Western Branch Track and Field: The Birth of a Dynasty

It's no secret that the Western Branch Track and Field program has been a force to reckon with over the years. Dominating the track and continuously building their legacy with back to back titles, this is easily one of the biggest high school track and field powerhouses. With as much success these young athletes have already seen, you can't help but wonder who is fine tuning and developing such talent.

Former Western Branch athlete Jeff Artis-Gray has been coaching and specializing in hurdles and horizontal jumps for three years. With a successful college career, Gray has brought years of experience and knowledge to Western Branch despite being as young as he is. Jeff Artis-Gray is a former Virginia Tech student-athlete who competed in sprints, hurdles and jumps. He is a 2012 NCAA All-American sprinter, 2013 2x NCAA All-American in long jump, as well as the 2013 ACC indoor long jump champion. Jeff has really made an impact on the Western Branch program in the three years he has been there. With his magic touch and passion filled coaching you see transformational improvements and progressional achievements within each athlete that he comes by. 

Considering Jeff Artis-Gray only has three years of coaching under his belt, he has undoubtedly contributed in continuing the ongoing success within this program. His achievements so far with Western Branch hold titles such as: 2015 National High School Indoor Record for the girls shuttle hurdle relay, 2015 National High School Outdoor Record for the girls shuttle relay, 3x National High School Outdoor Champion for the shuttle hurdle relay, 2016 National Champion, 2016 Girls State Champions and noted as the 2015 Virginia Milestat.com Indoor Coach of The Year at twenty-five and in as little as three years — which speaks volumes. Not to mention, his 2014-2016 alum's currently include ten athletes competing throughout the NCAA. There is no telling how far Gray can take this program to be, as good as they already are. 

Each year, Artis-Gray looks at who he has returning to the program and also which athletes need to develop more. "The junior class each year is always an important year, it's the breakout year for most track and field athletes where colleges begin to eye which athlete they would be interested in signing." explains Jeff. "The juniors are always the most important as far as individual growth for colleges..the depth is always there, the roster has nearly seventy student-athletes a year with the vast majority being juniors.. and seniors will carry the load at big championship meets." he concludes. With that being said, Jeff likes to focus and coach his athletes on the science of the sport while practicing physics, excersise science, physiology, anatomy, and even chemistry throughout his training sessions. "Track and Field is a demanding sport and uses up to date training, but science never changes. " Gray explained. Although, coaching and seeing the results in athletes is a rewarding feeling for any coach,  Artis-Gray shares that the most exciting part about coaching at the high school level for him is when his student athletes decided which college they would like to attend to further their career and education. "That's the biggest decision in a student-athlete's life which could make them or break them.. I find myself rooting for their colleges when I look at NCAA Track and Field results from nationals or regionals." said Jeff. 

Jeffrey Artis-Gray has seen an abundance of success with Western Branch on the high school stage and when asked if he was ready to move on to collegiate, he provided a firm "definitely" to start with his response. "When I was being recruited out of high school the biggest decision for colleges were understanding whether I was going to focus on hurdles or horizontal jumps. Being a 2x High School All-American in the hurdles indoor and outdoor, as well as being a highly ranked U.S. horizontal jumper, colleges did not know what to do with me. That rare combination ended up being my strength and made me stand out as an athlete at the high school and collegiate level." Gray explains. Some of his most successful hurdlers are also very good jumpers as well.  Jeff states that once he began to see the dropped times and jump distances from his athletes that could compete at the NCAA level without training on a rubber track, he knew he was ready. 

The NCAA needs more coaches that are willing to showcase the versatility of their athletes like Oregon, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Kentucky just to name a few. It makes winning conference and national titles easier, and not to mention you get more out of a full scholarship athlete that can score at the conference and national level in three events opposed to scoring in one. All of these key components is what Jeff highlights and uses to his best advantage, which clearly has proven to provide a plethora of success for his high school girls. "The key is how to train them and I know that secret, I've been there and done it at both levels." he explains. 

Jeff Artis-Gray is working hard to eventually step out and get his foot in the door with a college team.  However, just like any job, positions are usually filled before they are even posted or there is a vast switch in coaching jobs and positions to even keep up with who is where or who is reliable or not. Regardless of the minor road block of getting his foot in with a collegiate team to take his coaching abilities to the next level, Jeff Artis-Gray continues to enjoy and work hard at what he does and the results show. One question that topped off the whole interview, was when Jeff was asked where he see's himself in ten years. His response: 

"I see myself  coaching a powerhouse program, highly ranked at the NCAA level with a ton of All-American athletes.."
One thing is for sure, coaching a powerhouse program and being highly ranked is something this young coach is already accustomed to, however you can't help but to think about how well of a significant piece he could be to a collegiate team. With his passion, knowledge and keen eye for team development Jeff Artis-Gray believes he is the missing piece that can create success for a team within the NCAA who is willing to give him a chance. Every team he has been a part of has won. In high school (Western Branch) he led his team to four state titles and at the collegiate level he's done the same to three conference titles showcasing his versatility as an athlete. Coaching wise, since he started at Western Branch, he has won 6 VA girls state titles and 2 boys state titles. To sum it all up, Jeff Artis-Gray doesn't like to lose and is confident that he will create a winning team wherever he lands. As for him stepping foot back on the track as an athlete again, he shared that he was finished and enjoys giving the workout far more than doing them. With the continuous focus and hard work he has already proven to show, Jeff Artis-Gray should see himself exactly where he has his eyes set to be in due time.