Elijah Brown wasn’t satisfied with his freshman season of track and field.
As a member of the Tomah track team, Brown spent his time as a sprinter while also regularly competing in the long jump and triple jump. But his overall performance, mainly when it came to sprinting, didn’t sit right with him.
So, Brown decided to spend the offseason doing something about it.
“Last year I wasn’t very good at all. It kind of frustrated me, so I watched a lot of videos on how to get faster,” Brown said. “I did a lot of stuff in the offseason and, once I got on the track this year, it was a lot different.”
Those videos included a variety of runners, but he found particular value in watching Baily Hyatt, his former teammate and Tomah’s top sprinter who graduated last spring.
“I had videos of us running together. I’d watch his form and I would go outside and run and try to make mine look like his,” Brown said of Hyatt. “I would also watch different runners and put the video in slow motion, look where their foot was hitting the ground, how high they’d bring it up — stuff like that. I’d try to replicate it on the street.”
That hard work in the offseason has helped him qualify for state as a sophomore — a path that began with strong performances right from the start this spring.
His level of dedication certainly wasn’t lost on his coaches.
“We can say go on Hudl, watch film, but really it’s few kids who will actually do it,” said Tomah head boys’ track and field coach Jon Heesch. “For him to do it on his own, unprovoked really — it just shows how serious he is at his craft and how good he wants to be.”
Collin Eswein, a 2015 graduate of Tomah High School and son of former Tomah head track coach Eric Eswein, came aboard as an assistant coach at his alma mater this year and is the team’s lead sprinters coach.
Eswein took on the role after Jared Sasada — who previously coached 2020 Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Kenny Bednarek during his high school days at Rice Lake — was unable to coach for the Timberwolves this spring.
While he says that Brown tends to be a reserved, levelheaded kid, Eswein also notes that he is passionate about constantly improving and will ask plenty of questions in that pursuit.
“He’s always very curious of how he can get better. I see that, not just in track, but in lifting — I see he’s in the weight room and wants to know why he’s doing a certain lift,” Eswein said. “I know he’s big into football as well and always wanting to improve. When you have that drive to improve, you look for any way.”
Brown’s state potential became evident throughout the season and even more so after he placed first in the 100-meter dash and second in the 200-meter dash at the tough Mississippi Valley Conference meet.
He repeated that performance at the Division 1 Sauk Prairie regional to put him on the cusp of qualifying for state in both events at the Baraboo sectional meet. For as even keeled as he may usually be, Brown admitted his nerves were high going into Baraboo until he was lined up and ready for his first race.
“I was nervous throughout the entire bus ride and all that, but once I got into my block and the starter told us to get set, I was just flowing with confidence pretty randomly,” Brown said. “I just knew that it was going to be alright. I was going to make it.”
Brown won the 100-meter dash and rode that wave of confidence to another second-place finish in the 200-meter dash to punch his ticket to state in both events.
The Baraboo sectional did not use one of the two main timing systems typically used at Wisconsin high school track meets — AccuRace Timing and PrimeTime Timing — and it likely led to some wonky results in the boys’ 100-meter dash, where every competitor easily outran their seeding times and set personal bests.
Though even if the times from that sectional race — and thus the state seeded heat sheets — are a bit off, it doesn’t change the fact that Brown won a sectional title.
He will move on to compete at the 2022 WIAA State Track & Field Championships, which are set to take place Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse.
In both of his state events, he will be one of 24 Division 1 competitors split amongst three heats in Friday’s prelims. Ten individuals from those prelims in each event will advance on to Saturday’s finals, and Brown’s coaches are hopeful that he can be around for the weekend.
Eswein is plenty familiar with big stages from his time with the Tomah and the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire track teams. When it comes to advice for Brown handling the environment that comes with the substantial crowd at La Crosse’s Veterans Memorial Stadium, Eswein will harken back to advice his dad gave him before his first state track meet.
“When you get to state, you gotta take in the moment,” Eswein said. “You need to let yourself be nervous and then, an hour and a half before the race starts, it’s time to lock in and you’re worried about what you need to do and how you can run your race.”
For his part, Brown wants to do his best to keep his expectations in check going in and enjoy the experience to cap off his sophomore season. Of course, he’ll want to give it his all, but he also understands this is just another step in that perpetual quest for improvement.
“I don’t want to say I’m going to do really well or say I’m going to do really bad. I’m just going to go there and whatever happens, happens,” Brown said. “Even if I do bad, I’m still happy to be there for the experience for next year and the year after that.”
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