It’s tempting to focus solely on the incredible individual performances of superstar athletes such as Tyrese Cooper and Cha’iel Johnson at this week’s AAU National Club Championships, as they have been dominating their competition and producing one stellar result after another.
We as fans tend to view youth track and field through a prism of future development, and Cooper and Johnson are perfect muses for that sort of projection as they continue to run times generally produced by much older and experienced athletes. We see their marks and dream of how good they can be one day when, or if, these prodigies rise to the highest level of the sport.
But even if that urge to contextualize every result is difficult to resist, doing so at this week’s club championships in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, is missing the forest for the trees. And the forest in this metaphor is Cooper and Johnson’s club team, Miami Gardens Xpress (MGX), and the dominant performance the reigning team champion has put on once again in 2018. After all, this meet is about crowning the best youth club team, not just highlighting a select few top performers, and no team right now comes close to this top-to-bottom powerhouse.
The Miami Gardens-based club coached by Darius Lawshea won the 2017 event by a gigantic 267.50-point margin, the largest margin of victory by a club champion dating back to at least 2010 (no other team score results are available online). If last year’s dominant win at AAU Club Nationals, their second-ever title, was their big breakthrough after finishing second the previous three years, then 2018 is shaping up to be their official coronation at the top spot of the throne.
With another big lead heading into the final day on Saturday, Miami Gardens Xpress appears set to take control of the youth track and field world for the foreseeable future after previously producing five straight years of top two finishes, a feat unmatched during that time frame.
Take a look at how MGX performed over the last half-decade at this meet:
|2013||MGX (413)||Tri-City Relays of North Carolina (315)|
|2014||Track Houston (590.50)||MGX (386)|
|2015||Puerto Rico (408.50)||MGX (367)|
|2016||Cupey Track Puerto Rico (469.50)||MGX (426.50)|
|2017||MGX (506)||PPAA (238.50)|
No squad but MGX appears more than once in the top two over the last five years, a testament to how difficult it is to maintain performance and turnout for a youth club track team. Credit here goes to Coach Lawshea, who has grown the MGX team to nearly 300 members in just the decade he has coached the program. Cooper, a high school senior-to-be, will soon exit the youth ranks and take his otherworldly talent with him, but it’s safe to assume that his club team will thrive even without him.
As of this writing, MGX leads the team competition with 304.50 points—a comfortable 127.50 ahead of second-place Dream Team Puerto Rico. That total has accumulated with a full day of events remaining, and yet it is already 66 points higher than what last year’s runner-up, Peak Performance Track Club, scored over the entire duration of the 2017 meet. Stars like Cooper and Johnson still have multiple finals to run on the last day competition on Saturday to add big team points, but their squad likely already has enough in the bank to reclaim the title.
Sure, you could point to the fact that MGX has more entries, 189, than any other team this year, but even so, this version of the Miami Gardens team is perhaps more balanced than any other in history. For years, MGX’s finish at AAU Club Nationals has been carried by strong performances on the boys side, but 2018 has seen a much bigger presence of female MGX runners occupying top spots on the podium than in years past.
Heading into the last day, MGX has the highest point total on both the male and female sides, which would be an incredibly rare accomplishment if it holds through tomorrow. No team since 2012 has topped the male and female point totals, but with plenty of stars to shine tomorrow, Coach Lawshea’s group could buck the trend.
Track and field can often feel like an individual sport focused on times and a few major events, but a meet like the AAU Club Nationals really reinforces that athletics is, in its purest form, a team pursuit. Records and medals are nice, but in a sport that’s constantly playing catch up with football, basketball, and baseball in the U.S., it’s great to see a youth program develop and sustain team success.
Being a part of something bigger than yourself is one of the most compelling things about athletics, and despite having a stable of young superstars, Miami Gardens Xpress’ growing reputation as a track and field dynasty exceeds any one individual that has helped them reach this point. That’s the mark of a team with staying power, and one that is doing more for youth track and field in America right now than any other club.
Watch our feature on Cha'iel Johnson from last year's AAU Junior Olympic Games: