Girls Track: Greene County’s Durbin looks to defend titles, build new relationships
By BRANDON HURLEY
Megan Durbin thought the high jump wasn’t for her.
Four years ago, she was just a pre-teen chasing the glory of a sprinter.
The accolades and championships were far off in the distance – a young Durbin was just hoping to bide her time until the 100-meter. Staying grounded was her way to the top, or so she thought.
The reining state champion, Drake Relays title holder and one of Greene County’s most bubbly personalities dragged her feet, quite literally.
Greene County seventh grade girls’ track coach Roger Olhausen should, in fact, be credited for jump-starting an illustrious career. He was the one who first put Durbin in the event that would launch a state title, a Drake Relays championship and one of several conference titles.
But Durbin wasn’t too pleased with Olhausen’s choice back in middle school, she refused to work at it and just went through the motions.
The athlete who brought home Jefferson’s first state title in any sport since 1994 last spring got off to a rocky start.
But, Durbin stuck with it and her first taste of real success came under the guidance of Greene County eighth grade coach Theresa Green. The dominoes started to fall in Durbin’s favor as she gave the high jump another chance.
“[Coach Green] taught me the form and everything and I started winning,” Durbin said. “I don’t think I lost once that year, so I thought, I should probably do this, I’m decent at it.”
Her triumphs only only grew from there. A second place finish at the state meet in 2015 greeted Durbin in her freshman year.
She was on the cusp of greatness entering her sophomore campaign.
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Durbin’s rambunctious personality helps counter act her near crippling bout with nerves each meet. her keep an even keel as she waits for her turn to jump. She’ll mingle with her competitors, shooting the breeze like old friends while waiting around between jumps. It subconsciously focuses her on the task at hand.
It’s not just meaningless conversation either, she’s out there coaching the girls, the same ones trying to beat her.
“I’m a people person, I just talk to them, all the time,” Durbin said. “I usually try helping the other girls. If they hit the bar, I’ll tell them ‘hey, this is what hit the bar and this is what you need to do.’ We just talk about random stuff, where they are from, what they like to do and how nervous we are about the jump.”
Durbin initiates most of the conversations, It helps lighten the mood. She’s more than aware it’s just high school track.
“It’s not fun if you don’t talk to other people, stern face the whole time,” Durbin said. “I don’t like that.”
Her coach, Kelly Simpson, welcomes her outgoing personality, even if she is chalking it up with the competition. That personality has brought nothing but good will toward Greene County and helped her gain several new fans along the way.
“She’s a good ambassador for the team,” Simpson said. “Last year at Drake, she was just visiting with kids, giggling and having a good time. Everyone became part of her fan base and they were cheering for her and were happy for her when she got on that roll. It really makes a good impression on our school and on our team.
The state champion’s outgoing personality doesn’t take away from her competitiveness though. Like many great athletes, Durbin is also her harshest critic. She knows there’s room for improvement, but also realizes she may have to temper her expectations night-in and night-out.
“I’m an overthinker, so I want to not overthink anything. I need to have the mentally that’s OK if [I] don’t do my best every meet and it’s OK if someone beats [me],” she said. “That’s just how it is. There’s always going to be someone better out there and it’s totally OK.”
Keeping the same routine helps calm her nerves as well. Durbin loads up on carbs each night before a meet, usually with pasta, though she ate a Subway sandwich at the Drake Relays and the state meet last spring. When the day arrives, she lets her instincts take over. There’s no outside noise, not even music, using prayers to help guide her as well.
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The records fell at an alarming rate last spring. Down went the school high jump record of 5-06 at the Drake Relays. A Drake Relays championship followed with a new high water mark of 5-08. It was then on to three Heart of Iowa Conference titles after later culminating with her 3A high jump state championship back in Des Moines.
It all happened so suddenly, Durbin didn’t even have much of a chance to drink it all in. She still finds it hard to believe, almost 12 months later. The magnitude of the moment at the blue oval inside Drake Stadium helped push her through.
“I don’t know how it happened,” Durbin said. “Honestly, since I had jumped so well at the Drake Relays and had never jumped those heights before, my adrenaline was through the roof. At state, I was happy that I won but I was mad that I didn’t do better because I knew I could. I wasn’t as excited, but I should’ve won state if I won Drake.”’
Durbin is just scratching the surface of her potential.
Her offseason regime consisted of a heavy amount of lifting, increasing her vertical and form. Volleyball helps strengthen her leap, as she takes off from her left foot when she rises for a kill. She hits the weight room, three days a week, year-round.
Though she takes just eight strides – five straight on and three curving around to make the leap – before she rises high into the spring sky, there’s several tiny factors to consider if she wants to clear the bar. It may look like a simple jump, but Durbin knows it’s much more than that.
