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Danville track has potential to be great in ‘18

 

Track and field at Danville could reach state title heights in 2018.

There’s a long way to go, but key additions on the boys’ side and returning medalists have the Admirals thinking state championship.

Four Admirals already have an indoor title under their belt and will look to bring that to the outdoor season. D’Mauriae VanCleave is known for his speed on the football field and could anchor the Ads’ in sprints on the track.

But right now, it’s all about potential for head coach Chris Verhoven.

“We’ve gone through the list before. We’re a pretty scary team on paper,” he said. “But there’s a lot of teams that are paper champions. There’s a lot of good teams out there. But at least in the early part of the season, we’re one of the best teams. And that’s where you want to be. We just have to go out there and back it up.”

At the state indoor meet three weeks ago, Danville backed it up, winning four titles: Gabe McKnight won in hurdles; D’Mauriae VanCleave won the 55 meter, Jaleel Warren won shot put and Jaxxyn Wood won pole vault.

“That indoor meet is hopefully a preview of the outdoor season,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of potential for state medalists and state champions. Those are things we’ve had in the past but haven’t had recently. We’ve got competition for spots on relays instead of just having four kids. Don and Jaleel are pushing each other in the throws, and we’ve got three or four throwing discus. Whoever performs on Tuesdays and in practice will get the nod.”

There’s reason to think Danville could score in nearly every boys’ event at the state meet with the current throng of athletes out — but Verhoven said it’ll come down to putting in the work and focusing on that goal.

“I think every coach is always excited about potential, and I’m no different,” Verhoven said. “I think we all want to be careful because you don’t want to come across cocky or overly confident, but I’m confident we can win, boys and girls. But no one can predict injuries, what other teams are going to do. Using that coachspeak and a bad pun: We’re just going to stay in our lane. We’re going to come out every day, concentrate on ourselves and not worry about what other schools across town or in Northern Kentucky are doing. We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing, and if we do those things, I think we’ll be right in the mix.”

Danville girls’ basketball head coach Clifford Berry is new to the high school team but isn’t new to the track — he still holds the Danville record in the 300 hurdles (38.8 seconds) and has coached the middle school team in the past.

“I know how hard working they are. When you’re doing something like track, you have to have a good group of kids who want to be here,” Berry said. “This is most sport’s punishment. This group has a lot of athletes and they’ve really matured over the past few years. Most of them don’t realize, this is probably my first love. Gabe McKnight is gunning for my (300 meter hurdles) record. That motivates me, kids who work hard and want to get better.”

McKnight might not break that record this year, but he’s close. And Berry wants to help push him and other track athletes over the top. When he was on the high-school team, Berry competed in the hurdles and jumps, but also has experience in sprints.

“Having Clifford join us is twofold: He’s a Danville track guy who has held the state track record in hurdles, but also to add his coaching ability and draw some basketball girls to join us has been a bonus,” Verhoven said. “He will obviously help with the boys and girls with his expertise in hurdles and jumps. We’re glad to have him on board … It’d be a little touch of irony, a new coach is coming in to help someone else break his school record.”

Berry said when he throws down a dunk in basketball practice, he’s quick to tell his players where his athleticism received a major boost.

“This right here, they’re amazed if we do athletic stuff in the gym but I tell them that this is where they started, on the track,” he said. “I came out here, worked hard and got better. That helped me with my strength and made me better in every sport I played.”

Verhoven said Berry has already brought with him some athletes for the girls’ track team, and they’ll join familiar faces like Taylor Rankin and Abbie Hibbs — both of whom competed at state last year.

“We’ve got some talented girls, some people who have been around awhile,” Verhoven said. “We’ve got some newcomers, some eighth graders that have moved up. There’s also some of the girls that Clifford has encouraged to come out. Day to day that matters, some play tennis, some play softball. With the girls it’s always a mystery because you can move middle schoolers up and still do well. Youth isn’t always a negative in track. We’ve got talent, again using that word potential. How the pieces are going to fit, I’m not sure yet. I’m excited but I’m apprehensive.”

You’ll see a lot of meets this year with the Admirals competing with Mercer County and Boyle County — and all three teams could be state champions by the end of the year.

“It always helps to drive you because we’re going to see them every week,” Verhoven said. “It works out well for us all because we’ve got three competitive teams that can push each other. Ultimately, this is all prep work for postseason.”