead a talent-laden Hoover girls track and field team in their pursuit of a fourth straight state indoor championship.
The AHSAA State Indoor Track and Field Championships will be Feb. 3-4 at the Birmingham CrossPlex, and Hoover High School head coach Devon Hind expects his teams to be in the hunt for at least one blue trophy.
But that’s simply business as usual.
Since the AHSAA reintroduced indoor track in 2012, at least one Hoover team has brought home a state title every year. The Buccaneer girls won in 2012, lost to Mountain Brook in 2013, and then they rebounded by capturing the past three championships. The average margin of victory during their current winning streak has been a whopping 52 points.
When the girls lost in 2013, the Hoover boys picked up the slack. They placed first in 2013 and repeated in 2014. The past two years, however, the Bucs have finished runner-up to Auburn.
So how do they get back on top?
“Everybody just has to do what they do,” Hind said.
That starts with distance standout Tommy McDonough, the 2016 Class 7A state champion in cross-country. He’s capable of winning multiple medals in the distance events and should anchor an elite 4x800-meter relay team. Already this season he’s posted times in the 800 and 1,600 meters that rank him among the top two in 7A.
Hind’s pole vaulters also will play a key role in the team’s quest for a blue trophy. Jacob Doak, the state indoor runner-up last season, leads a contingent of aerial acrobats who could rack up pivotal points for the Bucs. Doak, James Courson and Matthew Green have posted marks that rank them among the top five in 7A.
In another field event, Kyle Smith and Jonathan Martin have established themselves as medal-contending triple jumpers.
One component that was missing from last year’s team was a corps of top-tier sprinters. This year, Hind doesn’t foresee that being an issue at state.
Hakim Ruffin, whom Hind said dealt with hamstring issues in 2016, has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. His season-best time of 7.01 seconds (as of mid-January) in the 60-meter dash has him looking like a legitimate podium threat.
J’Marri McCall and R.J. Nelson also have notched swift times in the dash. Together, the trio could form a formidable relay team.
That rings true in the 400 meters as well, where Codey Martin, Dorian Austin and Trent Hamner have flashed their blend of speed and endurance.
“Our speed has really improved this year,” Hind said.
For the Hoover girls to extend their title run to a fourth year, Hind said they also need “to do what they do.”
In general, their formula for success doesn’t vary too much from that of their male counterparts.
Sydney Steely and Ava Weems will pace an experienced distance crew that has the potential to score double-digit points in every event from the 800 up. Caitlyn Little, the front-runner in the 60-meter hurdles, will lead a strong sprint group that also includes Michelle Nkoudou and Ayana Eason.
In the field, Eason is joined by Genesis Jones as a key contender in the jumps.
Hoover’s collection of talent has Hind cautiously optimistic about his team’s likelihood of lifting another trophy. When asked if he believes his girls team will be able to weather yet another dethroning attempt, he responded with a subtle smile.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting.”