Team-first approach leads Chargers back to title
PEARL — As the day got hotter and the events of Monday’s MHSAA Class 5A state track meet started to pile up, Oxford’s Chris Bush remained cool, focused on not seeing his Chargers finish second, for the second straight season.
Coming into the meet, Bush calculated, in a best-case scenario, that his Chargers could capture the 5A title and score 92 points in the process.
That total would be 11 more than Vicksburg, a team with a lot of speed, but not as much overall balance as Bush’s Chargers, who had three athletes in four field events. Oxford traveled down to Pearl Sunday, a day before to rest and focus on the meet without stressing over the events that could lead to a meet win.
It was yet another chance for this closely-bonded team to grow tighter and grow clearer on the mission of finishing this go around. There was no stress put on the athletes at the team meeting, several said. Bush didn’t have plans of someone being Superman and winning the title by themselves. The message was all about doing the best that each athlete could do, and then supporting each other.
In the end, Bush’s plan, coupled with a solid day by his athletes, turned out to be the right recipe in the Chargers winning their sixth overall title in track, and first in 5A. Oxford totaled 76 points. Vicksburg finished with 73.
“We had a shot at winning last year and we walked away second. I said ‘Lord, if you do anything, don’t let me get second again. Let’s bring it home.’ That was the first feeling from today,” Bush said moments after the victory. “We came down here with the intention of winning (in 2013) and Canton came out of nowhere, so it was good to come here today and get that monkey off our back from last year.”
There was no surprise ending this time around, even if the meet came down to the final event, the 4×400 meter relay. Bush helped the Chargers win the title in 2007 as an athlete, and that final came down to the mile relay, an event that is as much about grit as it is anything else.
“It does bring back some memories for me. It did come back to the 4×4 and when I was here, two times it came down to the 4×4,” Bush said. “Our guys had trained really hard. We were confident in their training, that we could beat or finish right behind Vicksburg and that was our job in order for us to win today.”
The 4×400 team of Tyrenzo Banks, James Burnett, LeAnthony Rogers and David Dennis came into the meet coming off a personal-record (pr) time of 3 minutes, 27 seconds recorded at the 5A North Half meet in Oxford. They weren’t quite as fast in Pearl going against a gusty wind, but the 3:28 they finished in was more than good enough to earn them fourth place, and more importantly, the necessary points in order to top Vicksburg.
“We’ve struggled to go under 3:30 all year and then they went 3:27 and then 3:28. You can’t help but be proud of guys that get close to their pr. They really competed for us,” said Bush, who graduated from Ole Miss and then returned to coach at OHS for memories like the one he shared Monday. “It’s a very proud moment. You can’t be a great coach until you win one, so now I can continue to work my way up and continue to get better as a coach.”
Bush’s phone started to ring a matter of minutes after the meet. Former OHS coach Scott Kendricks was one of the people Bush said he was planning to call. Kendricks is one of Bush’s mentors, along with former Ole Miss head coach Joe Walker. Both helped Bush get to this point, he said.
“At the end of the day, I know they’re proud of me for what I’ve done. I know they will be extra proud that we were able to pull one off today,” Bush said.
Looking forward, the Chargers are a youthful bunch. Mike McGhee, who won the individual state title in the shot put, is one of the many that will return to the team in 2015. Another is sophomore Alex Thomas, who finished fourth in the 800, running next to senior Kendall Jenkins, who was second overall.
“I’m glad to be out here. We’ve worked hard and looking to coming back next year,” said Thomas, who was a little upset that he finished fourth instead of his No. 3 seed. “I came back and held my head up because I knew we could still win state. Our distance squad got 36 points out out of 76 and we’re only losing one, a very valuable one, but I think we can do it next year, and in years to come.”
Bush said while losing the likes of Jenkins, Banks, Rogers and Glenn Gordon, who competed in the long jump and was a member of relay teams, hurt, there is reason to believe the team can win another, just like prior teams did in 2003 and 2007, a year after title wins.
“There is still talent here, there is still room for improvement. When you look specifically at our cross-country and track teams, they’ve probably been closer than any teams we’ve had. These guys get along so well, kind of like when I was in school,” Bush said. “When we get together, these are guys that encourage each other. They have little rivalries here and there, but they support each other and that was our idea of synergy we’ve been talking about. When they got done today with their event, they were cheerleaders. That was their job.”