Northwest track and field junior Jake Norris hadn’t laced up his spikes in 322 days before the Mel Tjeerdsma Classic Jan. 16 in the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse.
As a sophomore, Norris finished his indoor season at the MIAA Championships March 1 in Pittsburg, Kansas. He was supposed to start the outdoor season 20 days later at the Emporia State Spring Invitational in Emporia, Kansas, before COVID-19 effectively halted the world of sports.
But Norris, despite the nearly year-long layoff and not training with the team for seven weeks due to holiday breaks, finished the mile-long run in 4 minutes, 8 second and 54 milliseconds.
That time broke a program record, one that stood for 45 years before Norris crossed the finish line, previously held by John Wellerdingwho set the record in 1976 with a time of 4:09.94.
“We didn’t expect him to do what he did,” Northwest coach Brandon Masters said about Norris. “He felt good for the first couple of laps and was on the pace he thought he could run and just put it together. It was just an incredible race. It was fun to watch.”
Norris’s previous best in the mile was 4:12.59, a mark he set at the MIAA Championships nearly a year ago.
To not only break the record, but to cut that much time off without any competition in a little less than a year is as rare as it gets, Masters said.
“Running a mile indoors that fast just doesn’t happen very often,” Masters said. “It’s a huge feat. To do it Jan. 16, the first meet after a 322-day layoff from competing, is extraordinary.”
The Bearcats claimed gold and silver in the mile, with sophomore Reece Smith filing in behind Norris with a time of 4:09.95, a single millisecond shy of the record that stood seconds before Norris crossed the finish line ahead of him.
Norris and Smith were a couple of the standout performances for the Bearcats at the home meet, including sophomore Jada Shanklin provisionally qualifying in the high jump, sophomore Delanie Dykes winning the women’s one-mile run, the Northwest women claiming the top four spots in the 400-meter dash and the men’s 4x400 team provisionally qualifying.
Those were the outliers, but Masters said he’s hoping to add to that list with the goal of having a roster deep enough to where any athlete could provisionally qualify.
“We had a lot of great performances,” Masters said. “We had a lot of solid performances, and we had some poor performances as well, but that’s pretty much what you’re going to get this time of year.”
Masters said once the team departed for Thanksgiving break, it was up to each athlete to stay active during their time away from campus. Athletes that did well at the first meet, Masters said, are the ones who did well over that break.
The ones that didn’t do so well could’ve been impacted by a multitude of things, Masters said.
“You can blame weather and being by themselves and — there’s a whole list of things — but for the most part, we’re in very good shape,” Masters said. “We’re just not sharp yet.”
The Bearcats are hoping to have another successful outing Jan. 22-23 at the Northwest Open, the second of four consecutive meets Northwest will host.
Masters isn’t expecting another record-breaking performance, but he wasn’t last week, either. Instead, he’s thankful for another weekend to compete.
“It’s just another chance to lace up the spikes and run,” Masters said. “I’m not concerned about too many people. Very few I have some question marks with, but I’m hoping those question marks will be answered this weekend by kind of averaging the two weekends.”