By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MILLVILLE – In the history of the heptathlon in the United States, no high school freshman girl has ever scored 5,000 points in the grueling seven-discipline, two-day track and field event used to measure who is the best all-around female athlete in the sport.
Millville High School’s Bryanna Craig changed history in June.
And now Craig, 15, who actually shattered the freshman heptathlon record twice last month in the “best summer ever,” has started to set her sights on bigger things. The heptathlon consists of the 100-meter hurdles; the high jump; shot put; 200 dash; long jump; javelin and 800 run. Participants receive points based on how well they do on each event.
Craig scored 5,094 points at the USA Track and Field U-20 Championships June 22-23 at Miramar Fla., competing against athletes three to four times here age – many already in college – emerging this summer as one of the nation’s breakout young track and field stars.
She finished fourth at the U-20 championships behind three girls already in college including the current U-20 record-holder. She beat several other college athletes on the way to her finish.
“At the time that it happened (beating 5,000 points), it did feel great,” Craig told Front Runner Sports this month. “I was excited and proud of myself because it was one of my goals. My dad was trying to get me there. He could see the potential in me.
“I put a lot of work into each individual event to get better. The first time I competed against older girls I was scared because I didn’t know how good I could be. I just thought because they were older than me that they would be better than me. As I went against them, we were all at the same mark and I knew I could compete,” the sophomore-to-be added.
Her father is Millville’s girls track coach Raffael Craig, who was an outstanding track athlete at Millville and Big East champion at University of Connecticut before returning to Millville in 2005 to lead the girls program. He was named New Jersey Group 4 coach of the year this spring after the Thunderbolts shared the group state title, with Bryanna’s help, with Rancocas Valley.
“Track has done so much for me and has given me opportunities that I never would have had otherwise,” Coach Craig said to Front Runner Sports. “I wanted to share that with my kids. Think about carpenters having certain skills they can pass along to their kids.
“Why not us as athletes working for something like a scholarship and giving them that opportunity to see the U.S. It’s been a great overall experience this summer,” Coach Craig added.
On June 15-16, Craig originally broke the freshman record competing against girls her own age at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. There, she just missed the 5,000 barrier, scoring 4,958, winning the New Balance national title.
In Florida, she stepped up her already impressive game with personal-bests in the high jump (5 feet-8) 200-meter dash (25.24 seconds), javelin (114-9) and 100-meter hurdles (14.49).
Coach Craig said the thing that impresses him the most about his daughter is how unflappable she has been regardless of how big the stage has been. This year, she won the Group State 4 high jump championship.
“I’ve been able to mold her in terms of diet and help her understand what to expect,” Coach Craig said. “Whether it’s at AAU or Junior Olympics, the gun sounds the same regardless how big the event is. She’s really taken that to heart. Nothing fazes her. She understands no matter what, you’re competing against yourself and your own marks.”
Bryanna Craig added 100 points to the old freshman heptathlon record, but how long will that hold up? If her younger sister Autumn has her say, not long. Autumn Craig will join her older sister as a freshman at Millville High School this fall.
Autumn Craig, 14, finished first in the five-event pentathlon for her age group at the AAU qualifier for the Junior Olympics last month.
“It was amazing when she broke her records to see how far she’s come,” Autumn Craig said of her older sister. “It made me think that I could have a chance to be just like her. It was really encouraging. Hopefully I can (break Bryanna’s record).”
The sisters said they are looking forward to joining forces at Millville next year, which cannot be good news for the rest of the New Jersey girls track programs. Coach Craig said each girl has her strengths with Autumn taking a liking to the pole vault this past spring.
“I told Autumn to look around and find your own events she thinks she’s good at, but that adds versatility,” Coach Craig said. “Bryanna’s faster but Autumn’s a little strong in certain events.”
Raffael Craig Jr., 12, who will be a seventh grader next year, finished second at the AAU qualifying event for his age group as well. He will reach the high school level as a freshman when Bryanna is a senior and Autumn a junior.
“He’s probably more surprised at himself when he placed second in the pentathlon,” Coach Craig said. “He had a big breakthrough in the hurdles. He never three-stepped and he three-stepped the whole way through. I can see the changes in him right now and just being 12. I can also see the improvement that’s coming.”
While two other children are too young to join their older siblings, Coach Craig said that track has been a true coming together for the family.
“It’s a whole family affair,” Coach Craig said. “My wife is one of the assistant coaches. The babies are run around some days and on other days we bring the beach toys and they play in the long jump box. We just keep it positive and fun.
Coach Craig said each of his children took to track the moment they found success, like most athletes. For Bryanna, she said she has enjoyed the family atmosphere and having her father by her side.
“I love having my dad as my coach,” Bryanna Craig said. “He’s very supporting and has been really motivating. He’s very encouraging in events that I struggle in and it’s wonderful having him there as a dad, then a coach.”
Photos courtesy of Raffael Craig