Coming Back From COVID-19: Versailles track and field pushing forward under new leadership

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Versailles senior Michael Bell.

The “Coming Back From COVID-19” series will focus on spring sports programs at Camdenton, Osage, Eldon, Versailles, Macks Creek and Climax Springs who saw their seasons stripped away due to the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. The series will highlight how these programs handled those tough times and their return to action.

Versailles track and field coach Aaron Allen is finally getting a chance to build a program. 

Introduced as the new track and field head coach a year ago, he felt he had a good senior class to work with and was looking forward to building a foundation and setting his expectations for what the program should be. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all of that and set things back a year. 

Well, the time has finally come to move forward on that process as the Tigers return to action this spring.

“It has been tough, but also fun, especially being named head coach last year and not being able to set the values, examples and work ethic we needed to be able to create a good program,” Allen said of those tough times. “Our kids this year have been amazing and have adapted to the everyday changes. They take each day in stride and their eyes are wide open attempting to soak everything in. They want to be winners and are putting in the work to get to that level.” 

That may be because Allen’s athletes have learned how quickly things can be taken away after all that has happened the past year.

“I believe the reason the kids are so bought in this year and appreciate every day is due to COVID. They have had a year where things have been taken from them, maybe the success has not come in other areas and day-to-day life is always changing,” the coach pointed out. “They, and myself, are no longer taking the blessings of everyday life for granted.”

Some of the seniors Allen unfortunately did not have a chance to lead last year are Quinn Randall, Coby Williams, Dallas Waller, Bentley Elliott, Trent Hyman, Payton LaFoy, Gracie Hamrick, Lauryn Shewmaker, Emma Geier, Ellie Dunaway and Keely Gustafson. Among this group were previous state qualifiers and state medalists. 

“These kids had a chance to go far and bring along with them the youngsters to give them a taste of success. This was such a talented group who were truly track athletes,” Allen stated. “We are still disappointed, but excited to build on the foundation of our program they have started.

“Some of the lessons learned was how much we take advantage of the senior leadership. Those kids who knew me and my style and cared are now gone,” Allen added. “The sophomores, who maybe it did not matter as much, are now seniors. The language, grit and coaching style has been a culture shock and our kids are loving it.”

Sophomores in the program from 2019 are now the new veterans and will have to become the new leaders the program can continue to build a foundation upon. Amongst the boys, Max Coleman, Michael Bell, Seth Newton, Mikhail Gulyayev, Allan Rhorer and Zach Radefeld will play key roles as seniors along with Carmen Lemell who will look to lead the girls and whom Allen noted has continue to grow between track and field and cross country.

“We have several returners who are excited for this chance and opportunity to run and compete,” the coach noted. “There are many more kids who are ready to play important roles to help these seniors get to the medal stand, earn points and get to the state meet.”

One of the things Allen is excited about this year is the fact that 47 athletes are out for track and field, the largest roster the coach has had the privilege of coaching. It should help the program fill vacancies in any meet and it just comes down to attitude.

“We are physically and mentally challenging our kids every day with the understanding we are going to take care of them. Put in the work and the success has a better chance of coming,” the coach said. “Our definite strengths will be our ability to finish races and events. I am excited about this and we want this to be a focus of our team. 

“When the time comes don’t back away, face it, put your head down and trust the work you have put in,” he said of the message to his athletes. 

Even it if takes a little time to grow and develop athletes this season, from Allen’s point of view that is what the 13 regular season meets are for- opportunities to perfect technique. 

“I have stressed to the kids I am not concerned with the 13 regular season meets. To me, those are glorified practices to perfect your craft,” he said. “Those meets are where you tweak, learn and risk it without little failures. We want to peak at week 11 for the state championship and use those meets as means to prepare.”

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132