Northwest Boys Indoor Track Wins Three Straight MPSSAA State Titles


The Northwest boys indoor track team has a tradition they've been doing for years.

A few days before the MPSSAA state championship 4A meet, the Jaguars all get together to hike up Sugarloaf Mountain. The tradition was particularly challenging this year because of frigid temperatures, but each Jaguar managed to get through the woods and make it up to the top.

"They support each other, every man needs each other to get to the top. When they get up there, they stand and look out over the territory," head coach Robert Youngblood said. "They reflect on what it took to get up there, then we head down and go to IHop. Every time we've done it, we've been successful."

Based off what Northwest accomplished at states this year, it's safe to assume the tradition won't be ending next year.

The Jaguars won the state championship in a nail biter, edging out CH Flowers from PG County 65-64 to finish first at the meet. It's the third straight state championship in indoor track for Northwest, something no school from Montgomery County has ever done.

"Some of the guys did their research and let me know that no program had ever won three in a row in indoor track," Youngblood said. "I just wanted to take it one meet at a time and see how it went. They just bought in and really believed they could do it."

A key to Northwest's success in indoor track is the approach Youngblood brings to the sport. Learning from legends such as Larry Colbert, Sean Pelky and Fran Parry (who now coaches with Youngblood at Northwest), Youngblood holds the belief that one of the keys is building a program, not a team. What he means by that is not just focusing on the development of the athletes his team will be relying on in that given season, but also other athletes who could end up playing a big role for the Jaguars down the line. The end result is Northwest constantly having a plethora of talented athletes to select from.

A great example of this is by looking at who the team lost before this season. At the state finals met in 2015, Diego Zarate and Jalen Walker were two of the Jaguars main pieces as they won states. Both were seniors, so they weren't on the team for this season. It didn't matter because the Jaguars had younger players who had been groomed to step up.

Another end result of Youngblood's approach is that his teams constantly have depth. While a lot of teams might rely on a couple of really talented sprinters to help them rack up points, Youngblood's teams rely on getting points from a variety of events, sometimes even having multiple competitors placing in one event.

"I laid out the plan for them back during cross country about what we would need for the indoor season. We put three in a couple events, which is tough to do if you remember that only four qualify from a region," Youngblood said. "Our goal was to try to get someone in every event, and we pretty much did that."

It's a team-oriented approach to the sport, which Youngblood's athletes have embraced wholeheartedly. Up and down the roster, players have made individual sacrifices to make the team better.

One such athlete is Branson Oduour. The senior had been a member of the team's 4x800 relay team, and planned to run with his teammates at the state finals. However, Youngblood realized that he could better utilize Oduour if he wasn't running in that event. When Youngblood began to talk about the tweaked game plan, Oduor didn't hesitate.

"He gave up his spot so we could score in the mile and two mile," Youngblood said. "Branson took a step back to let another teammate on because we could get more points if he could score in those events, which he did."

Another key contributor was pole vaulter Daniel Goodman. The sophomore initially tried out for the team as a freshman, but didn't make the squad. Youngblood mentioned that the team needed someone to take on the pole vaulting duties and Goodman, despite having no background in pole vaulting, immediately signed up to do it.

Goodman has worked hard at his craft, taking private lessons in addition to the work he would do with the team. He qualified for states this year and placed eighth. While the team had events where the team placed higher, Goodman's contribution will not go unnoticed.

"Daniel placing eight got us one point, which is how much we won by," Youngblood said. "He's one of the most supportive kids I've seen. He would come to meets even when there was no pole vaulting, just to support his teammates."

In addition to Oduor and Goodman, the team got monstrous performances from Shyheim Wright and Josh Netterville. Wright is the only Jaguar who won an event, the 55 hurdles, while Netterville picked up points by finishing second in the 55 dash, and third in the 300 dash. Netterville also anchored two relay teams- the 4x200 which placed second, and the 4x400 which finished sixth.

Caleb Gills, who Youngblood highlighted as being instrumental for the team as a senior leader and motivator, placed fourth in the shot put.

As of now, Youngblood is focused on the outdoor track season, where the Jaguars are expected to be a contender for the state championship. He hasn't started to think about the next indoor season, but the Jaguars will be expected to be one of the top teams in the state again.

The team will be without Wright though, who will be competing for the University of Pittsburgh next year. Although the team will miss him, this is one of the joys of coaching for Youngblood- seeing doors open for student-athletes that otherwise may not have been opened is one of the best feelings he gets from coaching.

More than anything though, Youngblood, along with Parry and Northwest's other coach Thea Lafond, hope their student-athletes learn about how to approach life while under their tutelage.

"Their success is not measured by how they play, but how they live. If they don't grow as people then what's the point? I hope they learn to live by what the believe in," Youngblood said. "You aren't a success if you finish first, you're a success if you live your life correctly."
April 8th, 2016By: Wick Eisenberg

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