The limited athletic facilities at Burke (Charleston, S.C.) don’t include a track oval or even a throwing circle, but that didn’t stop the school from producing an athlete of limitless potential as senior Raven Saunders was today named the 2013-14 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
“I’m still trying to figure out exactly what’s happening to me right now,” said Saunders, 18, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale signee. “I just don’t understand. I won National (Track and Field) Athlete of the Year? That possibility hadn’t even crossed my mind. They say it takes a village to achieve your dreams and let me tell you, that’s a fact.”
The 5-foot-5 teen set a national prep record at the Taco Bell Classic in April, launching the shot put 56 feet, 8.25 inches to break a mark set in 2003 by almost two feet. Saunders nearly matched that effort at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor, earning a national title with a throw of 56-7.5.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Saunders is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
“Raven Saunders set course on a (Bob) Beamon-esque season that redefined what a U.S. female prep shot putter could do,” said Steve Underwood, Media and Public Relations Director of the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation. "With a wonderful coach, wonderful character, hard-to-fathom discipline and work ethic, and her ability to become that rare prep to come close to mastering the (shot put’s) spin technique—all those things combined to give us a girl who surpassed by more than a foot, on multiple occasions, the national records held by (two-time) Olympian Michelle Carter. Raven is a very, very deserving Athlete of the Year.”
Saunders also captured gold twice at the Class AA state meet this spring, winning the discus with a throw of 148-5, to go with her shot put effort (55-8), which broke the all-class state record by 11 feet. She hurled the discus a season-best 159-11, which ranked as the No. 10 performance in the nation among prep competitors in 2014 at the time of her selection.
Saunders has maintained a B-minus average in the classroom. The president of both the Burke High senior class and her school’s student government, she has volunteered for two years as Burke’s bulldog mascot at athletic events. Also an active participant in Burke’s DECA chapter for emerging business leaders, Saunders has donated her time to SkillsUSA, a national student-empowerment organization.
Saunders is the third prep athlete from South Carolina in the award’s 29-year history to win national Gatorade honors in any sport—all three selected in the past four years. She joins national-winner alumnus and University of Tennessee senior quarterback Justin Worley of Northwestern (Rock Hill, S.C.), who won in 2011, and Stanford University sophomore-to-be Carley Hoover of D.W. Daniel (Central, South Carolina), who won the softball award in 2012-13.
California has produced the most national winners since the inception of the award with 62 followed by Texas (28), Florida (20) and Illinois (15).