Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Texas Relays: Northwest senior sets fast pace for sophomore teammate
JUSTIN — They’re on the same track now, Troy Taylor the Justin Northwest senior and Zach Kirkland the sophomore, trailing on the right side just a bit. This is practice. But the scene could play out at any meet, and does.
Taylor and Kirkland are cornerstones for Justin Northwest, and that’s because both need each other in this lone year where both are running distance races at a high level, as they will in the distance medley relay and 4x800-meter relay at the Texas Relays this weekend. The senior has always been ready to lead by example, and the younger runner has long been anxious to learn.
“It’s given me someone to run with,” Taylor said. “I like helping him because I know when I get out of here he’s going to blow my records away.”
Justin Northwest was not quite an unmarked destination on the distance runner map before Taylor came. It had produced runners like Britt Koestler, who went on to perform in college. But Taylor arrived at about the same time coach George Lutkenhaus was starting to get the feel of governing a cross country program, and Taylor was his star freshman.
He ran well enough to finish third at his district meet in the 3,200-meter run that first year. As a sophomore, he had few teammates to train with, though he heard about a kid excelling at the middle school level.
As a seventh- and eighth-grader, Kirkland was obsessed with breaking the marks of Taylor. Nearly every practice, he would ask his coach, Jeff Lahey, if they could try a workout in which he could challenge one of Taylor’s best times.
“My coach just knew them by heart,” Kirkland said, “and he had to know them by heart because I asked him all the time.”
As a freshman cross country runner, Kirkland began the year in the “B” training group, a step behind Taylor’s “A” training group. Within two weeks, Kirkland had moved up.
By the track season last year, Kirkland was finishing workouts a few paces behind Taylor. Now, he’s right there on Taylor’s hip, trailing by just a bit in every practice, like when Taylor and Kirkland ran a series of quarter and half miles the other day, doing each at a 4:20 mile pace.
Training together, each has started running his best times. Taylor has set two personal records this spring: a 4:14 in the 1,600 that is the area’s best time and 9:14 in the 3,200. Kirkland has done the same: a 4:18 in the 1,600 and 9:28 in the 3,200.
Next year, Taylor plans to run track at North Texas. Kirkland will continue to chase his older teammate’s legacy.
“We’re going to miss Troy a lot,” Lutkenhaus said, “but at the same time, Zach being here and learning things the right way from somebody like Troy, the next couple of years are going to be phenomenal.”