Mercury All-Area: Pottstown’s Tyrese Washington peaks at perfect moment, hurdles to state championship

Coming out of the blocks fast has rarely been Tyrese Washington’s specialty.

His track and field career, his junior season at Pottstown, his individual races in his top event — the 110-meter hurdles — they all apply.

But Pottstown track and field coach Justin Gibbs is certain of one thing, just as certain as he was about Washington’s potential before he’d ever cleared a hurdle.
“He’s a finisher,” Gibbs said.

It would be hard to dream up a better finish than the one Washington authored for his junior season.

Washington made his year-long trajectory peak at the perfect moment, winning PIAA Class 3A gold in the boys’ 110-meter hurdles in a blistering 14.01 at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University on May 27.

Pottstown junior Tyrese Washington, center, poses with his gold medal atop the podium after taking first place in the 3A boys 110-meter hurdles during the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium on May 27. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

The time was a huge drop from his personal-best 14.29 set a week prior at the District 1 championships and earned Washington, despite runner-up finishes at the previous two rounds of the postseason, the area’s only top-of-the-podium finish at the state championships.

In a strong year for Mercury area boys’ track and field athletes, there were other dominant figures like Upper Perkiomen senior Thomas Flud Jr. in the javelin, Pottstown senior Terryece Phillips in the long jump and fellow hurdler Trevon Foster, a Pottsgrove sophomore.

But when the moment mattered most, no one rose to it quite like Washington, The Mercury’s All-Area Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year for 2023. He’s the second Pottstown boys track athlete in the past three years to take the award, following 800-meter state champion Darius Smallwood (Penn State) in 2021.

Pottsgrove’s Trevon Foster, right, and Pottstown’s Tyrese Washington clear the penultimate hurdle during the boys’ 3A 110-meter hurdles at the District 1 Track and Field Championships Saturday at Coatesville. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Washington placed fourth in the state in the 110 hurdles as a sophomore but had reason for nervousness taking the line at Shippensburg University on Memorial Day weekend.

He hadn’t achieved a first-place finish in the high hurdles the prior two weekends at the Pioneer Athletic Conference and District 1 Championships, bested by Pottsgrove’s Foster on both occasions. The battle between Washington and Foster, student-athletes from neighboring schools who are the two best hurdlers in District 1, has been the most compelling rivalry in the area the past two years.

“Those two losses made me realize what I really had to do to get better, what I needed to break down to make my time amazing,” Washington said. “Those two really motivated me to do way better for the next meet, at states.”

Foster’s 14.28 mark was a split second better than Washington’s 14.29 at districts. Washington was critical of his start right after the race, knowing that was the difference-maker.

His coach had the same diagnosis, which makes sense considering Gibbs, a two-time PIAA medalist for Pottstown in the 110 hurdles in 2002 (7th) and 2003 (3rd), had been there before.

“We practiced hard all week for states. Starts, starts, starts,” Gibbs said. “He’s a finisher. As the meet goes on, he’s getting faster and faster at hurdles 6-7-8-9 while everybody else is starting to decrease.

“I said, ‘Tyrese, if you can win the first five hurdles, I know that your power will take over.’”

Pottstown’s Tyrese Washington clears the final hurdle to win the boys’ 300-meter hurdles at the PAC Championships on May 12 at Norristown. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

First, Washington had to overcome his own mental hurdle.

“I was pretty nervous mentally,” he said. “I remember watching the heats before me and everybody was coming out of the blocks fast. I knew my start wasn’t that fast so I was just worried. … I was absolutely terrified. ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get this one.’”

Running prelims put Washington at ease and set the table for his fantastic final, his 14.01 well better than the 14.29 of runner-up Bernard Bell of South Western.
“I was amazed. I knew I was going to go down (in time), but I didn’t know it would be that much,” he said.

“I knew that if he stayed consistent with the hurdle workout we were doing, the hard work he was putting in would overcome the hard times. And it came at the right time,” Gibbs said.

* * *

Starts have never been Washington’s forte. Take his track and field career: The sport only entered into Washington’s life in spring 2021, his freshman year, and the hurdles were not a part of his plans.

Gibbs saw things otherwise.

“In 2021 he came out, and I had no hurdlers,” Gibbs recalls of their first meeting in the preseason ahead of the 2021 season. “I see Tyrese stretching, saw how flexible he is, his big, strong stature, and said, ‘You’re going to be my hurdler.’ He looked at me like I was crazy. ‘Hurdles!? I don’t want to do hurdles.’

“‘You’re going to be my hurdler. Just trust me.’”

Washington was less than convinced.

“I came into track and the first week of practice, GIbbs was like, ‘I think you can really be my hurdler.’ It started from there,” Washington said. “I started doing hurdles and I really did not like it. I’m going to be so serious, I did not like it at all.”

Pottstown track and field coach Justin GIbbs, left, points to the gold medal around the neck of junior Tyrese Washington, the 2023 Mercury All-Area Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Washington was a reluctant hurdler as a freshman — he stuck to the 300s and wouldn’t even compete in the 110s after a fateful meet at Pottsgrove.

“We had a meet at Pottsgrove, my second time doing hurdles,” Washington said. “I ran a cool 20.18, one of those times (actually 23.15, on April 29, 2021), literally walked across the finish line. I told him right there, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to do hurdles.’

“And (Gibbs) was like, ‘You’re going to come back next year and you’re going to be better at it.’”

Pre-season training, more experience with the technique of hurdles and his individual interest — ‘I started watching videos, doing my own research to see if I could get better at it myself’ — changed the game for Washington as a sophomore.

He was 110 hurdles champion at PACs and second in the 300 hurdles, then placed fifth in the 110s at districts. Washington’s trend for strong finishes began there by placing fourth at the PIAA Championships in a then-PR 14.63.

“Sophomore year, his body got stronger and he came out and was amazing ever since. Something clicked,” Gibbs said. “The practice we did as a freshman just rolled over and he understood the things he had to do.”

Workouts that were once crushing became easier by the start of this season and Washington’s confidence followed.

“The whole season I just knew I could break my (best) time, that I could get it way down. I just had that feeling that I could run way faster,” he said, “and I wound up doing it.”

He swept the hurdle events at the Coach Ron Livers Invitational at Perkiomen Valley on April 15. At the PAC Championships on May 12, he won his second PAC title, besting the field in the 300 hurdles along with finishing second in the 110s. Washington would have been favored to medal in both hurdles at states but a disqualification over a hit hurdle during prelims at districts cost him the chance.

Washington has the personality to shake off the setback though. He’s calm and soft-spoken, without the forcefulness his racing might indicate.

“If you didn’t know Tyrese, you’d come to practice and say, ‘He’s not even running hard. He’s not exerting a lot of effort.’ Until you run next to him and you see how fast he’s going,” Gibbs said. “He’s a laid back guy; doesn’t want all the attention. But he’s going to out-work you. You might not see it, but he’s doing the work when no one’s watching.”

It allowed Washington to have patience that his moment would come.

“I felt like this whole season was motivating. It was patience pretty much,” he said. “I knew it was going to come in time. I was waiting, waiting, waiting and then I got to states.”

The journey’s never done and Washington is happy to have another year to keep improving.

“I really want to run around 13.8, reach that time,” he said. “That’s my main goal for the future. I feel like I have more in me.”

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