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Texas Relays: Tara Davis, Kynnedy Flannel have risen to their own challenges

Texas' Kynnedy Flannel warms up before the 100-meter dash at the 2019 Texas Relays at Myers Stadium. “When I was a freshman, everything was new,” Flannel said ahead of this year's Relays. “I feel like I’m growing up now. I’m way more mature. The stage is very familiar now.”

Two years ago, Tara Davis stood with thousands of fans at the Texas Relays as she cheered from the stands of Myers Stadium. Meanwhile, her teammate Kynnedy Flannel earned top-three finishes in three races.

The events of those four days in March 2019 seem like a lifetime ago.

Both Davis and Flannel are competing on their home track in this year's Texas Relays, which began Thursday and run through Saturday. They said it will be a rewarding experience, and maybe that's because much has changed in two years, for better and for worse.

Davis, who transferred to Texas from Georgia in January 2019, missed her first indoor and outdoor seasons with the Longhorns due to NCAA eligibility rules and injury. The multievent standout, a senior, missed another outdoor season because of the pandemic.

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Now she's the reigning NCAA indoor champion in the long jump. Her mark of 22 feet, 9 inches set an NCAA long jump record March 12. The image of the Agoura Hills, Calif., track star’s victory put all her happy tears on display.

“A lot of people don’t know what I went through the past two years,” Davis said. “It’s definitely a confidence booster. I was down for quite a while, and I didn’t know where I was in the track world.”

Texas' Tara Davis celebrates her NCAA long jump record of 22 feet, 9 inches on March 12 in Fayetteville, Ark. Davis began her career at Georgia but transferred to UT in 2019.

Flannel has also spent the past two years coming into her own. The junior sprinter is now a veteran, weird as that sounds to her, so now all the freshmen come to her with questions.

During Flannel’s first season, she became a reluctant phenom. The Alvin product won the Big 12 indoor title in the 200-meter run and then won it again that March, that time with more ease.

“When I was a freshman, everything was new,” Flannel said. “I feel like I’m growing up now. I’m way more mature. The stage is very familiar now.”

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But it won’t be as loud. While the two athletes are excited to compete, they can’t ignore the sad feeling they get knowing few people will get to see them show out this weekend.

The fans who enliven Myers Stadium each March won’t be present at this year’s new-look Relays. Neither will the thousands of high school students who travel to Austin for one of the largest track and field meets in the country.

Even though the crowd has been swapped out for the necessary evils of mask-wearing and constant COVID-19 testing and protocols, Davis and Flannel said they’re just happy to compete outdoors again.

Texas' Rhiley Fritz competes in the javelin throw on Thursday at Mike A. Myers Stadium, the first day of this year's Texas Relays.

The Relays are just one of many big meets in what the track stars hope is a monumental year. Flannel has never traveled outside of the United States. If she makes this summer's U.S. Olympic team, her first trip abroad will be to Tokyo. And Davis plans to be there with her.

Their dreams aren’t too lofty. Davis holds the top long jump mark in the world this season, and Flannel recorded the No. 2 indoor 200-meter time in the NCAA. Head coach Edrick Floréal already has them training like professionals, but success on the world stage is about more than just being physically adept.

“Staying focused on your goal and not letting all this outside noise get you is the biggest part,” Flannel said.

Texas A&M-Kingsville's Dean Wallace competes in the high jump on Thursday as part of the decathlon competition at the Texas Relays.

Mastering the mental component could bring the women one step closer to reaching their high, yet feasible aspirations. They want to help bring a team national championship to Austin. Individually, Flannel hopes to win 200 and 400-meter relay titles. Davis aims to win outdoor titles in the long jump and 100-meter hurdles.

But before they can experience NCAA or Olympic glory, the Relays come first.

Flannel, who will run Saturday in the 200-meter Invitational, always gets a manicure for a big meet. She is rocking pink flames on her nails for the weekend.

Before Davis competes in the 200, she’ll probably fill up on pasta, her favorite prerace meal. Then, ahead of her bolt from the start line, she’ll do her usual ritual.

“I do the two frog jumps in the air,” Davis said. “I land and I slap my legs two times, bend down, stretch and then get in the blocks.”