Whatever it is, Indiana high school girls are faster than ever, and there are more of them.
Heading into Tuesday’s IHSAA track and field regionals, there are six active sprinters, five from the Indianapolis area, who own age-group national titles:
► Brebeuf Jesuit senior Semira Killebrew (signed with North Carolina).
► Warren Central seniors Mikeisha Covington (uncommitted) and Prommyse Hoosier (Tennessee).
► Hamilton Southeastern senior Tierra Sydnor (Hawaii).
► North Central freshman Ramiah Elliott.
► Fort Wayne Northrop junior Tionna Brown, who transferred from Kokomo.
All six advanced to regionals in the 100, 200 or 400 meters except for Sydnor, who set a long jump record and won the 300-meter hurdles at the HSE Sectional. Killebrew has the state’s top times in the 100 and 200 (11.50/23.98) and Elliott in the 400 (55.22). Killebrew is defending state champion in the 100 and Brown in the 200.
National titles by Hoosier and Sydnor were in the long jump and 400-meter hurdles, respectively. The above don’t include Center Grove junior Kiyah Yeast, who won a sprint double in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, the state’s strongest league.
“A lot of the girls here in Indiana are national-level athletes, too,” Yeast said.
The rise can in part be attributed to Pike’s Lynna Irby, who swept the 100, 200 and 400 four times from 2014-17. She belonged to the Indiana Storm, the same summer club that produced Killebrew and Elliott.
“I think Lynna did a lot for the sport. Because everybody was just trying to keep up with her,” Warren Central coach Le’gretta Smith said.
After Irby led Pike over Warren Central 50-48 at the 2015 state meet, the Warriors resolved never to lose to one sprinter again.
Olympic gold medalist Maicel Malone of North Central dominated the mid-1980s, but there was not a comparable surge influencing the entire state.
California, with a warmer climate and six times the population, has its state meet on the same weekend as Indiana. California inevitably has more depth, but Indiana’s girls start catching up by end of spring.
“When you think of track states, you don’t often think of Indiana,” Killebrew said. “We have a lot of girls who can keep up with those other girls.”
Irby’s times skew Indiana’s average — but not by that much.
IndyStar looked at the past three state meets for California and Indiana with these findings:
► In the 100 meters, average times for California were 11.48 for first, 11.71 for fourth and 11.83 for sixth. Indiana’s respective averages: 11.49, 11.95, 12.13.
► In the 200, California averages were 23.44 for first, 23.82 for fourth and 24.05 for sixth. Indiana: 23.60, 24.61, 24.94.
Michael Vinson, the North Central sprint coach, directs the Indiana Storm. He is a native Californian who travels each April to watch the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational.
“There’s a lot of teams and athletes that can go out there and compete. It’s just too early,” Vinson said. “We’re going to run the same times that they are.”
As recently as a decade ago, Indiana’s state title in the 200 meters was won in 25.16 seconds. In preliminaries of the MIC meet, six girls were under 25 seconds. Thus it might take 25.00 or faster just to make the cut to nine state finalists.
In the 2017 state meet, six girls were at 12.00 or faster in the 100.
Quantity of sprinters might be new, but quality is not. In the past decade, three women from Marion County have run to NCAA titles: Candyce McGrone (Warren Central/Oklahoma); Ashley Spencer (Lawrence North/Illinois); Irby (Pike/Georgia).
There have also been All-Americans such as Purdue’s Brionna Thomas (Fort Wayne Wayne) and Indiana State’s Katie Wise (Indian Creek). Wise dropped her 100 meters to 11.23 in college.
“I won state back in 2011 with an 11.91. I’ve seen how competitive state meets have gotten,” said Wise, now a coach at Marian University.
When she was in high school, Wise said, she did not know summer track “was a thing.” And she never did weightlifting. Coaching has become more scientific, she said.
Steve Smith, a Warren Central assistant, said the influence of coaching is underscored by large turnouts for clinics in Indiana. College recruiters have noticed.
“The No. 1 thing that they say, our kids at Warren in particular, is our kids are prepared to go,” he said. “They will tell you that Indiana kids are tough because their championship is one day. They’ve got six hours to get it done.”
Private coaches have also been a factor. Killebrew and Yeast have trained at Beast Performance, a Southside facility owned by Jason Werner, a former Purdue football player who was 2004 IndyStar Mr. Football for Roncalli.
For more on this story visit our partners at the Indianapolis Star right here.