They will compete in USA Track and Field’s Junior Olympics, which begin Monday in Humble, Texas. The Junior Grizzlies’ athletes will be joined at the national event by Henry “Trey” Bray, a 12-year-old high jumper and hurdler in the Sequoyah junior program.
Naomi Daugherty (javelin, 13-14), Reilly MacNeill (high jump, 13-14), Brisbane Harrell (javelin, 13-14) and Rawson MacNeill (long jump, high jump, 9-10) all qualified based on their performances at a regional meet in Rock Hill, S.C.
It’s been a long road for the athletes, who began their preparation in March and went through several qualifying rounds to reach the Junior Olympics.
Daugherty, who also qualified for nationals in 2013, has been a part of the Junior Grizzlies for four years. She participates in several events, but only qualified for nationals in the javelin.
While no longer a sanctioned high school event in Georgia, the javelin was something Daugherty took to naturally, and she now throws it with ease.
“Working to get my form right helped, so that is how I got good at throwing (the javelin),” said Daugherty, who added that her favorite part of being on the team is the camaraderie. “I like how everyone will cheer you on if you are in last, and if you are in first, everybody will just support you and help out.”
Daugherty hopes the experience she had from competing at the Junior Olympics last year will help her this time around. She may also benefit from being one of the older girls in the 13-14 age division. Last year, she was a year younger than many of the competitors.
Daugherty qualified for nationals by placing fifth at the regional. Though she fell 20 feet short of her personal record, she hopes for a better showing at the national meet.
Even though Daugherty won’t be able to compete in the javelin at Creekview, she hopes to join the high school’s track and field program as a freshman next spring.
“Javelin is my best event, but I also do some running events,” she said.
Harrell also compete in the javelin, while MacNeill does the high jump.
Daugherty’s mother, Naomi, is one of the coaches for the Junior Grizzlies program. She feels that, based on their seeds, both her daughter and Harrell have the potential to place nationally in their events.
“We have this thing called the Great Grizzlies in our program, where kids get to come out and try every event,” Robin Daugherty said. “A few years ago, it turned out that they both tried javelin, and they are really good at it. They will continue to compete through high school in the youth program, but not as a part of the high school.”
Reilly MacNeill, who will also be at nationals for the second straight year, has talent as well. She won her age division at the regional meet and is currently tied for the top high jump in the country at 5 feet, 3 inches.
MacNeill’s father, Randall, said that, of the 340 ranked high jumpers in the nation, only about 25 girls who will compete in a given age group at nationals.
“In high jump, she just goes at her time, and they duke it out right there,” Randall MacNeill said. “They split them into two pits and go right through it. This is the junior Olympic nationals, this is the pinnacle for them.”
Rawson MacNeill, Reilly’s brother, became the first Junior Grizzlies athlete to qualify in multiple events for nationals when he advanced from the regional meet in the long jump and high jump.
A year ago, Chase Burr, then a member of the Junior Grizzlies Youth Track team, won the 11-12 high jump a year ago.