Despite not winning a team district championship for the first time in seven years, L.D. Bell coach Gerald Smith calls the recently concluded track season a great success.
“L.D. Bell had a great season. I am proud that we competed so well in a tough district, area and region,” Smith said.
“We take a lot of pride in our tradition. I firmly believe that track and field can be a barometer for your other sports, for example, football, so we hope that our success will spill over into all the programs at Bell. It all feeds on each other.”
Smith has been at Bell for more than two decades, so when he says it was a fine year, he speaks with authority. The results also speak volumes.
The Raiders and Lady Raiders each finished third in District 7-6A, trailing Coppell and Southlake Carroll in each division. Bell qualified 10 girls for area competition in individual events, along with a 4x200-meter relay. They were joined by six boys in individual events and three relays (4x100, 4x200, 4x400).
Of that group, seven girls advanced to regionals in individual events, while four boys advanced individually with a pair of relays.
“I think competing in a district/area like this forces you to get better,” Smith said. “I really saw our kids stepping up their game to continue to be competitive. Now our kids know what it takes to be successful against great competition, and they can be better equipped to prepare for that level next year.”
The season featured some school records, including one in the 800-meter run by senior Leisa VanVooren. She returned from a preseason injury to post a district-winning time of 2:21.03, going on to advance to the Region I Meet, where she broke her own mark with a clocking of 2:20.64.
Also, the boys 4x100 and 4x200 relays each set school records on their way to regional berths. The 400 group of Ricky Walton (sophomore), Ryan Linton (junior), Jonathan Castillo (junior) and Isaiah McBride (senior) set a record of 41.98 seconds in winning district, which they bested with a 41.44 at area to reach regionals.
The same group ran the 800, posting a record time of 1:26.80 at area to qualify for regionals. It broke the mark of 1:27.05 set in 2014.
Smith listed those as highlights to the season, along with senior Simeon Konneh’s performances in the 400 dash and 800 runs, junior Jaylin Brooks in the triple jump, senior Maddie Telford in the pole vault and hurdles, sophomore Alysa Wallach’s improvement in the 800 (about seven seconds from last year), and the girls throwers (seniors Anna Hafoka and Melinda Gbollie and junior Sidra Triplett).
“His performance this year kind of came out of nowhere,” Smith said of Konneh. “He was not competing at this level last year.”
McBride qualified for area in five events. He has signed a letter-of-intent to run for UTA next season. VanVooren has signed to compete for Oklahoma Christian University next season.
Among the top surprises, Smith said, were junior Esther Bweny, who qualified for regionals in the long jump, and sophomore Kiara Posey.
“Esther just kept getting better throughout the year,” Smith said. “Kiara ran most of the season on the JV and just turned it on in the 200. We ended up moving her to the varsity.”
In all, Bell has two underclassmen female regional qualifiers (nine area qualifiers) returning, along with four underclassmen male regional qualifiers (five area) back. Smith has always believed in a strong junior varsity, and this season was no exception, so he has plenty of talent to fill the gaps left on the varsity next season.
The Bell JV boys and girls each finished second in district.
“We are graduating some really good seniors this year, so we have some gaps to fill,” Smith said. “We always put a lot of emphasis on our JV teams and expect them to be just as competitive as our varsity. One of our goals is to develop the JV kids so they are ready for varsity level competition when a spot opens up.
“We are already looking into what spots are going to need to be filled and who the possible candidates are.”