When Brent Carroll met LaSonja Collins, he was an infant and she was a teenage track-and-field star breaking records and winning state titles.
That was about 15 years ago, when Carroll’s sister and Collins were members of the same youth track and field program.
Carroll now has just finished his junior season on the Phillip O. Berry Academy track and field team, where Collins has just completed her first year as head coach.
Two weeks ago, Carroll placed third in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles at the 4A outdoor track and field championships. The week before, at regionals, he won the 110 hurdles and was runner-up in the 300 hurdles.
Both athlete and coach consider 2015 a breakout season for Carroll.
“My season was pretty good this year, much better than last year,” said Carroll. “I hit a personal record about every time I ran.
“I had great coaching. Coach Collins got me where I needed to be. She helped me get my feet on the ground between hurdles.”
“I think he had an incredible season,” Collins said. “We set goals from the time we met through the state championships.
“I know he can go faster. We still have things he can perfect. Going into his senior season, he’s on time right now.”
Collins was a state-champion sprinter at Independence High in the late 1990s and a standout at the University of Georgia. She was a member of the Charlotte Flights youth track and field program, as were Carroll and his sister Brittany, who was a state-champion hurdler and sprinter at Harding University High in the late 2000s.
“I’ve known Brent since when he was an infant,” said Collins, 33. “We had no idea we’d have this relationship. I remember him being in the stands all the time. He had a sister that was really fast. I remember him being in his mom’s arms, looking so cute. Now he’s my athlete.”
During Carroll’s freshman year, Berry was classified 3A. At the Midwest Regional, Carroll and Cardinals teammates Derrick Boyce and Rafael Leake finished second, third and fourth, respectively, in the 110 hurdles to qualify for the state meet. At states, Carroll placed fifth, two spots behind Boyce.
Last year, Carroll strained his left hamstring running the 4x200-meter relay during the first meet of the season. He sat out more than a month but returned in time to qualify for the 4A West Regional meet, where he placed third in the 110 hurdles.
The son of Curtis and Tonya Carroll, Brent was told by his parents a couple days before the state meet that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, a reccurrence of what she had fought off seven years ago. Carroll ran 14th in the preliminaries at state and failed to make the finals.
Carroll opened his junior year with a clear mind, however, as his mother was declared cancer free and he was able to concentrate on running.
Carroll completed the 2015 indoor track and field season with a second-place finish in the 55-meter hurdles at the 4A state meet. Entering the outdoor season, he established goals of running a 110 hurdles time near 14 seconds and a 300 hurdles time of just over 37 seconds.
At the 4A state championships, Carroll ran personal bests of 14.17 in the 110 hurdles and 37.93 in the 300 hurdles, good enough for third in both.
“It showed me what I was capable of doing,” Carroll said. “I feel if I could do it in high school this year, over summer I could gradually get faster and faster. Even though I didn’t win at states, I’m still happy with what I accomplished.”
Carroll will be competing for the newly formed Premier Track Club, which is coached by Collins and practices at West Charlotte High.
Collins said she wants to perfect Carroll’s technique from hurdle to hurdle.
“Normally it’s three steps, but it’s getting the feet down quickly and not over striding,” Collins said.
“This summer, we’re trying to get out of 14-second range,” she said. “We want to get 13.9, 13.8 going into his senior year. That’s getting over the last hurdle and to the finish line.
“I have no doubt he can do it. He just has to train hard, like he’s done all year.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.