Natchez High begins season minus sprinter Janice Davis

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 9, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; From here to mid-May, it’s going to hang over them like the Bubonic plague.

Worse is, they know it.

Can Natchez High’s girls win a track state championship without Janice Davis? Will anybody be able to fill BJ’s spikes? Is the pressure to win without her too much to bear?

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They are all valid questions, but as senior Tanieka Hill will tell you, as all-world as Davis (now running for Stanford University) was, she never past the baton to herself.

&uot;It does frustrate me because (Davis) couldn’t have done it without us,&uot; said Hill, who along with her Bulldog teammates will compete at the season’s first indoor meet at the LSU Indoor High School Classic beginning Friday.

&uot;We accomplished a lot as a team. If she was out by herself, she wouldn’t be who she is.&uot;

Davis is as decorated and as feared a sprinter as they come, competing on the international stage with the USA Track and Field program.

However, the cupboard is not bare for head coach Larry Wesley, who has Hill and junior Taji Dorsey returning for the girls, and South Carolina commitment Kedrieck Gibbons back for his final year with the boys.

Wesley said an event like the one at LSU is a chance for Natchez to see how it stacks up against the rest of the country, with club and high school teams coming in from all over.

&uot;That’s the best part of it &045; not being known,&uot; he said. &uot;Nobody expects us to be as versatile in track and field. I have no problem being the unknowns when we got to these big meets.&uot;

Any semblance of inconspicuousness, however, ends rather abruptly when teams start taking notice of the Bulldog and Lady Bulldogs’ accomplished athletes.

Gibbons held the best time in the country in the 110-meters hurdles last year, and blew away the field to take top honors in the 55-meter hurdles in Baton Rouge last January.

His signing a letter of intent with the Gamecocks is just more heat the part-time wide receiver welcomes.

&uot;When I go down (to Baton Rouge) there going to have to bring the pain because I know I am,&uot; said Gibbons, who placed second in the long jump at the same event last year. &uot;By committing I let some pressure off of me, but I also put some more on. I’m going to be the one who is the hunted.&uot;

Gibbons said he is 100 percent after a broken collarbone he suffered in football practice forced him to miss the remaining two games of the Bulldogs’ 1-10 season.

&uot;I thought it was going to mess my track season, but everything went real well through therapy,&uot; he said. &uot;They put me on weights, which helped me out a lot with my shoulder.&uot;

Helping Gibbons leave Natchez on a high note, namely a state championship, is junior Travis Washington.

Washington finished 13th in the 55-meters run in Baton Rouge last January, just missing out on qualifying for the finals, which consists of the top 10.

&uot;We were trying real hard last year, and we’ll be trying harder this year,&uot; Washington said. &uot;I feel like we’re going to come out with a ring this year.&uot;

Hardware isn’t hard to come by on the girls’ side. The Lady Bulldogs are the three-time defending state champ for Mississippi High School Athletic Association’s Class 5A.

While Davis will be missed, Natchez still can boast one of the state’s most accomplished relay teams, a sprinter in Dorsey, who finished third to Davis in the 200 at state last year, and Hill, whose 44.43 mark in the 300 hurdles broke an 18-year-old Class 5A record.

Hill also claimed the 100-meter hurdles in 15.22 seconds.

&uot;I feel like if we’ve done it once without (Davis), we can do it again,&uot; said Dorsey, who has represented Mississippi in events in New York and competed in California, Florida and throughout Mississippi and Louisiana as a Natchez ambassador. &uot;It’s not one person, but the team working together.&uot;

It helps too that Wesley is already grooming someone who may be the next Davis. Freshman Ke’Airra Jones finished fourth in the 400 and third in the high jump as an eighth-grader at state in 2003.

She also competed on the formidable relay teams the Lady Bulldogs put together. The 4×200 relay team had the second best indoor time in the nation last year after its performance at LSU.

I believe I can do anything I put my mind to,&uot; Jones said. &uot;I know I’m going to be a little scared when I get up to that line, but once we start running I’ll do what I have to do.

&uot;Because we lost somebody (Davis) I want to be the one to fill the gaps. I think I can help the team. I want to be the best.&uot;

Wesley said Jones has as much raw talent as he has seen in Davis and Gibbons. He believes her naivety could be a blessing in disguise since it does not allow her to get distracted by anxiety.

Life without Janice Davis is here. The coach knows it is a challenge, but for those who believe Natchez High’s reign is over, Wesley wants you to know you are sadly mistaken.

&uot;It’s a big hill to climb&uot; without Davis, he said. &uot;But don’t get me wrong, like I told them last year: ‘No Davis, no problem.’ That’s how programs are built. When one star leaves another one comes along.&uot;