Wednesday, June 20, 2018
If an award were given for the athletic team of the year at R-MA, there would be a strong argument that it should go to this year’s Track and Field Team.
Head Coach Joshua Ilnicki will be the first to admit he was overwhelmed with the sheer number of track and field athletes this year. “We had 50 when we started, which is a far cry from the 14 we had my first year coaching!” he exclaimed. Fortunately, several R-MA co-workers stepped forward to assist. Chair, Leadership and Character LT COL Mike Starling, USMC, Retired, and Middle School teacher Dani Clingerman both rose to the occasion and worked with the throwers and the high jumpers, respectively. Science Department Chair Dr. Tony Maranto took over as the distance coach, allowing Ilnicki to focus on the sprinters, long jump, and triple jump.
The team faced its share of challenges during the season. R-MA’s track is an old-fashioned all-weather track (also known as pavement) and it is an odd shape, making it less than ideal for training. In addition, there are no facilities for practicing any of the field events on campus.
None of that mattered to this team. They ran on roads and around campus to train. The field eventers worked on mechanics at R-MA, then traveled to a local public school several times a week to put what they learned into practice.
The result of rising above their challenges: 14 of the athletes qualified for the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association (VISAA) State Meet in 20 different events. It was more than any other year since Ilnicki took over the team, and perhaps one of the best years in R-MA history. And on Saturday, May 19th, the team not only went to States, they proved that talent, hard work, and good coaching are the real recipe for athletic success.
Edmund Loolo ’18 returned to R-MA with the VISAA State Championship, Division 2 title in triple jump in the closest match-up anyone had ever seen. He jumped 46 feet, ¼ inches, tied with Eldby Omohundro of St. Christopher’s School. To determine the winner, Ilnicki said, “They had to go to the second-best jump by each student. Edmund had the best one by an inch and a half.”
For Edmund, the goal at the start of the season had been a top-five finish in the State Meet, but as he continued to improve, he and Ilnicki began thinking that a podium finish was possible. “He was amazingly coachable, took everything to heart, focused, and listened,” said Ilnicki. “He paid attention to the little things, and all those little things added up to being a state champion.”
“When I won I started laughing because I didn't think it was real,” Edmund admitted. “I'd been waiting for that day for months and it finally happened so I guess I was in shock.” Though he cannot deny his own talent, Edmund was quick to give credit to Ilnicki for the win. “He was the one who pushed me to do jumping events, taught me what I needed to know, and finally he actually believed in me,” he said.
Edmund brought home a second medal from the state meet, finishing fourth in the long jump. And he wasn’t R-MA’s only state champion that weekend.
Caroline Starling ’19 came home with not one, but two state championship titles. She claimed the high jump title with a jump of 5’4”, which didn’t even come close to her personal best of 5’7”.
“The weather was bad leading up to it, so the runway was wet,” Ilnicki said. “They weren’t ideal conditions, but she still beat the second place girl by four inches.”
“I didn't think I was going to do so well, because it was raining and everything was soaked,” Caroline agreed. “I was nervous about my feet slipping. I also had to run back and forth between events, so I wasn't sure about how I would perform. When I won, I was definitely surprised and so happy. This was a big accomplishment that I have been working towards since freshman year.”
When the results for shotput were announced, Caroline didn’t even hear them. She learned about her second championship title when fellow track athlete Khalila Karefa-Kargbo ’19 ran over and congratulated her for being a double state champion.
“I was confused, but then overwhelmed with excitement,” Caroline said. “I was working towards getting first for one event, but I never imagined that I would get first in the state for both events!” She won the event with a throw of 35’ 9½”, winning the Division 2 State Championship by nearly five feet.
“She has a lot of natural talent,” Ilnicki said. “I think she practiced shot put all of about four times. And she missed part of the season due to an injury. When she fully actualizes her ability, she is going to be a star.”
“Caroline has a lot of natural talent and combined with her sweet personality and sportsmanship she was a pleasure to coach this season,” added Clingerman, who worked with Caroline on the high jump throughout the season.
Caroline’s stats back up her coaches’ faith in her talent. Even if the divisions had been combined, Caroline would have still won both of her events. Her personal record has ranked her third in Virginia for high jump--that includes all public and private schools.
In addition to Caroline’s and Edmund’s success, Destiny Thomas ‘21 brought back a medal for finishing seventh in the triple jump.