High School Sports Report has named Heathwood Girls Track & Field Coach Willis Ware 2017 SCISA AAA Coach of the Year, Senior Rachael Whittaker Miss SC Track, Junior Maryah Nasir AAA Track Athlete of the Year, and Junior Nadia Deas to the HSSR-SCISA All-State Girls Track Team.
Those awards cap off a season in which the Lady Highlanders won the state championship after being state runner-up four years in a row. Heathwood finished 2nd in the 2016 state meet by 1 point and won the 2017 meet by 8 points. Deas’ long jump of 16’8” in the state meet established a new school record, while Nasir turned in 3 1st place finishes in the distance events and Whittaker was the meet’s highest point scorer for the 3rd consecutive year.
“Being state runner up can be a real bummer or it can be an amazing motivator,” said Coach Ware. “For the last four years, our team has overachieved, then lost top talent. This year was different because we had all our top point scorers returning. So we went into the season feeling like this was our year. The girls worked very hard and came out on top.”
Heathwood was the only school to ear the trifecta of Coach of the Year, Miss Track, and Athlete of the Year. While the team featured 10 graduating seniors who will be hard to replace, it also featured younger students like Morgan Goodwin, Janie Hicks, and Taylor Smith who earned points with strong performances, and seasoned veterans like Nasir, Deas, Idalia Hanna, and Shaniya Parker, who should be poised to continue their outstanding work next year.
“Over the years I’ve coached the team, it’s been really neat to see how the older girls pull in the younger girls and not only make them feel at home in the program but also pass on a culture of working hard and competing hard and doing your best which has built the team’s tradition of sustained success,” Ware said.
As for his own success as a coach, Ware says the overall culture of Heathwood athletics significantly enhances his ability to motivate and inspire his athletes to achieve their best. “The school’s ethos of helping students be their best selves spills over into athletics. We all understand that it’s not just about winning and losing and it’s not about the coach. It’s about the kids. And we all understand there’s so much more to the athletic experience than ‘we won a state championship.’ All the things that go into a winning performance—the perseverance, hard work, overcoming adversity—that’s what’s important in the development of our student athletes. And there are really good things that happen with student athletes when coaches understand that what we’re doing transcends championships.”