GREENSBORO — For only the third time in Dan Merritt’s 40 years of coaching, he had an athlete who qualified to compete in the New Balance Nationals at North Carolina A&T.
Elkin rising senior Shakai Ward, the reigning 1A 400-meter state champion and the indoor 300-meter state champion, qualified to compete with some of the best high school 400-meter runners in the country.
Ward’s race, which came off almost 90 minutes later than scheduled, wasn’t what she wanted or what she expected. But she was there - on a stage where nearly 4,500 athletes would compete over the three-day competition.
Ward, of Roaring River, was the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference (MVAC) champion in the 100, 200, and 400, posting times of times of 12.64, 25.6, and 57.13, respectively.
It was the 57.13 that earned her a spot among the Emerging Elite in Greensboro.
Ward also anchored the 4x400-meter relay team and was the MVAC Athlete of the Year.
Ward’s 2013-14 accomplishments don’t begin with the indoor season and the state championship in the 300. She went undefeated in the MVAC in cross country; won the conference championship; was the conference Athlete of the Year; made the All-Region team; and made the All-State team.
As the afternoon turned into evening Friday, Merritt said he was trying to help Ward “stay focused; to focus on the race.
“I told her,” Merritt said, “that ‘it affects everybody, not just you’.”
Merritt said he felt the national meet “would help [Ward] go to another level. She’s been looking forward to it. She’s had great workouts.”
Running the 400, a distance where Ward holds both the school and conference record, in Greensboro with 37 others all seeded within a second of each other would be her first test outside of state competition.
“I talked to her about it,” Merritt said. “I told her ‘everybody here’s good’. She wants to go to another level.”
Ward finished well off her best time with a 59.37 - 3.97 seconds off Garden City’s (New Jersey) Emma Gallagher’s winning time.
“It wasn’t her day,” Merritt said. “Her workouts told me she was in mid-56 shape. Things just didn’t go her way. Sometimes there’s no explanation for it.
“I told her, ‘one race doesn’t diminish the season that you had’.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @elkinareasports.