By Jeff Nations
It didn't take Rick Lytton long to do a head count of his Central High School boys track and field team in Harrisonburg for the Group 3A state meet.
Justin Bauserman? Check.
Josh Gum? Present.
Travis Cooper? Yep, ready to go.
And that was it, end of list for Lytton. The longtime Falcons coach brought just three athletes to the state competition, but the old adage of quality over quantity proved all too true in this case. Those three seniors combined for an impressive 22 points in the two-day competition to boost Central to a stellar 10th-place finish.
It was a satisfying ending to Lytton's 32nd season as Central's head coach and 39th year at the school. For the Falcons' amazing finish and consistency throughout the season, Lytton is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Boys Track and Field Coach of the Year.
Bauserman, who chipped in with a fourth-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles and was sixth in the 110 hurdles, was amazed with Central's team finish.
"That's awesome, to come with three guys and finish 10th in the state, especially when you're seeing some teams with 20 or 30 athletes," Bauserman said. "It shows we had a little bit of talent, I guess."
It also shows that Lytton knew how to make the most of his available talent, a skill he exhibited much sooner than the final state competition.
The Falcons picked up early-season momentum by defeating their area rivals in the Ram Country Invitational on April 5, but May was truly a dominant month for the Falcons. Lytton's boys squad opened the month by winning the Stonewall Jackson Invitational on May 2, followed just five days later by winning the Shenandoah County Meet. Central scored a second-place finish in the Bull Run District meet, then did the same in the Conference 28 meet before heading into the 3A East regional championships. Even against that loaded field, the Falcons acquitted themselves well with a seventh-place finish in the meet at Culpeper High School.
Lytton credits much of that success to a solid group of senior leaders, including the standout trio of Bauserman, Cooper and Gum, but also others like first-year track athlete Jonathan Feaster, reliable sprinter Daniel Molina and jack-of-all-trades runner Kyle Hanson among them.
"The seniors all had pretty good seasons," Lytton said. "They could have been a little bit better for some of them, but I knew we would be OK with the number of seniors we had coming back."
Having Bauserman, a two-time defending state champion in the 300 hurdles, headlining the group of seniors heading into the season certainly helped to inspire much of Lytton's confidence. Bauserman, in turn, credits Lytton with much of his success over the past four years.
"I love coach Lytton," Bauserman said. "He knows what he's talking about. He takes a big interest in the hurdles. He'll push you to get better."
Lytton also knows when to take a hands-off approach, and in the case of the throwers that was the perfect move. Lytton entrusts that area of the team to Mike Yew.
"All I have to do with the throwers is get a list from him before the meets," Lytton said of Yew, an accomplished thrower at Central in his own day. "I ask him at the end of the day if he has all the shots and discuses on the bus. That's it. I trust him. He's a good throws coach."
At the state meet, Yew's protégés shined along with Bauserman. Gum had a personal-best throw of 156 feet to finish second in the state in the discus, and Cooper was right behind him in third with a throw of 145-08.
"He knew what was coming," Lytton said of Yew. "He said several times if things fall our way, I think we can go 1-2 in the discus. Josh had his best throw, the other kid was just a little bit better that day. And Travis had a solid day for us.
"I told the kids, 'That's the way you want to go out.'"
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>