Shelby County boasts some of top track talent across Alabama
Published 12:49 pm Friday, January 15, 2016
By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor
The 2016 outdoor track season is not far away, and there are a number of athletes across Shelby County in the top tier of the track world across the state. Let’s take a look at some of the top track athletes returning this year from the county who have a chance to make an impact across the state.
Daniel Nixon, Spain Park.
Nixon, a senior at Spain Park, is the defending 7A 800-meter state champion, He ran a 1:54.49 at the state meet, and won the race by nearly two seconds. He also ran a 49.64 in the 400-meter dash this indoor season at the Magic City Invitational, good enough for the third-fastest time across the state in the indoor season. In years past he has also run the 1,600-meter run, where his personal best is a 4:22.34, a time he ran at the 7A Section 3 meet in 2015 of the outdoor season, which put him fifth overall in the mile. Nixon has the rare blend of breakaway speed and endurance to be a threat in the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1,600-meter events, which are three of the most grueling events in track and field.
Cole Stidfole, Oak Mountain
The junior speedster from Oak Mountain returns to Oak Mountain as the defending 7A 3,200-meter champion. His state meet time of 9:34.03 was better than second place finisher and classmate Tommy McDonough by over two seconds, and both were over 10 seconds ahead of the third-place runner. Stidfole also placed second in the 1,600-meter run at the state meet by less than a second to Paul Barlow, the same runner who upended Stidfole’s quest for his first cross-country title back in November. While Stidfole has not been clocked at any indoor events this winter, he has to be considered a frontrunner for the long-distance races once again this season.
Emmanuel Tait, Thompson
Tait is the only returner in the county who is a defending state champion in more than one event. The senior for Thompson won the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles in his junior season, and has continued to improve over the last year. Tait ran a 14.12 in the finals of the 7A state meet in the 110s, but his personal best is the 13.96 he ran at the Club Elite Meet in Birmingham in 2014, although a 2.2-mile-an-hour headwind also aided that time. He was also the only person to run the 300-meter hurdles in under 39 seconds, and his time of 38.83 was good enough for the top spot. Depending on the year he has this spring, Tait will get close to breaking the Alabama state record in both events, which are both currently held by Marlon Humphrey, who currently plays defensive back for the University of Alabama.
Mary Grace Strozeir, Pelham
Strozier was the only cross-country athlete in Shelby County to win an individual title in 2015 and is also the defending 1,600-meter champion from last track season. The senior Samford commit won the 6A 1,600-meter run with a time of 5:11.00, which was better by more than four seconds than the next closest runner. Her personal best in the event is a 4:53.94. Strozier also placed fourth in the 3,200-meter run at state last year, and placed second in the event her sophomore season. She currently has the fastest 3,200-meter time across the state for the 2016 indoor season, and the second-fastest 1,600-meter time by less than a second. In her senior year she will be looking to collect as much hardware as she can before joining the collegiate ranks.
Nicole Payne, Oak Mountain
Potentially the best athlete in the county and one of the best across the state, Payne is unique on this list because track and field is not her main focus. The freshman at Oak Mountain comes from a strong soccer lineage, and takes part in track whenever she has some free time away from the pitch. That has not stopped her from making an impact across the track landscape however, and as an eighth-grader she captured the 7A 400-meter title with a time of 56.09. Payne has never run the 400-meter dash in her entire life to this point and not come in first place. She also currently has the fourth-fastest 800-meter time of the 2016 indoor season. Even though Payne will most likely be in and out of this track season, she will show up when it matters most, and she has to be a favorite in any race she is in.