Natchez High girls don&8217;t want string of titles to end today

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

There is a point in the maturation process for every girl who lines up to run track at Natchez High. They may hear coach Larry Wesley fussing and hollering and wonder why he&8217;s being so gruff about something they enjoy.

Then it sinks in.

There&8217;s so much on the line. The Lady Bulldogs have a string of state championships in Class 5A, and no one wants to see it come to an end.

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They&8217;re at five now.

To get a sixth today with no seniors to speak of and their chances resting mostly on the shoulders of two standout juniors, it&8217;s going to take an extra effort.

That&8217;s why, junior Ke&8217;Airra Jones said, Wesley and the coaches holler so much.

&8220;Some people get accustomed to winning and working hard, but Coach Wesley &8212; he hasn&8217;t lost since he&8217;s been here,&8221; Jones said. &8220;He hollers and fusses and gets mad, and I feel the same way. He&8217;s not used to losing, and I&8217;m the same way. I don&8217;t want to start.&8221;

No one wants to start losing today, but folks at Brandon and Vicksburg would have it otherwise. Not since the 2000 state meet has the Lady Bulldogs not come away with the overall team trophy when it&8217;s all over, but there were reasons those teams did so well.

Janice Davis. Lexi Washington. Tanieka Hill. Taji Dorsey.

They&8217;re gone. Jones and Candace Frye are juniors and leading a team of nine heading to today&8217;s state meet at Pearl High School.

&8220;It&8217;s going to be tough,&8221; Wesley said. &8220;The teams are matching up with us. Vicksburg is going to be improved, and they&8217;ve run against me for four years and have pretty much the same thing that we have. Brandon is going to be tough. I&8217;ll make this prediction &8212; whoever wins it will win it by three or four points.&8221;

The doubt could be from last week&8217;s South State meet, one that Brandon ran away with for the championship. The Lady Bulldogs were able to do that thanks to a strong showing in field events, while Natchez High was nearly all running events with entries only in the high jump and long jump.

Yet, this is the state meet. Everyone will point. And the north, Wesley said, is solid enough in field events to negate some of Brandon&8217;s points from last week in field. It may very well come down to the mile relay, the customary last event at a track meet.

&8220;It&8217;s going to come down to relays,&8221; said freshman Alia Frank, who will run the 400 and a leg on the relays. &8220;To the last one &8212; the 4×4 relays &8212; just like last year. I was scared (last year) &8212; not scared, but nervous for being (my) first time.&8221;

Brandon will have athletes in 16 events to Natchez High&8217;s 14. Jones and Frye will go in field events (Jones in high jump, Frye in long, both among the favorites). The two may be the favorites to win their events on the track, too.

And as far as teams standings are concerned, Natchez High will need them.

&8220;(Brandon) has a pretty good girl in the triple jump, and they&8217;re strong in pole vault and long jump,&8221; Wesley said. &8220;The girls from the north, their pole vaulters are way better. Vicksburg mirrors my team. We&8217;ve run against them for four years. They&8217;ve got a good hurdler, a good quarter person, a good long jumper and a good high jumper. That&8217;s how they&8217;ve been able to keep up with me.&8221;

The matchups with the Missy Gators make for an interesting day, but it could all be for naught if Frye and Jones have an off day. Frye has yet to lose in the hurdles after winning South State last week in the 100 in 15.67 seconds and the 300 in 46.74. Jones won the high jump at 5-6 and the 200 in 24.87 seconds.

Jones came in third in the 400 last week at 58.95, and Frye finished third in the long jump at 16-8.

Jones could pull out of the 100 to run a leg. Athletes are limited to four events today.

&8220;It&8217;s not like you can go out, mess up and say I&8217;ll get it next time,&8221; said Jones, running in her third state meet. &8220;Everybody will have to go hard. We won district and won region, but we kind of slacked off at South State. Nobody really gave everything they had. We have to do what we have to do. We can&8217;t rely on anybody else.&8221;

Jones will have a key race today in the 400 against Starkville&8217;s Santana Lowery, who signed with Mississippi State and has a personal best of 56.00 in the 400.

The other events may be more cut and dry for the pair, and the Lady Bulldogs will rely on their younger girls to make up the difference &8212; LaColony Oliver in the 800, Pam Selmon in the 3,200, Charmaine King in the 100 hurdles, Frank in the 400 and Jessica Gails, Elise King and Alicia Wimbley in the relays.

The race in the 400 will be crucial, Wesley said. Lowery and Jones have run against each other before, and today will be their last race.

Whatever the outcome, you can bet the coach will be there hollering and fussing every step of the way.

&8220;She&8217;s going to have the toughest job,&8221; Wesley said. &8220;That&8217;s Ke&8217;Airra&8217;s challenge right there &8212; can she beat her? This is Candace&8217;s and Ke&8217;Airra&8217;s team right now. It&8217;s their time. Most of this stuff falls in Ke&8217;Airra&8217;s shoulders.&8221;