The 2016 Virginia Gazette boys and girls outdoor track and field athletes of the year share at least one crucial characteristic that Lafayette competitors often do: versatility.
The outdoor seasons for this year's winners, Lafayette's Michael Tyler and Alexis Brender A Brandis, were characterized not only by versatility, but the consistency and efficiency that accompanied it. These Rams, each a Division I recruit, were one-person wrecking crews when it came to accumulating points for their team.
While also contributors on the track, Tyler and Brender A Brandis made their name jumping in field events: For Hampton University-bound Tyler, high jumping is his specialty and for incoming William and Mary freshman Brender A Brandis, it's the long jump and triple jump.
Nailing her routine
Gymnastics was a precursor and a complement to Brender A Brandis's track and field success.
If that sounds familiar, it's because last year's winner of this honor had a similar story. Kathryn Tomczak, now a member of the Air Force Academy's team, balanced Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex gymnastics with Lafayette track; pole vaulting, in particular.
"I just sort of clicked with jumping," Brender A Brandis said. "It's what I'm good at. It's what I enjoy… It all connects back to gymnastics to me."
Brender A Brandis fancies the floor and vault events for herself, and said she will have an eye on one of her favorite events, bars, come Summer Olympics time.
She said she looked up to her friend, Tomczak, and was also inspired to compete in track and field by her brother, Jacob, a former Lafayette pole vaulter.
Brender A Brandis recorded a pair of fifth-place finishes in the 4A state meet (37 feet, 1.5 inches in the triple jump and 17 feet, 4.25 inches in the long jump). She also ran 47.19 in the 300 hurdles to take sixth, finishing a spot behind Lafayette teammate, Selena Jones.
Brender A Brandis parlayed her dominance in the Bay Rivers District long jump and triple jump to championships in the Conference 18 meet along with winning the 110-meter hurdles.
"She has been really consistent throughout her career," Lafayette coach Mel Jones said. "If I was going to start a program somewhere, I'd take Brender A Brandis. That's why she got a scholarship to William and Mary."
At William and Mary, Brender A Brandis will certainly be jumping while there is a possibility she could also contribute on the track.
"Overall it was a great experience," Brender A Brandis said. "Coach Jones – We might have butted heads a little bit, but he was always there for me in the end. He was a great man to work with because he really wanted everyone to be versatile. He didn't want anyone to focus on just one event. In his mind, more events, more points. That was always his goal. I feel pretty good after running four years at Lafayette. I think it really prepared me for the next few years in college. I'm really excited to see what I can do in the future."
Cementing his legacy
One of the most remarkable things about Tyler is how quickly he rose from contributor to one of the best field participants in program history.
Even Jones couldn't have predicted it when Tyler was a sophomore, when he split time between track and football.
"We wouldn't have known," Jones said. "As a sophomore, he kind of hadn't found himself."
"I'm not going to say I knew, but I wanted to break the school high jump record after my sophomore year," Tyler said. "I didn't know I would leave this good of a legacy: two school records in the long jump and high jump."
Tyler finished second in the 4A long jump with a mark of 22 feet, third in the triple jump (45 feet, 10 inches) and fourth in the high jump (6-4). His mark of 6-8 to win the 4A East Region high jump was a Peninsula-best, as was the 45-10 in the triple jump.
He also won the 4A East Region long jump, going just over 22 feet.
After a 6-5 in the high jump in AAUs last summer, Tyler said he knew he was in store for a big season.
Like Brender A Brandis, Tyler is excited to watch the Rio de Janeiro Games.
An aspiring Olympian himself, he won't be the average viewer.
"I wish that high jump was going on the whole week of the Olympics," Tyler said. "I think once I see it this year in the Olympics, that's going to be my main focus in 2020."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.