Natchez High in division meet today as first step toward getting to state

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 15, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; It’s hard to argue with greatness. Jordan knew when to deliver at the buzzer. Elway had ice rushing through his veins in those fourth quarter comebacks. Woods seems to always know when to plunge the dagger into his competitors’ hearts with a 20-foot putt.

And so Tuesday when a virtually barren track greeted Natchez track and field coach Larry Wesley as he hustled out of his navy Jeep Cherokee, all he could do was throw his hands up and smile as if to say, &uot;What can you do?&uot;

Kids will be kids, old habits die hard and to Wesley’s chagrin, Tuesday marked the mythical &uot;Senior Skip Day&uot; and a majority of his athletes strolled onto the blue-and-gold asphalt later than anticipated for a practice that was intended to be a final tune-up for today’s conclusion to the district championship meet.

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&uot;Like all sports, as our season winds down the kids start to lose focus a little bit,&uot; said Wesley, in his second season as head coach. &uot;I’ve got to put pressure on them to continue to reach for goals. People always say in the postseason you got to win or you’re going home. In track and field you can really see that.&uot;

After Monday’s field events in Hattiesburg, Natchez’s Lady Bulldogs, the two-time defending state champs, and the Bulldogs, who finished fourth &045; their highest in some time &045; at state, are alone at the top.

Beginning at 2 p.m. today Natchez will battle Brandon, Meridian and Wayne County for one last chance to qualify runners for next week’s regional meet in Hancock.

So it stands to reason the more eligible athletes a team has the better their chances of eventually winning a state title.

&uot;We’ve always been at a high level, and I’m just trying to continue that tradition,&uot; Wesley said. &uot;Once people see a winning program, more and more want to be involved with it.&uot;

The treasured success stories come from students who have been a part of the program since middle school.

Senior Janice Davis, who is headed to Stanford next year, and junior Kendrick Gibbons, the nation’s fastest 110-meter hurdler this season at 13.74, have grown up track.

On Monday Robert Lewis eighth grader Ke’Airra Jonea won the high jump with a leap of 5’4&uot;, edging out Natchez senior Lexi Washington because Jones had fewer misses.

Now Wesley feels he has two sophomores &045; Travis Washington and Taji Dorsey &045; who are ready to fill Davis and Gibbons’ shoes.

&uot;This is it. I’d put my money on it. The only thing that is holding them back is the two (Davis and Gibbons) before them,&uot; he said. &uot;They can easily be my next two stars if they stay focused.&uot;

Last season Dorsey, as a ninth grader, finished second in the 200-meter state final to Davis.

Controlling her diet is one of the plethora of things she has learned from Davis, Dorsey said.

&uot;It’s always positive. Before we begin each race we tell each other good luck and always after we say, ‘good run,’&uot; Dorsey said. &uot;I’ve learned that working hard pays off. You can break records, and that’s something I would like to do.&uot;

Washington, who runs the 100- and 200-meter dashes and all three relay teams, failed to qualify for the state meet last season, finishing fifth in the 100.

He said track has pushed him to dream beyond high school with visions of one day participating in the Olympics.

&uot;I’m never worried about the relays but seem to be a little nervous about the individual events,&uot; Washington said. &uot;I just try to get in my own world like I’m out there by myself.&uot;