On a late Monday afternoon with the temperature still above 80 degrees, Green Hope boys track coach Jason Bochert’s Falcons wind down practice with drills of 400 meters run at a 1,600 pace and 200 at an 800 pace.
Jayquan Williams, the state leader in the 800 with a time of 1 minute, 54.20 seconds, and Henry Pehr, the state leader in the 1,600 (4:21.55) that also ranks second in the 800, lead a string of Falcons around the track.
The heat at the end of practice might seem like a good time to shift into cruise control, but the two seniors compete to the end. Pehr surges in the final 30 meters; Williams senses it and holds him off.
“They push each other,” Bochert said. “There are times we have to have them do separate workouts, because they tend to beat each other up in practice. That’s not good in the long run. We want them to fresh and ready to go.”
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It goes without saying high school athletes most often enjoy their best year as seniors based simply on physical maturity and experience. But Williams and Pehr have exceeded their own expectations. Their unexpected teamwork began with Williams’ transfer to Green Hope from Southeast Raleigh before the start of the school year.
“When we moved to Morrisville, I got his number,” Williams said. “We talked about how we wanted to train together.”
Pehr admits to initially wondering about the timeless sports conflict of the new kid invading the established athlete’s turf.
“At first I didn’t know if we’d have a rivalry, but he’s my teammate,” Pehr said. “It’s been a healthy competition between us. I try to push him to do his best and he pushes me. If he’s doing better than me, I know I’m going to do better eventually. It’s all for the good of the team.”
For Williams, his senior year improvement began with more focus on his academics. The improved grades have attracted new-found recruiting interest from Charlotte and East Carolina. But it’s not just textbooks. He also says the strength gained during cross country season has made him a smarter runner.
“The mileage we ran last fall has really helped me in the 800,” he said. “I’m stronger on the first and finishing laps. Before, I couldn’t hold it. I wouldn’t get out because I didn’t know if I could hold my own in the last 200. Now I can attack or sit back. It doesn’t matter. I feel comfortable racing either way. I run with more strategy.”
Pehr, who is committed to run at North Carolina, feels on pace to improve on his third-place finish in the state 1,600 (4:19.42) at last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state outdoor meet.
They first saw their improvement from working together pay off helping the Falcons win the NCHSAA 4A state indoor meet team title – a championship they’ve celebrated with T-shirts declaring the 2016 title. Williams, Pehr, Brian Huitt and Finn McBride placed second in the state 4-by-800 relay (8:02.71 to Mount Tabor’s 7:59.95). Williams also won the 1,000 (2:31.00) and Pehr was fourth in the 1,600 (4:24.45).
In next month’s state outdoor meet, it’s possible Pehr and Williams will both focus on the 800 if the Falcons think they can earn more team points than with Pehr running in the 1,600. In either event, Pehr thinks he can improve upon his 2015 bronze medal. And he knows the team points will help the Falcons better last year’s 24th place finish in the 2015 team standings.
“Winning the indoor title was great,” Pehr said, “but now we want the outdoor team title, too. We’re not done yet.”