April 29, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
When you’re a college freshman, you run into situations that are new, unique and often inconceivable.
Like, say, going to a meet with not just championship aspirations — every student-athlete has those — but defending-championship aspirations.
As a freshman, that’s almost impossible.
Now factor in having to fend off every team in the nation at the oldest and most famous track and field meet in the U.S..
Avery Bartlett will take all that on at around 4:40 p.m. on Saturday, when he takes the track at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, the home of University of Pennsylvania athletics, to run in the 4×800 at the Penn Relays. The meet began Thursday and runs through Saturday.
If the Tallahassee, Fla., native is feeling any pressure, he’s sure not showing it. Just the opposite. He’s embracing the challenge.
“I’m very excited. This is probably the biggest meet I’ve ever been to as far as how much attention it gets,” Bartlett said. “Of course, being on the defending 4×800 team, that’s a huge honor. So I’m excited and very humbled.”
Excited and humble have characterized Bartlett’s entire week, as on Wednesday, he was one of five Yellow Jackets named Academic All-ACC, joining fellow freshman jumper Bria Matthews, sophomore jumper Ryan Thomas, and juniors hurdler Kenya Collins and jumper Carissa Tipler.
“That’s very exciting. Not many people get that,” said Bartlett, who comes from a family that has accomplished what not many have, as his great grandfather, grandfather, and both parents are Georgia Tech graduates and his sister currently attends the school — he is the first student-athlete. “I don’t know what to say.”
Bartlett has more to say about the 26 Yellow Jackets that have earned the right to compete in Philadelphia this weekend.
“It says a lot because you have to make the qualifying marks and beat out the other competition just to be able to run,” he said. “So that’s huge.”
Bartlett will run the anchor leg of the 4×800 for Georgia Tech, which last year won the event, running a season-best 7:18.84 — it was a good meet for Tech in that event, as the women’s 4×800 also set a school record, going 8:49.20.
While there is prestige in being the defending champion, Bartlett refuses to get caught up in the hype and pressure of expectations to defend that title.
“We’re a completely different team this year. We only have one returning from the team last year (Littig),” he said. “A lot of other teams have all their guys returning.
That doesn’t mean Bartlett or any of his teammates have scaled down their expectations.
“I think if we do the best that we can do we’ll definitely have a chance to win it,” he said. “But I’m not going to concern myself or stress myself out with that we HAVE TO win. I’m not going to worry myself too much with keeping that up.”
Instead, the meet will be a measuring stick against the rest of the nation. That angle is intriguing.
“We’re going to see Penn State again. They have a stellar middle-distance crew and they’re going to be hard to beat. Middle Tennessee State as well. They have some very strong middle-distance runners,” Bartlett said. “Other than that, there are teams from all over the country that I’ve never raced before so that’s going to be exciting, too.”
Bartlett credited older teammates, who have already been to Penn for making his navigation of that fine line emotionally between excitement and anxiety easier to walk. One of the most influential was 2015 alumnus Brandon Lasater, the anchor whose kick down the stretch earned the Jackets the crown in last year’s Penn Relays 4×800.
“He texted me, ‘Have fun. Do what you can do. It’s definitely the funnest meet of the year that you’ll go to,’” Bartlett said. “That’s definitely important because if you stress out too much it’s definitely going to affect your performance. You can’t treat it like it’s the biggest event, and everyone’s watching and if you don’t do well it’s the end of your life. You just have to embrace it completely. That’s kind of the attitude that my teammates who have been here before are giving me. Hopefully it will work out.”
Bartlett feels the relay team is right where it needs to be.
“I guess starting from indoor season, which started in January, we just had a really strong middle-distance group,” he said. “That gave us good momentum. Coming into this outdoor season. It’s been a little rough, hasn’t gone entirely as we wanted it to, but as our training has developed, we should be in peak condition by this weekend. So hopefully we can put up a good show and show them what we’ve got.”