The text came from Northwest senior Andrew Etheridge’s grandfather, Harold Morgan, shortly before the Class 6A 110 meter hurdles finals on Saturday at the Kansas track and field championships at Cessna Stadium.
“His text just said that it isn’t any different than any other race, it’s like a practice,” Etheridge recalled.
That might have been difficult, considering that a year ago, Etheridge hit the last hurdle in a tight race with Derby’s Meshach Kennedy, and finished second. In his 300 hurdles race, he was disqualified after hitting a hurdle that went into the lane next to him.
Etheridge, though, is a relaxed, confident athlete _ who wears pink socks _ and that’s how he approached Saturday’s races. He swept the hurdles races, winning the 110 hurdles in 14.22, edging Maize’s Miles Ukaoma (14.44) and defending champion Kennedy (14.45). Etheridge also won the 300 hurdles by more than a second in 38.58.
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“Actually, I may not show it, but I’m really happy,” said Etheridge, who plans to play football and run track at Emporia State. “I’ve been working all four years for this. I’m happy for myself.
“ Last year I was hoping for a title, but things happen. Everybody has their bad races, and mine just happened to come at the state meet.”
One of the toughest moments was when Northwest coach Ron Russell had to tell Etheridge he had been disqualified. But Etheridge was composed.
“He said, ‘oh, OK. I have one more year to make up for it,’” Russell said. “And that’s what he did. We had a mission for him to do as well as he could.”
The key for Etheridge was not allowing last year’s finishes to get in his head. It wasn’t too difficult for him because he rarely obsesses over races. It’s just too dangerous.
“Really, you can’t think about falling, you can’t think about falling, you can’t think about hitting hurdles, because if you do, it throws you off,” Etheridge said. “It throws off your rhythm, and in hurdles you have to have a rhythm, and if you get off it, you’re back in the pack. It’s a fast-paced race.”
Etheridge had plenty of competition, primarily Ukaoma and Kennedy.
All three are slightly different. Ukaoma is tall and muscular, Kennedy is the shortest but more built, while Etheridge is lean.
And they’ve all known each other since they ran middle school track together.
“We’re family members,” Etheridge said. “ We’ve been going back and forth. In seventh grade, it was me (winning). In eighth grade, it was Miles. Last year it was Meshach. We’ve been going back and forth for years.”
In the 300 hurdles, Etheridge was not the favorite. That title fell to Ukaoma, a Nebraska signee, who had the state’s top time in 38.72. Kennedy was right there, too, with the fourth-best time in the state (39.3). Etheridge, who had the seventh-best time (39.4), came in as the seven seed after a poor preliminary race.
In the 110 hurdles, Etheridge was the clear favorite after running the state’s top time this season (13.84 seconds, third in Kansas history).
Although Etheridge hit two hurdles early in the 110 hurdles, he had a slight lead the whole way.
In the 300 hurdles, Ukaoma hit a hurdle and fell on the track, finishing eighth, while Etheridge ran a clean race.
“Really, right out of the blocks, I knew I could win this race,” Etheridge said. “I ran it time after time after time. Never this fast, but I knew I was capable of doing it. All it was going to take was heart for me.
“I knew I could run this race and I could win it and that’s all I had on my mind.”
Any trace of the disappointments from 2009 were effectively erased.