May 14, 2010 8:31:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High''s girls'' track team heads to Pearl with less representatives than usual, but the Lady Jackets could end up with more individual titles than they did in last year''s seventh place finish at the state meet.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State meet yielded just four state qualifiers for fourth-year head coach Mitchell Evans, but the Starkville graduate is banking on experience to push the five-runner team to a solid finish.
All of Starkville''s athletes, with the exception of Johniece Moore, competed at the state meet last season. Junior Reshequia Henderson and senior Shay Bonner were members of the state title squad that won the 4x200-meter relay final in 2009.
According to Mitchell, the Lady Jackets have posted personal records at state in each of his four seasons in charge.
That fact, combined with the experience from last year''s meet has made for a confident coach two days ahead of the state finale.
"The pressure won''t be on them because they already know what the pressure''s going to be like," Mitchell said. "You have to have depth and experience, and I feel like we have both of them. I don''t have any doubt those five girls will do well this weekend."
How well the Lady Jackets perform, particularly in the 4x200, depends on crisper handoffs. Mitchell lamented the second-place North State finish behind Clinton , which has the fastest time in the state. The Lady Jackets ran 1 minute 45.70 seconds, while Clinton clocked in at 1 minute 44.91 seconds.
"Looking at the South State and what we just ran against, I can honestly say that the only thing that kept us from running an even better time at North State and winning the 4x2 is hand offs," Mitchell said. "Looking at the South State times, we''ve got a good chance of winning the 4x2. We''re going to work on some things this week and get all of the twitches out so we''ll be able to run faster this weekend."
The Jackets'' 4x400 squad faces an uphill climb in its quest for a state title, as Murrah and Clinton finished one-two in Tupelo. Murrah ran 4 minutes, 10 seconds but its season''s best is four seconds lower than its North State time.
While Mitchell is confident the 4x400 team can run under Murrah''s North State benchmark, first-leg runner Cynequa Steele isn''t as certain the team can make up the difference.
"Basically, it''s down to three days," Steele said Tuesday. "There''s not much we can really do right now but practice harder. As far as dropping a time, it''s not likely. We ran our best time (4:14) at North Half and dropped form 4:25. We''re still going to go down there and race as hard as we can, but our goal is to finish as high as we can."
Bonner, who took second in the 100 hurdles and third in the 300 hurdles, is happy to see former Greenville Weston hurdler Brittany Covington in a Mississippi State uniform this season. Bonner finished behind Covington in both the 100 and 300 hurdles events last season, but the Itawamba Community College basketball signee won each event at North State.
Bonner said she feels faster in the 100 than last season, but feels she still has time to shave in the 300.
Hattiesburg hurdler Taryn Hartfield is the South''s top 6A hurdler.
"She''ll make it tough, but just getting over the hurdles quicker has been the big thing for me," Bonner said. "I feel great going into it and I''m confident me and my team will do great."
n BOYS: After two straight state titles, the Yellow Jackets'' small contingent of state qualifiers seems unfathomable.
Thrower Craig Armstead and 100-meter sprinter Julian Lewis are Starkville''s lone representatives this year following the loss of distance runner Quartez Rogers, All-American sprinter Tavaris Tate and thrower Josh Henley. Billy Shed was the only returning sprinter from last year''s squad.
Head coach Cleveland Hudson''s final season hasn''t gone like he anticipated, but he knew replacing the core of back-to-back state championship teams would be a challenge.
Still, the Starkville native sees a bright future for the Yellow Jackets.
"We''ve had about five sophomores that went on to the regional track meet. We had a sophomore qualify for the North Half," Hudson said. "It''s a bittersweet moment retiring at the end of the year. I see the potential that I''m leaving here. I''m going to be around to watch them excel later on, and I''m looking for Starkville High School to be another state champion."
Michigan transfer Julian Lewis makes his first appearance at state in the 100 after taking fourth at North State with a 11.02 second clip.
The Jacket sprinter said adjusting to track in Mississippi required better technique out of the blocks and a much better time.
"The people down here are much faster, so I had to adjust my speed to keep up," Lewis said. "It was like a whole second I had to make up because I was running a 12. I had to shave off a lot and learn to explode coming out."
Craig Armstead provided the biggest surprise of the track season, earning a second-place shot put at North Half in his first season throwing for the Jackets. Armstead threw 46 feet, five inches in Tupelo but must deal with the only thrower to beat him in the last three meets, as Olive Branch senior Reggie Williams tossed three more feet than Armstead last week.
"Coach trained me and I worked hard," Armstead said. "At regionals, I didn''t think I was going to do too good. At North Half, to tell you the truth, I didn''t expect to make it. My teammates encouraged me, and I got it done. It''s been a great year and I''m looking forward to making a dent at state for Starkville High."
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