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Highy regarded contender could jump-start new coach's career

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Sloan a favorite in high jump; Conley strong at Western Hills on Friday

By John Herndon

There is a distinct possibility that new Anderson County track coach Robert Meacham will have a jump-start to his career.

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Meacham took over the program after the highly successful Travis Gay resigned last spring, just days after 14 Anderson athletes had competed in the state meet. Gay left coaching for a job in the business world and relocated to Mississippi.

Enter Meacham, who had been one of Gay's assistant coaches for two years and who has had head coaching experience with boys' track at a school just outside Nashville.

In his first year leading the Anderson program, Meacham is excited that Anderson boasts a legitimate threat to win a state championship in senior high jumper Jordan Sloan. While the Anderson program has not had a state titlist in many years, Sloan might have established himself as the state favorite when he took first place at the Mason-Dixon games in Louisville in early March.

“Wouldn't that be something,” Meacham smiled. “My first year and we have a state champion?”

And the Bearcats could have a second state medalist in the event in junior Ryan Ratliff, who is out for his first go-round with track. At Woodford County last week, in the first meet of the season, Sloan took first place with a leap of 6-feet-4 inches, but Ratliff was not far behind, clearing 6-2 for second place.

“That was after three practices,” Meacham laughed. “Ryan went over to the long jump. He had never even practiced that and got third.

“That (Mason-Dixon) meet was what you look for at the state meet. Last year, Jordan finished second in the Mason-Dixon games.”

At the state Class AAA meet, Sloan finished fifth with a jump of 6-2. University of Kentucky basketball player Jon Hood won the gold medal, clearing 6-6. Sloan, however, vowed to return and take the championship in 2010.

“I think that to Jordan, it was a big thing to get over the mental barrier and win at the Mason-Dixon games,” Meacham says. “To him, there is nothing holding him back now.”

Sloan has a personal best o 6-7, but has his sights set much higher. “He is a a 6-6 jumper consistently, Meacham says. “We know that. But after the Mason-Dixon games, he has renewed his sense of purpose. He wants to get seven feet.

“He doesn't talk like it is some pipe dream. He says, 'I am going to get seven feet.'”

If that is the case, Sloan will not just have a personal and school record, but would be breaking a state record that has stood since 1997 when Trinity's Matt Reecer cleared 6-11.25.

But Anderson has other strong performers that went to the state last year and have returned.

Junior Madison Carter heads the girls' team. The only question is which events in which she will compete. The rules allow just four, but Meacham says, “The girl is phenomenal. She could do the 200 (-meter dash), the 400, the 800 the long jump, hurdles. She ran hurdles in middle school. It is whatever she wants to do.”

Carter was 11th at the state in the 400 with a 1:00.29 and was part of a 4-x-800-meter relay team that finished 18th.

“We basically have that relay team back,” says Meacham, who coached the distance runners – 800 meters and above – for the last two years. Ariel Conrad is now at Georgetown College, but Carter, Courtney Drury, Maggie Conley and alternate Katie Gustafson all return.

Conley had a very strong showing in the 400 meters Friday in the Western Hills Open. She also had a strong fifth in the 800. “We might have another state qualifier if we start focusing her regimen on those shorter distances,” Meacham said.

Discus thrower-shot putter John Updike is also back for his senior year. A state qualifier the last two years, Updike should be one of the regional favorites and has been throwing the discus over 135 feet in practice. “He is going to Lindsey Wilson in the fall and he went there to work with the coaches there last year. He will be over 140 this year.  He is better in the discus than the shot.”

Meacham is also high on hurdler Sabrina Shelton who was fifth in the 55-meters at the Mason-Dixon games and turned in a 17.6 in the 100 at Woodford. “She surprised herself,” Meacham smiled. “That was her best time in a year. Her technique is great.”

Meacham also noted that the boys' 4-x-200 relay team of Ratliff, Chris Misheff, Jayson Barnes and Ryan McGregor won at Woodford. Senior Rashad Brooks turned in an 11.9 in the 100-meter dash and could knock a second off that time before the year is over.

Graduation claimed sprinter Cody Dixon, who was seventh in the state in the 100 and Meacham says the relays will be stronger than the individual races. “We don't have anybody blistering fast, but we have got a lot of kids that are solid and can be real good relay teams,” he said.

Meacham is also high on pole vaulters Chelsea Payne and Cameron Robinson along with newcomer Bailee Oliver in the girls' throwing events. A senior, Oliver was fifth in the shot and third in the discus at Woodford, her first meet. “If she gets her technique down,” Meacham says, “the sky is the limit for her.”

Most of the Anderson runners, jumpers and throwers know that they are in what Meacham calls a regional “Murderer's Row.”

“Dunbar is a powerhouse,” he says. “Scott County, Woodford County, the other Lexington schools. That makes us focus on personal records and trying to get better.”

Can the Bearcats get better as a team? The program has basically doubled its state qualifiers each of the last four years, but taking 28 to Louisville might be too much to ask.

Meacham chuckles, but says, “I think we can match last year (as far as state qualifiers) and I think we will win some invitationals. We will be competitive.”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.