Is she leaving the ground at the perfect, most efficient moment? Is her body positioned correctly once she clears the bar? To Durbin, these are a few, of many, things that she can work on as her junior campaign gets underway.
“This year I’m trying to focus more on turning my shoulders. I had the worst time last year trying to arch and kick at the right time,” she said. “I’m kicking a lot better. Hopefully I can put it all together. There are so many things going on, it’s a whole lot. A lot more than it looks like.”
The biggest obstacles Durbin’s had to overcome since securing her titles has been nagging injuries. She’s recovering from an injured left ankle and hip injury as well as a tweaked left knee – the weight room has helped her recuperate faster.
In her first two years of high school competition, Durbin has reached new heights each season. She crushed the 4-10 mark her freshman year, then consistently hit five-foot last spring. Coach Simpson wants her to focus on 5-02 this year, with even loftier heights if she hopes to defend her title.
“Let’s get consistent at the 5-02 height and see if we can’t get back up to that 5-08,” Simpson said. “That was a monster jump so that’s going to be hard to repeat. There’s a good crop of high jumpers right now. The big thing for her is do the best she can. It’s tough to repeat, tougher than to do it for the first time.”
Keeping that even keel should lead Durbin to even greater heights.
“Don’t worry if you miss an early high, don’t worry about everybody else,” Simpson said. “Go out and compete against Megan, and if [she] does that, she’s going to be fine.”
The junior is the first state champion in any sport since Jefferson-Scranton consolidated with East Greene High School back in 2012 to become Greene County High School.
Coach Simpson sees how special of an athlete Durbin can become.
“I’ve had a lot of good athletes since I’ve been here and they are really good students in the class room,” Simpson said. “Good individuals, they work hard for you. They are special kids and you don’t get them all that often, especially a school this size, so when you get them, you better enjoy it.
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Durbin’s talents aren’t restricted to one event either. She also qualified for state in the 100-meter while the sprint medley team of Melanie Doran, Laurin Lyons, Durbin and senior Olvia Hansen qualified as well. That relay team came in 14th at state with a time of 1:52.49. The Greene County school record sits at 1:50.73, and each member of that state-qualifying quartet is back. Hansen helped set the record 2015 with Mollie Sorber, Emma Saddoris and Emily Christensen. Durbin won conference titles in the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash as well.
The Rams return a strong core of record-setting runners this spring, finishing fourth as a team at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet last spring.
Hansen is the current record-holder in the 200-meter (26.10) and the 400-meter (59.88), setting the pair of records in 2015 and 2014, respectively. She was also a member of several record-setting relay teams. She holds the record in the 4x100-meter (51.18), the 4x200-meter relay (1:46.83) and the sprint medley (1:50.73), the 4x400-meter relay (4:14.25) in 2014 and the distance medley (4:38.83).
Chantel Flack returns as the school-record holder in the 800-meter, running a 2:30.34 in 2016. Flack was also member of the record-setting 4x800-meter relay team (10:44.76) in 2015.
“I like the strength we have in the individual entries,” Simpson said. “But we need to find some depth and quality from the freshman class to help strengthen the relays.”
Simpson, who has been at the helm of Greene County track for 32 years, is hanging it up following the spring season. The Rams won a state team title in 1994 under his rein along with 13 conference titles and five district championships, the most recent in 2014. Greene County last won a conference title in 2006, as Jefferson-Scranton.
Simpson would love to go out with one more bang.
“Our goal is simple – get better every day,” he said. “However, with this being my last season before I retire, I want to make sure that things are in place for the next coach to have a good foundation to work with.”
For Durbin, even if the records continue to fall this spring, she’ll still be humble as can be. She wants to improve and grow her personality.
“I’d really like to focus on my form and I’m really excited to see the competition,” she said. “I’m not too worried about how I’ll do. I’m looking forward to the people I’m going to meet. Of course, it’d be awesome, but who knows what will happen.
Greene County opened the 2017 track season at the Ram Early Bird Invite March 27 in Jefferson. They will now hit the road for a few weeks until the Ram Relays. The Ram Relays are scheduled for Monday, April 17 at the Jefferson High School track. Greene County will host ADM, Boone, Carroll, East Sac County and Adair-Casey/Guthrie Center.
Durbin captured the high jump title clearing 4-10 while finishing third in the 100-meter dash and fifth in the 400-meter hurdles.
The Drake Relays are set for April 26-29 in Des Moines.
The possible state qualifying sites in 3A, which will take place May 11, are:
Denison-Schleswig, Marion, Mount Pleasant, North Polk (Alleman), Norwalk, Pella, Spirit Lake and Waverly-Shell Rock.
The state track meet, for all classes, is the following week, May 18-20 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.