Plymouth South coach Jeff Tracey thought one of his former stars, Madelyn Sessler, had left a lasting mark on the Panthers girls’ track program.
In 2016, Sessler sprinted to a state championship in the 55-meter hurdles and graduated the following year with a school-record time of 8.32 seconds in the event before running off to Columbia University.
In the recent MSTCA Coaches Invitational for Small Schools, Plymouth South junior Ella Grey shaved her time from 8.62 to 8.34 seconds in the preliminary heats before winning the event in 8.32 seconds, tying Sessler’s record.
“I never thought I’d coach a hurdler as good as Maddie again,” Tracey said. “[Ella’s] one race against the top kids from the state away from breaking the record.”
The 16-year-old Grey is breaking out in a big way for South during the indoor season, competing in the 55 hurdles, 55-meter dash, and long jump. And she does each at a high level. At the Small Schools Invitational she won the hurdles, finished second in the dash, and third in the long jump, earning Athlete of the Meet honors.
She will be competing in all three events at Saturday’s MIAA Division 4 state meet at the Reggie Lewis Center.
“It showed me that all the hard work I’m putting in is paying off,” Grey said of tying Sessler’s record. “It made me realize that I might be able to have an impact at the school and be remembered as a good runner.”
Grey has put in a lot more hard work than most runners her age after being hampered by injuries early in her career.
She suffered an ankle sprain as a freshman after running in the Division 4 championships and the injury continued to be a nuisance. Grey struggled before working with physical therapists.
As a sophomore, she suffered iliac crest apophysitis, an injury in which the hip muscle separates from the bone. Grey said she didn’t even realize she had it until she felt “extreme pain” at an invitational.
“It was frustrating because I was starting to get at my peak, starting to really push myself and be competitive,” Grey said.
Grey recovered in time to compete at the state meet, but the injury sidelined her for most of her sophomore season. Now that she’s finally healthy, Grey is making strides and consistently improving her performances.
“She’s tremendous out of the blocks,” Tracey said. “If she wins the race to the first hurdle, the race is pretty much over.”
Tracey praised Grey’s mentality and work ethic in practice. He said if something is supposed to be hard, she runs it hard — she never dogs anything. He added he always goes to players with goals for each event they compete in, but Grey normally beats him to the punch.
“Before I give her a goal, she already has a goal in mind,” Tracey said. “She takes the goal-setting very seriously.”
“I try to push myself mentally by having ideas in my head that may not exactly be realistic times, but they’re things I know I can eventually reach,” Grey said.
As the divisional and state meets approach, both Grey and Tracey have goals in mind, and both involve being the best of the best.
“It’s kind of crazy to say, the goal [for Grey] is to be an all-state champ,” Tracey said.
“I really want to keep [setting personal records] in every event I run,” Grey said. “It’s all about your mentality and knowing that you can be the best out of all of them.”
Michael Puzzanghera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org