Lake Norman & Mooresville

Mustangs keep up with winning tradition

Deep inside the confines of the East Lincoln boys' track team locker room, there is a wall that lists the accomplishments, records and championships from years of Mustang achievements.

Every day, the current East Lincoln track team sees that wall before a practice or meet, and hopes that their name will be painted into Mustang lore.

"To be painted on that wall, you have to win a state championship or be state runner-up or win something big as a team," said East Lincoln track coach Lonnie Custer. "I think all of our kids want to be on that wall because they know what it means to be there, that you are a part of history."

This season, the 2011 version of the East Lincoln boys' track team is making a name for itself, having won the Mustangs' sixth consecutive Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference title and third straight 2A West Regional championship.

Senior Braether Cline was a big part of both championships, as the SPC most valuable track athlete won regional titles in both the 1600-meter run with a personal-best 4:31.

Junior Marcus McDowell was the only other individual event winner at regionals for the Mustangs, taking the 400-meter title.

Cline and McDowell were key members of the 4 X 400-relay team, which won the regional championship. Will Krehnbrink and Brandon Williams were the other members of the relay squad, which clinched the regional meet for the Mustangs.

They held only a two-point lead against South Iredell going into that final event.

Custer, the SPC coach of the year for the sixth time, was proud of his team's effort.

"I always tell our team that they are running for more than just themselves," said Custer. "They owe it to all the guys that have come before them to do their best, to uphold the tradition of East Lincoln track."

While the Mustangs' track tradition is strong now, it wasn't always this way, when Custer took over the program six years ago.

"When I first got here, track was just something people did in the spring to get ready for football or to stay in shape for other sports," the coach said. "Now, it's a season, especially spring, that people look forward to and set goals for."

East Lincoln athletic director Mike Byus said the challenges that Custer has tackled, all while being successful on the track, speak to the type of coach he is.

"Building up the numbers and getting the kids to want to run track was his first challenge when he took over," said Byus. "Now that he has got things rolling, it's a lot easier. But coach Custer keeps working hard on the individual athlete. He is very versatile as a coach with his ability to coach all 18 events. That is what makes him such a great coach."

One of Custer's main goals since he arrived at East Lincoln was to have a home track. The Mustangs' track had been condemned because of its poor condition.

While a lot of programs would use the lack of facilities as a reason to give less than their best effort, Custer and his teams channeled it in a different direction.

"It was tough not having our track for so long," said Custer. "But I think our kids kind of had a chip on their shoulder when we would run anywhere else. They wanted to prove to everybody that they didn't need a home track to be great."

This year, the Mustangs got an asphalt track, allowing them to practice and have home meets for the first time since Custer arrived.

The Mustangs needed no extra motivation to excel at home and again proved that they are among the state's best 2A track teams in 2011.

"I remember when teams would ask us where East Lincoln was and how long we'd had a team," Custer said. "But I think we have proved ourselves and other teams and coaches know exactly who we are and what we are capable of."

If the East Lincoln track team needs any motivation to keep that up, they need to look no further than the wall in their locker room to realize what they are running for.

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer for Mooresville News. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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