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  • Photos by Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Northrop senior Jo'Deci Irby has the fastest 400 time in the SAC this season.  

  • The Bruins’ Tionna Brown, a junior, has led the way in the 100 and has the fastest time in that event in the SAC.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Northrop's Tionna Brown warming up before practice at Northrop High School on Tuesday 04.30.19  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Northrop's Jo'Deci Irby before the start of a sprint during practice at Northrop High School on Tuesday 04.30.19  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Northrop's Dylan Kirkwood, left and Morgan Patterson running a relay during practice at Northrop High School on Tuesday 04.30.19  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Northrop's Morgan Patterson warming up before practice at Northrop High School on Tuesday 04.30.19  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Northrop's Dylan Kirkwood warming up before practice at Northrop High School on Tuesday 04.30.19  

Friday, May 03, 2019 1:00 am

Bruins are all business

Girls track team has long history of dominance

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

It's a sports truism that the only thing harder than getting to the top is staying on top.

But the Northrop girls track team would prefer another sports cliché: Success breeds success.

The Bruins have won every sectional and regional title since 2009 and have 10 state titles to their name, the most recent in 2013. And as the championship season revs up with the SAC finals today, the Northrop girls, who sit in first place after Wednesday's opening round, are focused on maintaining that legacy.

“When SAC comes up and sectionals and all that, it's definitely talked about,” senior hurdler Dylan Kirkwood said earlier this week. “I feel like it helps us practice harder and perform better, just knowing that we have something to defend. We're not going out there and running for nothing.”

Senior Jo'Deci Irby, who has the fastest 400-meter dash time of any SAC girl so far this season according to Milesplit.com at 1 minute, 0.86 seconds, said the push to repeat as champions is part of the day-to-day conversation at Northrop practice.

“Since we've won so many years in a row, our coach, like, he's like, 'We have to win again,'” Irby said, referring to coach Terry Milton, who has been with the Northrop program since 2000 and has been the head coach for four years. “He trains us to win again. He's like, this is what we shoot towards. We're not used to losing our sectional, our SAC titles. I'm pretty sure that we'll just continue the history, because that's what we train for.”

In addition to Irby's conference-leading mark, junior Tionna Brown has the fastest 100-meter time (11.96), and Kirkwood has recorded the fastest 100-meter hurdles performance in the SAC (15.50). Northrop athletes have also posted the best marks in the 4x100 (48.20), long jump (Brown at 18 feet, 21/2 inches) and discus and shot put (Markalah Barnes in both, with a mark of 106 feet, 2 inches in the discus and 37-9 in the shot). 

Irby and Kirkwood both said that, as far as they know, Northrop's training regimen isn't that different from that of the other schools. Both are among the many Bruin athletes that train with Milton's club team during the summer and winter seasons, but Milton said the club team includes athletes from all around the area. And while Kirkwood, a Purdue Fort Wayne commit, participated in track and field as a middle school student and knew she was slated to attend Northrop as a high schooler, she said she didn't really understand the extent of the program's success until she joined the team as a freshman. 

But one thing that is notable about Northrop is the extent to which the Bruins treat a sometimes individualistic sport as a team endeavor.

“We have to work together as a team, we have to move forward as a team,” said Irby, who will compete at Taylor next year. “You can't just do everything on your own. (Milton) really stresses working as a team, because even if you're in an individual event, you have to max out, not just for yourself to feel better about yourself. You have to do it as a team, so that you can put your team in a great position to score either score points to win the meet or bring up the entire effort of the team.”

Kirkwood said the team lacked that cohesion midway through last season, and the results showed at meets. The team cleaned up the “mess” just in time to win the SAC title, which Kirkwood cited as one of her favorite memories with the track team.

“We ended up winning, and the whole team went crazy,” Kirkwood said. “It was a lot of fun, and Coach Milton was really happy.”

Kirkwood only took up hurdles seriously as a sophomore, so it wasn't that long ago that she was the young athlete learning from Kyara Muhammad, a state qualifier who graduated in 2017. This year, the big surprise is freshman Morgan Patterson, who started training in the hurdles over the fall and winter.

“She ended up developing to the point where she qualified for the indoor state finals and ended up getting second overall in the 60 hurdles,” Milton said. “Having Dylan as a training partner and a role model, because she really looks up to Dylan, has helped.”

That pattern, of older champs guiding the next class through tough meets and tougher practices, goes a long way toward explaining Northrop's domination. 

“There are days they leave practice and they can't stand me, but (the upperclassmen) understand it and they know what the upside is,” Milton said. “The freshmen, they don't know that, some of them don't. And so it's good that they have the seniors to look up to. There have been times when they put their arms around the freshmen and say, keep your head up, you're going to be great. This is part of the process.”

vjacobsen@jg.net