Sometime Saturday afternoon in eastern North Carolina, the greatest female track and field athlete in the history of Providence Day School will run her final high school race.
Anna Cockrell, 18, entered this week’s N.C. Independent Schools state championships at Campbell University having won 12 state titles in three years and having led her team to three straight team championships. In her best event, the 400-meter hurdles, Cockrell has won the 2015 Pan-American games junior championship in Alberta, Canada – running against a field of mostly college runners – and she’s won the prestigious Penn Relays.
Her best 400-meter hurdle time this season, 57.38 seconds, is the sixth-best time in the world for runners under 20 years old this year.
“When I started running in sixth grade, I never imagined that I’d make a USA Junior National Team and travel abroad and represent my country,” Cockrell said. “I’ve been given a lot of opportunities because of this sport. I never thought it would go this far, but I’d say I’m not surprised, because my entire family has high expectations and sets high goals for ourselves. We play sports, and when we commit, we’re really committing. I knew when I started, I wanted to be great. I don’t believe in mediocrity so I was going to be the best.”
Cockrell, an A student, comes from a successful family, led by her mother, Serena. Cockrell’s sister, Ciera, plays volleyball at Davidson. Her father, Kieth, who played football at Columbia University, is an executive with Bank of America. Her brother, Ross, who played football at Charlotte Latin and Duke, is now a defensive back with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Anna Cockrell, who signed to run at Southern California, dreams of being a professional track athlete and an Olympian. Her high school coach, Carol Lawrence – who holds elite coaching certifications from USA Track and Field and the International Association of Athletics Federations – says Cockrell is on pace for everything she wants.
“If she keeps up with her attitude and her work ethic, and given the right coaching, she’ll get there,” said Lawrence, who was a three-time track All-American in college at the New York Institute of Technology. “Look at where she’s come in four years, from unknown to national quality (talent). She just wants it. She has that desire to be so much better every time. Every year she gets better.”
Last year, Cockrell had two of the nation’s top five fastest times for high school girls in the 100 hurdles (13.21) and the 300 hurdles (41.31) and was named the Observer’s 2015 girls track runner of the year.
During indoor track season last winter, Cockrell ran the state’s fastest times in the 55-meter dash (6.97), the 300 (38.78) and 55 hurdles (7.70). The 55-meter hurdle time was tops in the nation last winter. The 55-meter dash was top five, and the 300-meter time ranked sixth nationally. Sports Illustrated, the national magazine, did a short story on her.
So guess who was the Observer’s indoor track athlete of the year?
“She’s is an amazing athlete and an amazing young lady personally,” said Charlotte Christian coach Tiara Butler, who once ran with future Olympic runners at Tennessee. “At an early age, she takes her events very seriously, almost as a job. She has a focus like no other. She’s going to be something great.”
The perfect frame
Cockrell is almost 6 feet tall, blessed with a nearly perfect sprinting frame. Athleticism runs in her family, and she’s worked hard with Lawrence to build on it. Besides the 150 pushups and 300 abdominal crunches she does daily, she works with Lawrence religiously, on the track and in the weight room, to make herself better.
And Lawrence believes Cockrell has plenty of room to improve.
“Sometimes people are in awe of her, people from other teams,” Lawrence said. “They say, ‘I’m gonna go for second place.’...What she tries to do mostly is work on certain parts of her race. What concerns her more is executing those parts. For us, it’s not preparing for the N.C. meet, we’re preparing for the bigger (national and international) meets.”
A heavy favorite
To Lawrence’s point, at the most recent Charlotte Independent Schools conference championship, Cockrell won the 100 hurdles in 13.67 seconds. Second place was 16.37. Cockrell won the 100 meters by nearly half a second, which is like winning a football game by 30.
At the state meet, Cockrell plans to run the 100 and 300 hurdles, and the 100 and 200 meters. She’ll be heavily favored. But what she cares most about is helping Providence Day win the team title again. Lawrence talks about how often she’ll see Cockrell stop what she’s doing in practice to correct a teammate, about how much her star athlete cares about everyone else.
And as great as she’s been, the best female track and field athlete ever at Providence Day wants to be remembered that way – as a good teammate, and a good friend.
“We tell stories about the people who graduated before,” Cockrell said, “and we laugh and smile and talk about their positive attitude and how they got us through workouts. Hopefully, I made people feel good, too, the way people did for me when I was younger. I just hope they remember that I worked hard and loved the school and really loved my team.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Anna Cockrell’s Key Career Accomplishments
USA Junior Champion in 400m Hurdles - 2015
Pan-American Junior Champion in 400m hurdles - 2015
USA Junior National team member; Caribbean Scholastic Invitational team member
Gatorade NC Athlete of the Year - 2015
All-American in 60m hurdles (indoor), 200m (indoor), 100m hurdles, and 400m hurdles
12-time NCISAA state champion
400-meter Penn Relay champion
Indoor Track: fastest 55-meter hurdle time in nation last winter