Yellow Jackets go west, distance stars Wells and Key go fast

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

Most North Louisiana track and field teams headed south to open the 2022 indoor track and field season at the LSU Indoor Classic. C.E. Byrd coach Juan Plaza went west, to the country’s finest collegiate indoor facililty, Gillman Indoor Track Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M.

The Byrd High travel party for the Texas A&M High School Indoor Classic included distance runners — and school record holders — senior Trent Wells and sophomore Jenna Key.

Wells, coming off a cross country season ranked No. 5 in the state, is experienced when it comes to competing indoors. For Key, who finished No. 2 in the state in cross country, it was her first time competing indoors.

“I was afraid she wouldn’t like it,” Plaza said. “She came off the track after her first race with a big smile and said ‘this is fun, coach.’ She said it reminded her of PE.”

Key added the indoor mile school record to her impressive resume running a 5:28.77. The time is also No. 8 all time for the seldom run distance.

While Plaza initially thought that Wells’ time (4:32.35) in the mile was an indoor school record, he had local track researcher and Mansfiled head coach Mychal Word to verify. Word found an indoor meet in Natchitoches in the 1960s when Byrd legendary distance runner Owen Self ran a 4:19.2.

Wells and Key were not the only Yellow Jackets to impress their coach in the team’s first meet of the season. Sophomore Spencer Frierson and sprinter Nicole Flowers had Plaza smiling as well.

“Spencer is closing in on some huge milestones in the mile and 800,” Plaza said. “I am so impressed by the great strides she has made in her first year, and Nicole is solidifying herself as the No. 2 all-time Byrd sprinter after running a 7.98 in the 60 meters.”

Although early in the season, Flowers’s time ranks No. 7 in the state.

This weekend the Jackets are headed to another SEC West venue, but it’s not the all-familiar Carl Maddox Fieldhouse at LSU. Plaza is taking his Byrd squad to Fayetteville for the Arkansas High School Invitational.

There is a method to Plaza’s madness on racking up the travel miles.

“I want them to see how big the sport is,” Plaza said. “The Texas A&M meet was streamed live on Milesplit and watched by people all over America. Arkansas will be another meet where they will run against elite, college-caliber competition. It’s my experience that competing on that kind of stage is usually a positive experience and motivates them to come back to practice and work even harder. It makes them hungry for more.”

Another bonus to taking the Yellow Jackets to Texas A&M and Arkansas is to give the runners an opportunity to run on a banked track.

“The banked track, if run properly, should give them an opportunity to run a faster time,” Plaza said. “It also gives them experience for when they go to college and run on banked surfaces.”

The Yellow Jackets who qualify for the LHSAA State Meet in Baton Rouge on Saturday, February 19 will be running on a flat surface at LSU.

PHOTO:  Byrd High School track and field competitors (l-r) Trent Well, Mallory Saint, Jenna Key, Spencer Frierson and Elliot Cochran opened the indoor season last Saturday at Texas A&M. (Submitted photo).