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Kicking into gear

Harding athletes aiming for postseason

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Warren G. Harding freshman Nathan James, left, rounds the opening curve during the 800-meter run on Saturday at the Austintown Optimist meet at Fitch High School.

AUSTINTOWN — The 40th annual Austintown Fitch Optimist Track Meet was held at Greenwood Chevrolet Falcon Stadium on Saturday afternoon with several area schools involved.

The Warren G. Harding Raiders competed and coach Charles Penny was pleased with a number of his athletes.

“Diamond Phillips has all of the characteristics in an athlete that you would want,” Penny said. “She’s hard-working, and she does all of the small things correct. She shows the younger runners how to go about things the right way. She is like a coach on the team. She makes my job a lot easier.”

Phillips not only uses her speed on the track, but she earned a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Central State University by running up and down the hardwood.

“Track helps athletes in a lot of different ways,” Phillips said. “Not having a season last year really hurt. I basically work out my whole life. So, I always find different ways to stay in shape. It’s the most important thing in track to get your times down.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Harding’s Diamond Phillips, center, clears one of the final hurdles during the 300-meter hurdle event Saturday at Austintown.

“COVID affected the basketball season this year. It took away from the bonding time that you can have with your team. You didn’t get that time to connect that you should have.”

Phillips is getting time to connect with her teammates on the track as she competes with multiple relay teams. She also runs the 300-meter hurdles, and does the long jump.

“It’s always the goal to go as far as we can,” she said. “I want to make state in all the events. It’s like a sisterhood with Warren sports. Our coaches teach us to be together as one.”

Senior MarKwuan Brown flies around the track in the 100 and 200 meter dashes.

“When you think about Warren Harding track, you think about great sprinters,” Penny said. “MarKwuan is the next in line. He wears it on his shoulders. He does a remarkable job. I’m looking forward to see what May brings.”

Brown also runs the 400 meter and is on the sprint relay teams. He plays multiple sports for the Raiders.

“I’ve been running track my whole life,” Brown said. “I skipped my eighth-grade year because I was playing basketball at the time and I didn’t know I could do both. I stopped playing basketball and focused more on track and football. Speed was always natural to me.

“I want to help all of the younger ones get better. I try to show them what it takes to be the best. I’m trying to get them together so we can go to state.”

One of the younger ones is freshman Nate James. James is the only runner in school history to win a Trumbull County cross countrychampionship. He did that last year as an eighth-grader. This season, he has broken the freshman school record for the 1600 meter (4:50) and 3200 meter (10:52.45) runs, and he broke the 800 meter freshman record (2:07.6) on Saturday.

“Now he has the trifecta,” Penny said. “He’s going to be a fun kid to watch over the next four years. The freshman 3200-meter was the oldest record we had on the books. Dwayne Flenoury has held it since 1978. Nate leads by example. He’s great in the classroom. He comes from a good family. I’m happy he’s a Raider.”

James was thrilled to add another record to his list.

“It feels awesome,” James said. “I’d like to thank my coaches, my family, and everybody who is supporting me. Without a track season last year, I didn’t have any expectations for this season. I just work as hard as I can.

“I’ve surprised myself. I broke a bone in my foot playing soccer last year. It healed naturally. I played basketball this year. I’m having fun, and looking to bring my times down.”

The Fitch boys and Chardon girls were the top-scoring teams in the meet.

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