Blazing a trail: Spartans' McMeekin competes in two spring sports
The sophomore is playing her main sport, soccer, and running one race per meet for the girls track team.
SUPERIOR — The spring sports season is off to a fast start for the Spartans' Tayler McMeekin.
The sophomore center midfielder scored the Spartans girls soccer team's lone goal in a 6-1 loss April 13 at Rice Lake.
She also broke a few records on the track.
Yep, you read that right. McMeekin is playing soccer and running for the Spartan girls track and field team.
In Ashland on April 10, she set a new fieldhouse record in the 3,200 meter run with a time of 12.02.77. The previous mark was 12.08.58, said coach Kris Leopold.
And on Tuesday, April 18, she broke a record on the Spartans' home turf. In the 3,200 meter run, McMeekin finished in 11 minutes, 40.2 seconds, beating the previous record of 11:51.00 set by Katee Rosberg in 2005.
Hitting the track
When asked why she wanted to try both versus picking one spring offering over the other, McMeekin said it was about the opportunity to try something new while still participating in a sport she loves.
"I knew I really wasn’t going to be able to leave soccer behind. I’ve done it my whole life, and it’s my passion," McMeekin said. "I've always wanted to try track, too, and once I was given the opportunity, I wanted to take it and try it out at least."
So far, besides the difference in atmosphere at a track meet compared to a cross-country meet, McMeekin said the biggest adjustment is the pace of racing shorter distances.
She's also having fun on the track.
"I started out with the mile, and I really liked it and it was really fun," she said. "I just started the two-mile last week and I like that, too."
McMeekin is participating in either the 1,600 or 3,200 meter runs, and she only runs one race per meet, said coach Kris Leopold.
Leopold told the Telegram McMeekin "wasn't even pushing it" when she broke the fieldhouse record in Ashland.
"I definitely still haven’t found my pace," McMeekin said. "I feel like I give it a little at the end, but I need to start a little sooner because by the time I’m done, I feel like I could have pushed it a little bit more."
As a two-time qualifier for the WIAA Division 1 state cross-country meet, McMeekin's talent for distance running is well known. However, adding track splits to her repertoire could help with recruiting for college, Leopold said.
Another important factor to note, he said, is that McMeekin is filling vacant spots on the track team, not bumping athletes from races.
"We can’t fill three spots on the track team with girls who want to run the mile and the two-mile, and if we did ... she probably wouldn’t have been able to come out for track," he said.
How it works
Logistically, one could see challenges with participating in two sports during the same season.
McMeekin's main sport is soccer, so that's what takes priority. She attends soccer practice daily, only missing it when she has a track meet, Spartan girls soccer coach Len Albrecht said.
McMeekin is doing workouts for track in the morning, Leopold said, and the conditioning for the sports complement each other.
"A soccer game or practice you basically run three miles a day, and it’s vice versa for track ... so they’re basically working together," Leopold said.
Should there be a track meet and a soccer game on the same day, McMeekin would be on the soccer field.
With added stress on her body, McMeekin's coaches are keeping an eye out for signs of overexertion, and they're asking McMeekin how her knees feel — a lot.
Knee pain forced McMeekin to complete cross-country workouts in the pool late in her freshman season, and she didn't do much training over the summer, she said.
She spent much of the fall working out in the pool, as well.
McMeekin said her knees have felt good, and if the pain returns, she will let her coaches know.
"I was a little worried that it would come back, but I knew I would take a step back if they started to get worse again," she said.
'Letting Tayler ... be Tayler'
Leopold and Albrecht said McMeekin is the first athlete they've coached who has participated in two spring sports.
For them, it comes back to what's best for McMeekin.
"It was a rough road for the past few months, I’m not going to lie, but once we got all the coaches and (activities director) Ella (Olson) on the same track, they understood that it’s not about Coach Leo and Coach Tyler (Anderson) wanting to win; it’s about not letting this kid get held back and letting her do her thing ... She’s out there in her own lane showing what she can do," Leopold said. "It’s not about winning a track meet; it’s about letting Tayler go out there and be Tayler."
"From my aspect, it’s what’s best for the athlete and what the athlete wants," he said.
The sophomore said she's thankful for the support she's received from the administration, her coaches, her teammates and her family.
"Both of my teams and both of my coaches respect my decisions and I could not ask for a more understanding group ... And of course, my parents have been very open-minded about the situation and continue to push me to my best potential every day, even if it means they are making spaghetti for me twice a week!" McMeekin said via text message.