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Love and trash talk: Payne brothers continue to push each other at Seattle

Noah Payne (right) hands off the baton to brother Isaiah Payne as they compete in the 400-meter relay for Seattle University during a meet earlier this year. The Seabury Hall graduates lead the Redhawks into the Western Athletic Conference championships later this month. SU Athletics Department photo

Some sibling rivalry out on the track or in the gym is nothing new for Isaiah and Noah Payne.

Since their childhood days of playing together in youth sports, to competing on Seabury Hall’s basketball and track and field teams in the Maui Interscholastic League, and now sprinting for the Seattle University men’s track squad, the Payne brothers continue to motivate each other to reach their potentials.

“There’s definitely a lot of brotherly love and some trash talking here and there,” said Isaiah, a sophomore who was joined by his younger brother a year after coming to the Redhawks. “He’s really pushed me and I’ve definitely gotten a lot faster because of him. He’s also my lifting partner, so being able to lift with him is weird sometimes because I never thought we’d be doing this in college together, but it’s really nice and it makes our parents proud of us and I like to see our parents proud.

“And I just love helping out Noah as well.”

For Noah, it’s been nice “seeing a really familiar face at practice and just around campus.”

I. Payne

“He was here for a year before me, so he knows the ropes a bit more, which I’ve started to learn,” he said on Monday via phone. “We know how to push each other and make each other better at practice, which definitely has its positives.”

Isaiah and Noah hold the 200- and 100-meter MIL records, respectively, as well as three MIL Division II Boys Basketball Player of the Year awards for Isaiah and an MIL D-II first-team All-Star honor for Noah.

The Payne brothers are now in their second and third years at Seattle, eligible for a fifth year due to COVID-19.

“They both have different personalities, which is kind of cool for brothers, so they both bring a good energy, but kind of a different energy to practice,” SU sprints coach Chad Pharis said. “They’re both super driven to get better and they want to be the best.”

The first time they raced against each other in a collegiate 100, “the smack talking started almost immediately, but it’s all loving smack talk if there is such a thing,” Pharis said with a laugh.

N. Payne

Isaiah recently posted a school record in the 200 with a time of 21.51 seconds and finished third in the 100 with a 10.68 at the Fresno State Invitational — both races were also personal records.

Running personal bests in the sprints “felt really good,” he said, considering that his previous fastest times were from about two or more years ago.

“Might’ve been because my parents were there,” Isaiah said with a laugh. “Might’ve been because we had really good competition– I had a chance to run against the world champion Jamiel Trimble in the 200 — and just a really fast field in the 100, so I think it was partly competition and pressure because my parents were there, and I’m just starting to finally feel good and strong.”

During the 2020 indoor season, he ran a time of 22.07 in the 200 at the Husky Classic and a 6.95 in the 60-meter dash– both times are second in school history.

He also earned Academic All-Western Athletic Conference honors for the 2019 outdoor and 2020 indoor seasons and was voted the 2019 Seattle U Track and Field Male Freshman of the Year.

“He came in as a really good sprinter, but he recognized at (NCAA) Division I, it’s not quite like high school — the competition level is different,” Pharis said. “He was confident in his abilities, but you know, he also felt like he needed to prove a lot still, which is a good thing to have.”

Pharis said that Isaiah has also grown in terms of leadership since first joining the Redhawks.

“He came in as our fastest sprinter on the team, but he didn’t exhibit all the leadership qualities that the best can exhibit, but as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten more comfortable to do that, which has been really, really good for the rest of the sprints crew,” he said.

Similarly, Pharis said that Noah is learning to “trust his abilities” and like many student-athletes, adapt to all the changes ensued by the pandemic.

“He hasn’t gotten close to what he’s capable of running, he’s had a couple minor setbacks that were unfortunate, and this year has been challenging with everything going on, but he’s handling it really well,” Pharis said. “He’s going into conference healthy, and I think he’s ready to live up to his PR, so to speak.”

Noah had his first taste of collegiate track and field during the 2020 indoor season, where he made it through to compete in the 60 at the WAC championships.

Most recently, Noah earned his first collegiate win in the outdoor 100 in a dual meet against Seattle Pacific in early April, then dropped a 10.94-second 100 at the Fresno Invitational, and a 22.93-second 200 this past week in Oregon at the OSU High Performance Meet.

“I’ve just been trying to warm up, I guess, because I haven’t run outdoor in a couple years now, so just getting those reps in of the 100 and the 200 and just getting a feel for meets again has been really good,” he said. “I think I’m at a good point right now where I can start ramping up toward conference, but I’m pretty happy about how I’m looking now before our last meet of the year.”

So far, the pair have started to find their groove on the Mainland as D-I student-athletes, learning about what it takes to perform at a high level on the track and in the classroom.

“It’s definitely tough but also has a lot of rewards, like just having another family away from home– having this team and living with other people who are on the team, it’s just been a really cool bonding experience,” said Noah, who is majoring in kinesiology. “Everybody kind of has, like, their own troubles and stress over school, finals, midterms, so you can really bond, and everybody is always there to help you, so it’s been really fun.”

Throughout Isaiah’s career, some of the biggest lessons he’s learned is how to manage and balance his time spent studying, training, recovering from workouts, and holding a part-time job online.

Through the university’s Center for Community Engagement, Isaiah said he’s been mentoring Washington Middle School students and helping them to “stay on the right track” toward achieving their goals in academics, sports and in life.

“Makes you feel warm inside knowing that you’re helping out people,” he said.

The Payne brothers are now prepping for the WAC outdoor championships on May 13 in Texas.

The goal for Isaiah is to run a 25.14 or faster in the 200 or in the 10.5 range in the 100. He’s currently ranked eighth in the WAC in both events.

“With the results week after week, I’m proving to myself and to other people in the conference that I’m getting faster, I’m getting stronger, and I’m getting ready to finally peak and it’s going to be at conference,” Isaiah said. “I’m really excited. I’m really looking forward to it and showing other teams at conference what I can actually do.”

For Noah, he hopes to improve his strength and speed each season, continually dropping times that would earn him school records or regional and national race appearances.

“I just want to keep improving and PR-ing and seeing where that goes,” he said.

The Payne brothers said that they also have “really big aspirations” for the Redhawks’ 400-meter relay team, which is currently ranked fourth in the WAC.

Isaiah typically anchors the relay and receives the baton from his brother off the curve.

“Not a lot of people get the opportunity to run with a family member as far as, like, at the D-I level,” Noah said. “We don’t need to practice (the handoff) too much, which is kind of weird. Like on race day, it just comes together, and I think that’s just from years of running together. It’s definitely cool that every meet I get to hand it off to him and just let it go.”

The Seattle men’s team includes several other former Hawaii high school athletes– including sprinters Tom Topinka of Iolani and Brant Yamamoto of Hawaii Baptist– so they hope to represent the islands well while chasing an SU school record.

With a loaded field at conference and energy from the crowd, which has been lacking at many track meets due to COVID-19 restrictions, Pharis said the 400 relay team is prepared and “ready to run a good time” in Texas.

The Redhawks have also been doing well as a whole leading up to this point in the season, setting three new individual school records and earning 17 additional marks on SU’s all-time top-10 outdoor list.

“Just being around all those people who just want to constantly get better is, like, you can’t ask for anything more– people who just strive to get better and they push you at practice as well,” Isaiah said. “Even if it’s other event groups, you just see them working hard and you just want to work as hard, if not harder.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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