Then-freshman Anna Cockrell etched her name into the record book on the final day of the 2013 track and field season, running her way to a pair of individual events. But that was just the beginning for one of the sports brightest stars who, despite her talent, is still be learning the ropes.
Cockrell won the 100-meter hurdles at the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association’s state championships last season, running a blistering 13.93 seconds – more than a full second faster than the next-closest competitor and the first time she’d broken the 14-second barrier.
She backed that time up in the 300 hurdles when she won the state championship by more than 2.5 seconds, recording 43.12 seconds.
Both times she shattered state records and earned Providence Day their first-ever girls track and field state championship.
“It meant a lot,” said Cockrell, who also helped the Chargers win gold in the 4×100 relay race and took first place in the 100-meter sprint (12.21 seconds). “I’m excited about how I ran and breaking records, but there’s nothing like winning states, getting the medals, everyone is taking pictures and there isn’t a better way to send off the seniors than with a state championship, so that was the best part.
“I expect the best for myself, but I didn’t think I was going to do quite as well as I did at that meet. In the 300, I wasn’t expecting to break that record. Actually I was really against doing the 300 hurdles – I’ve always been a short hurdler – and I’ve never been a big fan. When I won it, they said I broke the record and I said ‘Wow, OK then.’”
While records are the way sports compares you to history’s best, they aren’t a major concern for the Providence Day star.
“I don’t like to chase records,” Cockrell continued, “because I think it takes you out of the right mindset I need for the race. But with the 100, I definitely knew what the record was and I knew I wanted to break 14 (seconds). Getting the record and breaking 14 seconds is huge – it was a great day.”
And as great as her final race was, it has only gotten better for Cockrell this year.
She strained her groin after last season ended and missed a bunch of on-track time during the off-season, sitting out from July until mid-November. But instead of wasting the time, Cockrell focused more on the nuances of her hurdling style and has come out even better than last season.
“I took some time off and that helped me refocus and figure out exactly what I was doing wrong and helped me focus on how to get better,” she said. “The time off helped me focus on keeping my lead leg down and staying low over the hurdle. I’m a lot stronger and a lot faster than I was last year and I’ve been doing a lot of speed work and I think that’s improved my times.”
The results speak for themselves, as Cockrell has opened her sophomore season in grand fashion. She currently owns the state-wide season records for all classifications of public- and private-school runners in the 100 hurdles (13.79 seconds), 300 hurdles (43.18 seconds) and 400 hurdles (1 minute, 2.67 seconds), but is pushing herself and her teammates to improve upon last year.
“I’m at 13.79 right now (in the 100) and am super happy with that time, but I want to keep pushing it and get down to 13.5,” she said. “I want the team to repeat at states, and for myself, I’d like to repeat at states, too.”
And as good as she’s done, coach Carol Lawrence said this is just the beginning of Cockrell’s immense potential.
“Right now she still has so much to fix technical wise,” Lawrence said. “It’s a lot of little things, but hurdling is so technical and you have to fine-tune it to get the most out of it.
“Last year we fixed three things and this year we’ve picked a couple more. One is her approach to the hurdle is so close and that’s not allowing her to get off to a fast enough start and the other is we’re working on her speed. It’s working, I can see it paying off, but once she gets the technical part down and we can start just focusing on speed she’ll be where she needs to be.”
As good as she’s been, Cockrell has only ran track for five years after spending much of her early life as a gymnast. She gave up gymnastics in elementary school and found the track was the place she wanted to make her mark.
“I stopped gymnastics after doing it for a really long time because I just didn’t love it anymore,” she said. “ I tried basketball and volleyball and in the spring I tried track.
“It was raining one day so we were all inside and the coaches were showing us the events and different events on video. We watched long jump and high jump and then they showed the video of hurdlers and it was like ‘OK, that’s what I want to do.’”
The rest has, quite literally, been history. Despite her lack of overall experience, the raw potential she possesses is obvious.
Cockrell went to the prestigious Penn Relays on April 24 to 26 and competed in the 400 hurdles, the only hurdle event high school girls can run at the race. It was her first time running the Penn Relays as an individual – she was part of the Chargers’ 4×100 team in last year’s event – and just the fourth time she’d run the 400 in her career, but she ran 1:02.67 and finished ninth among a who’s who of the nation’s best high school girls.
“It was a great experience,” Cockrell said. “The meet’s been around for 120 years or something and you’re on the field warming up with people from Jamaica, Trinidad and South Africa and then there’s college girls warming up, so it’s just a really cool experience and it feels like the next level of completion. Being out there with the crowds was awesome and so fun to be a part of.”
But it’s something Cockrell should get used to. Still just a sophomore, she’s attracting recruiting inquiries from a host of college programs and becoming a college athlete is something she certainly has the talent and bloodlines to accomplish.
Her brother, Ross, still owns the conference record in the 100-meter dash from his time at Charlotte Latin and wrapped up his football career at Duke this fall. He’s a mid-round NFL draft prospect at cornerback. Their father, Keith, played college football at Columbia University.
But to Lawrence, Cockrell is her own person driven to success from within.
“It’s her work ethic and the desire that make her (excel),” Lawrence said. “I don’t care how talented you are, if you don’t have the work ethic and desire, you won’t make it, but she’s certainly got it.”
Although Cockrell has already made it and is a state record holder in two events and an emerging national star in the other, she stays grounded and focused on her goals, despite her smashing debut last season.
“I take it one second at a time,” she said. “I try not to think of what other people want me to do and what they expect of me – I think about what I want, what my coach wants and what my family wants.
“I’m not worrying about what other people want is how I don’t put pressure on myself. As long as I’m doing my best and I’m running my best and I’m healthy, then I’m happy.”