Four years and countless miles under his belt earned Daniel Merritt the Outstanding Senior Male Athlete of the Year at Powell High School during the year-end athletic awards which were presented …
Four years and countless miles under his belt earned Daniel Merritt the Outstanding Senior Male Athlete of the Year at Powell High School during the year-end athletic awards which were presented during the senior recognition ceremony in May.
Merritt is a distance runner who has participated in cross country for four years, outdoor track and field for three years due to COVID-19 canceling his freshman season, and one year of indoor track this past year after it was introduced as a school sport.
“I was aware that they generally award an athlete who has found success in numerous sports over many years, but I didn’t really expect it to be me,” Merritt said. “It was a huge honor to be named senior athlete of the year, I have spent a lot of time involved with PHS athletics and to be recognized for my work was an amazing feeling.”
Merritt finished as the second runner for the Panthers at the state cross country meet his freshman year, before finishing as the top runner for the team the next three years of his career.
After being one of the top runners at PHS for four years Merritt leaves with his name etched in the history books.
“The pursuit of school records has been a huge motivator for me, all three hold very significant meaning to me,” Merritt said.
The first record he set came at the state track meet his junior year, breaking the school record with a time of 4:28.93 in the 1600.
That broke a PHS record that had stood for 30 years.
“The 1600 has always been my favorite event so to get that record was huge for me,” Merritt said.
After a strong summer Merritt returned for his senior year to pursue another record, the cross country record that was set five years earlier by his own brother, Alan Merritt.
He did just that in his first race of the season, breaking his brother’s record by 25 seconds with a 16:09.72 at a race in Billings.
“My 5K cross country record was important because usually cross country is not my strongest race,” Merritt said.
The final record that Merritt achieved was in the 1600 sprint medley, after the team of Kadden Abraham, Riley Bennett, Cole Frank and Ethan Bartholomew set the previous record during his sophomore year.
“The sprint medley relay record was special because I had held the record before and it was broken by Ethan Bartholomew, so it became the mission of me and my teammate Jace Hyde to break it,” Merritt said.
The Panthers did just that, with Hyde, Merritt, Simon Shoopman and Nathan Dupont breaking the record with a time of 3:40.27 in front of the home crowd at the LA Kohnke Invitational in April.
FINISHING ON TOP
After setting numerous records for the Panthers, Merritt had not yet reached the top individually in an event or won a state championship with a team.
“My freshman year was cut off due to covid and that year the Powell boys had a very strong team and likely would have won state since we were returning two school record holders and numerous state champions, and because of this for the last four years I have felt that our team had unfinished business,” Merritt said.
Merritt said that up until the second day of the state meet he wasn’t confident that the Panther boys would take home the title due to the strong performances of the other teams.
Then came the 800.
The 800 has been a race that Merritt has always had extra motivation for, after he was tripped coming around the corner his sophomore year at the state meet and finished last.
He came out and put on his strongest performance, edging out a victory by less than .25 seconds to take the individual title with a 1:59.01.
“To win the race that only two years prior I had the worst race of my career was a great way to finish my prep career with a little bit of revenge,” he said.
Merritt and the Panthers broke a nine year drought for the track and field team, winning the first team title in nearly a decade.
Merritt was unable to share the track or cross country courses with his brother since he graduated prior to Daniel’s arrival.
The legacy will continue for the Merritt family, after he was able to share the course with his younger sister Melissa who was a freshman this past year.
“It was awesome to be able to run with my sister,” Merritt said. “My sister shares my drive and has a work ethic that easily exceeds mine and I am confident that she will be highly competitive in years to come.”
He said that he expects his sister to continue growing, under the leadership of distance coaches Ashley Hildebrand and Tracy McArthur who helped him grow throughout his career.
“My coaches have been very impactful over the years,” Merritt said. “Perhaps the biggest thing I have gotten from them is the importance of enjoying the sport. I could often get caught up in the stats and times and whether or not I am improving, but they helped me remember that if you do not enjoy the sport your performance will suffer.”
Merritt recently graduated from PHS, but will not be immediately taking his running talents to the college level.
He said he plans to serve a religious mission for two years, before returning to continue his education.
Merritt said if he does end up running competitively post high school it will wait until he returns, but he still plans to run recreationally for years to come.