March 25, 2014 11:01:32 AM
A little more than two weeks ago, Mercedes Mattix still had basketball on her brain.
Mattix and the New Hope High School girls basketball season were primed to win two more games to realize their goal of winning a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state title. Even though Mattix's best sport -- track and field -- was calling, she was focused on a sport in which she had become a key contributor. When basketball season ended a little too quickly with a loss to South Jones in the state semifinals on March 10, Mattix needed time to regroup.
"When I got home, I was a little sick and sad, but I went out to the track the day after and I ran," Mattix said. "I didn't do much because I wasn't ready to run yet. I wasn't over our loss the day before."
Today, the loss still hurts, but Mattix has found a way to deal with it because she has immersed herself in track and field. An impressive showing in her first meet of the season has helped turn her attention to another season filled with championship dreams.
On Friday at the Ole Miss High School Invite in Oxford, Mattix won the 400 meters with a personal-best time of 55.70 seconds. That time also is the best in the state this season. Mattix also finished second in the 100 (12.37) and third in the 200 (25.28).
For her accomplishments, Mattix is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"After I got over (the loss), I worked out the rest of the spring break and about three days the week coming up to the meet and I felt good about it," said Mattix, who has committed to compete in track and field at Ole Miss. "When I went into the meet, I knew I was going to do well, but I didn't expect to do as well as I did in the 400."
Mattix called her time in the 400, which earned her "national elite" status, according to ms.milesplit.com, "shocking" because she reached her goal of a time in the 55-second range in her initial meet after a summer's worth of attempts trying to get there. She said her closest try was a 56.16.
"I didn't want to get down on myself because I wasn't getting there," Mattix said. "I knew if I kept working hard it was going to come."
A year ago, Mattix finished fifth in the 100 (12.25), second in the 200 (25.25) and first in the 400 (58.27) at the Class 5A state meet. Even though she didn't have a lot of time to practice for the first meet of her final high school season, Mattix said she felt in great shape thanks to all of the conditioning girls basketball coach Laura Lee Holman had her team do to prepare it for its aggressive, pressing style. Still, Mattix acknowledges basketball shape and track and field shape are different things. That's part of the reason she had a special focus Friday. Mattix also wanted to make an impression because she was on a recruiting visit and hoped to earn a scholarship offer from Ole Miss. Earlier in the school year, she had received scholarship offers from Mississippi State and Georgia State.
Mattix said she didn't realize she had run a 55.70 because she told herself not to look at the clock in any of her races because she believes it slows her down.
"I knew I had something to prove," Mattix said. "I looked down at the timer and it said 55. I looked again and I just started jumping up and down because I was happy."
Mattix believes the 400 will be her primary event in college. For now, though, her goal is to get all three of her sprint times down. She said her times in the 100 and in the 200 could have been better Friday, but she feels the shorter sprints help her in the 400, which is one of the toughest individual events.
"The 100 helps me in the 400 with my finish and the 200 helps me with the second half of the 400," Mattix said. "Once I get to the 300-meter mark, I know I have to start picking it up. ... For that last 100 I know I have to finish strong, and I have gotten to where I can finish now without getting tired."
Mattix used to consider getting tired at the end of 400s one o her "struggles." This season, though, she wants to make that a distant memory, just like to the basketball team's loss to South Jones in the state semifinals. If she needs a reminder, she only has to think back to girls basketball practices and coach Holman, who encouraged the players never to settle. That's why Mattix has re-focused her goals more times to eclipse. She wants to go under 25 seconds in the 200 and she wants to go lower than 11.88 in the 100. She also had another number in mind for the 400.
"I have set the bar high for myself in running a 55 in the first meet, so I have to keep working," Mattix said. "I can't keep in shock and I can't settle. You can never settle. The 55 is my motivation to keep working and to keep pushing because I know I have a lot more left in me.
"I want to get a 54 because it will set me up better for college. If I keep working hard I know I can get it."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.