Wichita State University freshman Lauren Pickens has had little time to reflect on her accomplishments at Peabody-Burns High School. She started training with her Shocker teammates this past summer.
She said she is proud of winning the 100, 200, and 400-meter 2A state championship events all four years of her high school career, a record feat. It was remarkable enough to win the Catchy Award, given by Kansas sports website Catch It Kansas, for performance of the year.
“I was really touched by the performance-of-the-year award,” Pickens said. “It blows me away; 14,000 people voted for me.”
Pickens hopes her high school accomplishments will not just be the end of one chapter of her track career. The first page of another chapter is beginning this semester at Wichita State.
For now, her state championship achievements are a helpful reminder of what she can accomplish. They will provide a reserve of self-confidence, which Pickens may need to call on this year.
“I have a lot of work to go,” Pickens said.
Ahead of Pickens is nine months of grueling practices and meets. Pickens’ coach and recruiter John Wise said the long track season and laborious college schedule will wear out even the most well-conditioned freshmen.
However, Pickens said she can use her experiences in high school as motivation through the hardships to come.
Her freshman year of high school she dedicated her state performance to her best friend and teammate Kylie Terronez. When at just 15, Kylie died in a car accident a week before the state meet. Pickens wondered how she would fight through her grief to win. She said Kylie was always there running with her.
After that first year, in which she pondered not running at all, Kylie became the underlying inspiration for her state quest.
After standing on state podiums four consecutive years and feeling the medal she had worked so hard to earn, Pickens gave all of her medals to the Terronez family to keep. It was an important symbol of Pickens commitment to her friend.
There are many obstacles in Pickens path. Compounding matters is that she is from a small school and small town.
Pickens will be joining a team of women who mostly hail from the Wichita and Kansas City areas. There are a few small town successes on the team, like Marcus Mater from La Crosse. Wise expects the experience of attending a big university will be eye-opening for Pickens. He hails from a small town in Ohio and said there was a similar shock when he attended Kent State.
“We’re nontraditional,” Wise said of WSU. “Not as many people live on campus. On the weekends, it feels like a small college.”
Pickens may still have a chance to wow spectators in her first season. She said she has carried a Peabody-sized chip on shoulder to state meets. She wanted to represent for her hometown and every small town.
She started practicing with the WSU track team Monday, the first official day of practice. Wise will immediately begin working with Pickens on technique, filming her running form and dissecting the intricacies of each motion to attempt to take seconds off her running times.
“She’s a strong runner,” Wise said. “Her 400 time was better than her 100 time. Something we take time to develop is foot speed. We’re going to work on getting her faster.”
The in-depth training is a change for all college track athletes, Wise said. However, Wise said the most challenging adjustment for freshmen is the schedule.
Starting practice in August and working through June is common for the best Shocker track athletes. WSU competes indoors starting in December and outdoors starting in March. In high school, Pickens’ track season lasted two months, give or take a few days.
“It’s about getting them ready physically,” Wise said.
Along with multiple practices every day, Pickens has the normal rigors of a university student. She is majoring in elementary education and plans to minor in sport and exercise science. Pickens has her priorities in order.
“The most important thing is getting good grades,” Pickens said. “Running comes next.”
Wise talked about a meet where the team will travel to Northern Iowa, about an eight-hour drive. Team members will compete on Sunday, drive home Sunday night, and have to wake up for morning classes the next day. He said upper classmen prepare for such a meet ahead of time, but freshmen are usually drained when the meet is finished.
WSU will travel to Ohio, Arkansas, Texas, and Nebraska this year, Wise said.
Pickens does have several advantages at Wichita State that she did not have in Peabody. At WSU, Pickens will have individualized training, a weightlifting regiment, and nutritional guidelines that she did not have at Peabody.
Wise thinks Pickens would have won state championships at the 6A level. The difference in facilities and training opportunities was severe and could have lowered Pickens’ times.
“One thing as coaches we often miss is when you start developing a culture of winning,” Wise said in comparison to concentrating on event times. “Winning championships is important to me.”
But, Wise expects that Pickens could be frustrated by winning less frequently at Wichita State.
“It was hard for me,” Wise said. “I won 90 percent of the time in high school; in college, I won 5 percent of the time.”
However, Pickens was blowing away her 2A competition the past two seasons. Having runners to chase may encourage Pickens to increase her speed to catch them.
The first runners Pickens will chase as a Shocker will be her teammates. Wise said last year was the best overall group of sprinters the school has produced in its history. With no graduations, that entire group is back this year.
Wise expects Pickens to relate to sprinters Kristina and Jennifer Taylor, junior and sophomore twins from Lawrence, and sophomore Natalie Morerod, from Gardner. Pickens looks up to senior Audacia Moore, from Wichita.
Pickens saw Moore compete in the 6A 100-meter dash for Wichita Heights at state her freshman year. She was impressed by Moore’s speed and grace.
“I want to run with her one time,” Pickens said she thought after the event. “I want to go out and compete with her.”
Moore qualified for the National Championship meet in Oregon last season. She holds five WSU records and was an academic all-American last season.
Like Pickens, Wise said Moore was an unknown talent who competed her freshman year. She turned out to be better than her coaches expected, shaving seconds off her 200 time from high school.
“She may very well be the exception to the rule,” Wise said of Pickens.
However, Wise said WSU coaches will hold the same expectations for Pickens that they reserve for every Shocker freshman. The pressure will be low because the challenges are great.
“The only pressure she she’ll have is the pressure she puts on herself,” Wise said.
Pickens said she is in the best shape of her life heading into this season.
“Lauren is a focused girl,” Wise said. “I have confidence she’ll be fired up.”