Stevens is enjoying a sport of her own

January 27, 1995|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

Monica Stevens broke with family tradition when she went out for the Hammond track team.

Everyone else played basketball in high school. Her parents also coached high school or summer-league teams. Even her brother, Kelvin, played at Hammond before accepting a football scholarship to Shepherd College in West Virginia.

"Growing up in North Carolina, which is basketball crazy, I don't know where track came from," said Stevens, who moved from Charlotte to Columbia in the fifth grade. "I always liked basketball. I just never had the feel for playing it."

Instead, Olympic track stars Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner caught her eye.

And that was fine with her parents. "They're happy that I run track and I like track better," said Stevens, defending county champ in the 55-meter hurdles.

The senior's season-best times rank second in the metro area in the 55-meter -- (7.3 seconds) and the 55 hurdles (8.6).

For the past two years, Stevens primarily has been a hurdler. In addition to winning the silver medal indoors at the regional and state meets last winter, she won the bronze in the county, region and state in the 100 and 300 hurdles last spring.

Those performances have drawn plenty of calls and letters from college coaches. Now, Stevens, who carries a 3.1 grade-point average and wants to study physical therapy, is trying to lower her times.

Although her sprint time is in the right range, Hammond coach Pete Hughes said, most colleges want to see a 55 hurdle time of 8.3 before they'll offer a full scholarship.

"She's very capable of running better than 8.6," said Hughes. "She has the speed, but there are some technique flaws we're trying to work out. She's a little too high going over the hurdle. She's thinking more jumping over the hurdle than stepping over the hurdle."

Stepping into the limelight is new for Stevens after running for three years behind All-Metro teammate Kisha Jett, who dominated the sprints and hurdles for four years.

"Sometimes I went out there with the attitude that I'll just go out for second, because it's kind of hard to go for first when I'm running with Kisha," said Stevens, who never beat Jett. "I kind of did feel like I was in her shadow, but that's good, because when she's gone, there's me there, and running with her made me push myself to run faster."

This season, Stevens has added the 55 -- for the first time since she was a freshman.

"The -- I always felt was a real short distance for me. It took a while to pick up my speed and in the 55, you don't really have time for that. By the time you pick up the speed, it's over."

Now, Stevens is more used to the shorter distances, and the 300 has become a stretch even though Hughes said she has the JTC potential to dominate the event.

"It's been a challenge trying to sell her on that event," said Hughes. "She has the speed and endurance, she's just lacking confidence in herself to finish the race."

With the Howard County championships coming up Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Fifth Regiment Armory in downtown Baltimore, Stevens aims to win four events, including the 800 relay, which took the gold last year at counties and states.

She faces some tough competition, including Howard's Kim Morehouse in the 55 --. The two split their first two meetings but Morehouse has run the faster time, 7.2.

Even more than sweeping her events, Stevens wants to help the Bears prove they can defend their county team title without Jett.

"I feel there is pressure not only on me but on everyone as a team to win counties," she said. "As far as taking the place of Kisha, I don't think anybody can take her place. I don't know about the 40 points, but hopefully I can come close."

Said Hughes: "It's like in basketball or any other sport, you have a go-to person you count on in crucial situations. Monica is our go-to person."

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