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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

Girls distance relay team closing in on school records

Sunday, May 22, 2005

(Photo)
Sikeston Juniors Traci Jackson, Ashley Johnson, Whitney Turner and Deneke Miller.
SIKESTON -- Year after year in Sikeston track and field, the boys tend to grab the headlines while the girls always play second fiddle.

But this year there are four girls that are making a name for themselves.

Traci Jackson, Ashley Johnson, Deneka Miller and Whitney Turner -- all juniors -- are teammates in the 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 meter relays.

Heading into Saturday's Class 3 Sectional meet in Festus, the girls were threats to reach the track and field state championships next week in Jefferson City and are teetering on setting two new school records in both relays.

Results from yesterday's meet weren't available at press time. But heading into the meet, the girls were confident in their chances.

"We're a strong team and we work hard to achieve our goals," said Johnson. "I think we're going to make it."

At last week's district meet, the girls placed second in the 4 x 800 relay with a time of 10:20.24, which is just two seconds off the school record set in 1992.

They also placed fourth in the 4 x 400 relay with a time of 4:17.48, which is just one second off the school record set in 1983.

Both times they set are easily the second best times in school history, but they want more.

"It's probably the most talented group of athletes that I've had," said Sikeston assistant coach Gary Williams. "I've had relay teams that might have had one or two outstanding individuals but they would have a couple weaker legs. "But this team not only has a lot of talent, but there really isn't a weak link. We match up really well against almost any team.

"They're very close to both records. If they had finished just a little bit faster last week they'd probably have both of them. It's not often that you have one relay team that can set two records."

What makes this team even more unique is that three of the girls -- Johnson, Turner and Miller -- are converted sprinters.

Jackson is more distance-oriented and she qualified for the state meet last year in the open 800-meter run.

But this year she was joined by the other three girls to form two of the top distance relay teams in the area.

"This is their third year to run together, but they were on our shorter relays the last couple years," said Sikeston head coach Jerry Dement. "They ran on the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 teams. We moved them up to the longer distance because they didn't quite have enough raw speed to be competitive on the state level.

"We felt they were willing to train and put in the time so that their ability was more conducive to being successful at the longer distance. They were willing to change and work with coach Williams, who has put in a lot of time and effort with them."

The coaches approached the three girls about running the longer races. As expected, they were hesitant.

"I didn't want to do it and in the first meet they made me run the 800," said Turner. "It was easier than I thought. It's easier than the open 400."

Johnson echoed Turner's sentiments.

"I really didn't want to do it, but there's always something good out there waiting," she said. "So I tried it and liked it. It's the best race I now run. I actually like the 800 better than the 400 now."

And for Jackson, who also trains in the fall in cross country, having her teammates join her makes things even more enjoyable.

"I've just been really excited about it because this is the first year I've gotten to run a distance relay with a bunch of girls that can train with me," said Jackson. "This past year or two I've trained on my own. It's exciting when you have girls to run with you and you're so close to making it to state and getting school records all at the same time.

"I really didn't know what to expect but I knew we had potential to be really good. I just didn't know exactly how good we'd be. It's really surprised me and excited me and it's gotten me pumped."

Jackson is the most experienced 800 runner on the team so she runs the lead leg and is able to set a good pace and get a favorable position for her less experienced, but talented teammates.

And with each passing week, the team is getting better and improving on their times.

"They're really just starting to learn how to run the race," said Williams. "They all have pretty good speed for 800 runners. Usually 3200 relays have a couple distance people in there that don't have the footspeed that these four all have. It's kind of unusual that you have four girls that can all crank out pretty fast 400 times that also run the 3200 relay. The sky's the limit when you've got speed.

"I still think there's going to be more improvement with each week. When you've got speed, big improvements can be made. It's hard for somebody that doesn't have speed to run any faster. The more they learn how to run it, the better they'll become."

The girls are a solid favorite to qualify in the 4 x 800 relay, but they are on the borderline of moving on in the 4 x 400. In the district meet last week, however, they were only three seconds behind first place Ste. Genevieve.

And perhaps the most intriguing aspect with the girls is that they are all juniors and will be returning next year even more seasoned.

"Hopefully they can qualify for the state championships and get some valuable experience this year and come back next year with that under their belt," said Dement. "The sky's the limit for these girls in Class 3. If they continue to train and work hard they can really do some good things."

Another interesting sidebar is Turner's father, Deon Turner, was a member of the 4 x 800 team in 1987 that set the school record.

"I think Whitney's really wanting to get that record so she can be on there with her dad," said Williams. "That's really neat if these girls can get the record. I don't think we've ever had a father/daughter record holder."

But while the school record would be icing on the cake, these girls have one goal -- making it to state.

"We've made it so far and we want to get even further," said Miller. "We've never made it past district before, but now we have and we're wanting more."