Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> SHHS indoor pioneers

Leader sports editor

A little more than a dozen Sylvan Hills athletes are embarking upon new territory for the school. The Lady Bears’ indoor track team just competed in its first event on Saturday at the Southeast Missouri All Comers meet in Cape Girardeau.

As one might expect for a team in its first-ever meet, the Lady Bears didn’t take the SEMO Rec Center by storm, but that’s not what coach Grover Garrison and his band of pioneering athletes are doing it for, at least just yet.

“When I came here last school year there were only three or four kids returning for track,” said Garrison. “We walked the halls and visited with many young ladies who weren’t involved in other sports. We started training in September and they were diligent enough to believe in what we were trying to instill.”

Garrison was talking about his first outdoor track team, and that group that started the previous September, dominated the 5A-Central Conference meet last spring.

Since then a few of the athletes continued competing in meets across the region over the summer, then came together to form SHHS’ first-ever cross country team. Last year’s outdoor conference champion had only one senior, so expectations are high this year as well.

This year’s team has only three seniors, Justis Jakes, Jahnay Duncan and Jamia Willis. Jakes has assumed the role of team leader. A gifted distance runner, she won two events in conference last season and placed well in several meets over the summer. But it wasn’t always that way.

“Justis is an interesting story,” Garrison said. “There was a strong consideration to let her go last year. She wasn’t fully into the pain of working hard every day. Over the summer we made the decision to adjust her events. She began working with coach Tai Canady while running for Team Elite Track Club and the light came on. She has done a 180 in track and in the classroom.

“I’ve put a lot on her. She understands what we’re trying to accomplish and accepts criticism proactively. She’s been a joy to work with.”

Some of the other strengths of this year’s team is sophomore distance runner Chloe George, a transfer from Monette, Mo., who Garrison says is “just as good as Justis.”

Junior Mya Graham returns as the 400-meter conference champion from last year, and is stronger and faster than she was a year ago, according to her coach.

Jahnay Duncan, who is currently competing with the Lady Bears’ basketball team, won the 110-meter hurdles last year at conference. Garrison also mentions a trio of freshmen in Erykah Sanders, Brielle Hayes and Chanel Miller who will make an immediate impact this season.

Hayes and Miller were the only two Lady Bears with top-eight, point-scoring finishes at SEMO. Hayes finished seventh in the long jump and Miller took second in the triple jump.

And while Garrison heaps the praise on his athletes, they athletes give their coach a lot of the credit.

“It just became totally different when he became the coach,” said Jakes. “The difference is amazing. To be honest, Sylvan Hills track was at the bottom and then in one year we won conference. He pushes me more and from where we were last year to this year, it’s just much better. I can see myself that I’m a lot faster. The team has grown and everyone has worked hard and improved a lot.”

Garrison is also excited about the future. He’s already brought eighth-grader O’Shayla Muldrow up to practice with the varsity, though she’s not yet eligible to compete at the high school level.

The Lady Bears get back to competition quickly. They will be competing in the Arkansas High School Invitational this weekend in Fayetteville.