Varsity Track and Field

Carroll's boys track team is excellent, even by Carroll standards

The Bishop Carroll boys track team won its Class 5A regional by 133 points Friday.
The Bishop Carroll boys track team won its Class 5A regional by 133 points Friday. The Wichita Eagle

By way of the Diocese of Wichita, there was one team left at Friends University on Friday night long after the awards had been passed out.

Carroll High coach Cory Swords called his boys and girls track teams together, gave a quick post-meet speech after the Eagles had swept their Class 5A regional, and sent them on their duty. The same boys who had just won the regional by 133 points were told to clean up the trash left behind.

"We don't do it because we are the hosts of this meet; we do this at every meet," Swords said. "We do this because it's what we do."

Swords said that stewardship is the backbone to the most complete team he has coached in his 13 years as the Carroll coach.

He has coached one state championship team, in 2014. That group beat Topeka Seaman by 23 points.

"This team would beat that team in a dual," Swords said. "This is the most complete team that we have ever fielded at Bishop Carroll."

Coaches across the Wichita area have said the 2018 Class 5A title is Carroll's — that "nobody will catch them." Based on how this season has gone, those coaches are probably right.

Carroll won the City League by 158 points and its regional by almost as many. But building one of Kansas' great track teams hasn't come without failure.

As freshman, middle distance runner Jason Irwin and sprinter Austin Mernagh finished outside of the top four state-qualifying spots at their regional meet. They were not happy.

They looked at each other and made a pact.

"We said, 'This will never happen again,' " Mernagh said.

As seniors, the Carroll boys qualified at least one athlete in all 18 events for the state meet starting Friday at Cessna Stadium. In four events, two Eagles earned state qualification. And in three events, only one spot was left for the rest of the 5A field to compete for.

Those statistics can be eye-grabbing — for some.

"It's just an attitude around Carroll," Irwin said. "We're going for excellence. There are no other options. It's an expectation.

"Everybody else might be shocked about it, but we've been working at this for so long that it's not even surprising anymore."

The Carroll boys will tell you it is their work ethic and intensity at practice. Swords will say "hard work" begins when the other guy says he has put in a good day's work and goes home. They would be right. But that isn't the full picture.

Yes, Carroll has extraordinary depth. The Eagles could have won by a much wider margin if not for a few close finishes that went the other direction.

Like in the 100-meter hurdles, junior Kody Marvin missed out on a spot at state by four hundreths of a second to Liberal's Tyrique Chandler. Or in long jump, senior Thomas Helton missed the state cut by half an inch to Maize's Derrick Payne.

Now, most often, Carroll was dominant and left poor odds for the rest of the 5A field to get to state. Like in pole vault, the Eagles went No. 1, 2 and 3 with Ethan Hull, Augustine McCormick and Brian Simon.

That has an impact. In that same event, Maize senior Toby Bartlett missed his last chance at state. He cleared the 13-foot mark to get there but took too many tries to do it.

"It's frustrating going in knowing it's going to be tough," Maize coach Jerrod Handy said. "But our kids just try to focus on themselves and achieving what they can and just keep getting better."

Of course Carroll isn't going to concede spots for others to get to state. Those athletes earned those spots. Swords said they have been earning those spots since they were freshmen.

When athletes get into the Eagles' program, Swords tells them their practices aren't geared toward winning as freshman. They are constructed to peak as seniors, and if they get to the state-qualifying level before then, that's great.

Carroll is driven by its upperclassmen this season. In fact, only one Eagle freshman or sophomore qualified for state.

Irwin is a senior, Mernagh, too. Hurdler Joseph Holthusen is another. He said the guys feel the gap between them and the field this year, but they don't like to talk about it.

"Even though people may say, 'Carroll is top. Carroll is this and that,' if we're not working hard every day, it's not going to pay off," Holthusen said. "If we don't have a sense of urgency and come to every meet with confidence, it's not going to come out the way we want it."

Swords said he has seen some remarkable team feats in track, even in recent years. He has watched teams come in as clear favorites and choke it away in Cessna Stadium.

That constant reminder has helped motivate the Eagles this season, Swords said. They never want to be comfortable or complacent, even if they are winning regional meets by 133 points.

"Points are points," Swords said. "You can score 250 points and walk away feeling like you didn't do your best. I would rather my kids give everything they have and walk away with nothing than to come out with a piece of wood, knowing that it wasn't your best performance. ...

"We either set the bar or somebody else sets it for us."

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