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Taylor Made

Rebel sophomore’s bold move produces season’s top shocker in track
Maryville’s Taylor Drake celebrates with his mom, Ann, after his breakaway in the 800 meters secured a berth in the state meet and stunned the field. Photos by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Most saw the 800-meter run at last week’s sectional track and field meet as a race for second place, except for the guy who actually finished second.

Drake works on his form at the Blount County championships earlier this season.

Drake works on his form at the Blount County championships earlier this season.

Taylor Drake not only secured a state meet berth with the placing, the Maryville High School sophomore proved catalyst for a stunner that shocked the state. Dobyns-Bennett may never forgive him.

Drake will be on the start line when the gun goes for the 800 at the Spring Fling state meet at Middle Tennessee State University on Friday. It’s a closely bunched field, with Ravenwood’s Matt Rainey posting a top qualifying time of 1 minute, 54.09 seconds. The next 10 runners are within five seconds, including Drake, three seconds back at 1:57.14.

The tight field is largely Drake’s doing. He’s most responsible for the guy who won’t be there Friday.

Dobyns-Bennett flyer Bryce Ailshie entered the AAA sectional meet as the prohibitive favorite in the 800, the Wyoming signee having laid down a blistering 1:52.42 at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals – last summer! No one at the sectional meet at Hardin Valley entered with anything close to that time.

Pacing so swift a runner wasn’t the best option, Drake reasoned. Ailshie, second at the sectionals at 400 meters, can kick like crazy. The was also Oak Ridge’s Tyler Boullie, the eventual sectional champion, and Hardin Valley speedster Jose Parrilla, son of the Olympian and former Tennessee Vol of the same name, to contend with.

The race strategy Drake settled on was a thing of beauty. Sun Tzu would love this kid.

“The only part I remember about the race: I was on the starting line; the gun went off, and I was out front,” Drake said. “I kind of went for it.”

Leaving the line at a sprint, Drake immediately put the field under pressure. Didn’t do Maryville assistant coach Landon Harris a whole lot of good, either.

“In my head, I was like: ‘Oh, no!’” he said. “‘He’s going to die in the second lap.’”

Drake had run the numbers prior to meet. He’d lived on a popular running site, checking and re-checking times. This was no blind gamble. When Drake remained at the front well into the second lap, Harris began to feel better about things.

“Once you get into that second lap, it’s all mental,” Harris said. “Taylor is so competitive for a high school runner. Once he got in that position, I knew he would die before he gave up that spot. At this level, the guy who’s got the courage to take off, why not?”

The field chased hard, but it was far too late. Boullie closed to overtake Drake in the final 100 meters. Further back, Ailshie, his hopes of reaching the state meet in his specialty dashed, stepped off the track, “DNF.”

“I think it was about not thinking,” Drake said. “When I focus on a time in a race, I don’t do well. When I just go out and run, …

“I’m not out there to get stressed and be miserable.”

Surprising the field at state with an early move isn’t as likely, but then surprise may not be necessary this time.

“When he finished the sectional meet, when he came off the track, he said, ‘I’ve still got some more in the tank,’” Harris said. “It may be a question of where he’s at, if he can front run. If they’re running well, don’t mess with them. If he finds he’s way out front, …”

Drake is one of six Blount Countians who’ll be pursuing individual medals at Spring Fling on Friday.

Rebel senior Jordan Scott will go off in the long jump and high jump. Heritage’s Hunter Blair will contend for the Mountaineers in the discus. William Blount’s Josh Perkins will represent the Governors in the shot put.

Alcoa’s Kyle Mitchell is among the favorites in the A/AA shot put after winning the event at the sectional meet. The Tornadoes’ Yohana Koko is among the frontrunners in the triple jump after a second place sectional showing.

The Rebels will see a pair of relays vying for medals, with Jaylen Burgess, Jordan Ervin, Paul Bristol and Scott among the favorites in the 4×100 meters. Kelby Brock will sub for Burgess in the foursome for the 4×200.

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