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Ready to run: Cathedral track team in the starting blocks as season approaches

Jay Sowers | The Natchez Democrat Cathedral track and field athletes, Grace Ann White, from left, Peyton Latham and Ishmael Blackmon say they are ready for the 2013 track season. The Green Wave will begin practice Feb. 1.

NATCHEZ — As a seventh-grader, Grace Ann White finished fifth in the 400-meter dash at the Mississippi High School Athletic Association Class 1A state championship last year.

With five more years ahead of her, White said the early success has hopefully paved the way for even better results down the road — or track, in this case.

“It helps me for when I’m older and I want to beat my own records,” White said.

Practice for the upcoming track season at Cathedral High School begins Feb. 1, and White is one of several athletes looking to improve upon last year’s results and make some noise at the state meet this spring.

“I just want to place higher in state,” said White, who also competes in the 4X200-meter relay.

Cathedral head track coach Tommy Smith said White comes from a whole family of competitive athletes, and has a unique competitive drive to her.

“I think she was the fastest seventh-grader in the state last year (in the 400-meter dash),” Smith said. “If not, she was one of the fastest.”

White also cheerleads and plays basketball and tennis, and she said running track helps her stay in shape for the other sports.

“It’s always good to be fast and in shape, and it really helps me with basketball and tennis, because it’s easier to get to the ball and run down the court,” White said.

Sophomore Peyton Latham, who competes in the 800-meter run and the 2-mile run, has been spending his offseason preparing for a marathon. Latham will compete in the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans half marathon Feb. 24.

After seeing former Cathedral athletes Dylan Sandidge and Blake Martin compete in the same marathon last year, Latham said he felt inspired to give it a try.

“I started training myself, and I’ve been doing that for a while,” Latham said.

Latham said he often runs 5 to 6 miles by himself, and he’s trying to get used to running 13 miles come time for the marathon.

As a track athlete, Latham said training for the marathon helps keep him in shape.

“You have to stay in shape the entire time,” he said. “Once you stop running, it’s really hard to gain it back.”

Smith said Latham is exclusively a track athlete, and though he didn’t make it to state last year, the future is bright for this sophomore runner.

“He finished sixth in the state in cross country, which is a great accomplishment,” Smith said. “He’s truly self-motivated.”

Latham’s goals for this season are to beat his best 2-mile time, 11:45, as well as get below the two-minute mark in the 800-meter run.

Junior Ishmael Blackmon said he just started running last week to get ready for the upcoming season. A sprinter who competes in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes and the relay events, Blackmon said one of the reasons he runs track is to help boost his football skills.

“Conditioning-wise, it helps me get faster and helps me explode better,” Blackmon said. “It actually gets me extremely fast, and I can use that speed on the football field, which helps me out a lot.”

Blackmon said his goals are to go to state in all of his events and win, and also set new personal-best times. Smith said Blackmon has the potential to do that, and called him the cornerstone of the group of boys sprinters on the team.

“He’s an extremely raw, natural talent,” Smith said. “He wants a track scholarship, and right now he’s on the edge of breaking out and really competing for podium spots as one of the top runners in 1A.”

Blackmon said he enjoys sprinting, especially when he’s getting to go up against athletes from different schools.

“I like the competition,” he said. “Everyone is so fast, and we’re all pretty much the same speed. You never really know who will come out in first.”