Western girls on fast track

High Schools

April 25, 2002|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Western track coach Jerry Molyneaux and his top runner, senior Mariama Gondo, have diametrically different explanations for the recent accomplishments of the Doves' 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 relay teams.

Molyneaux likes to examine the practical reasons.

"They are the best I have coached, because first of all, they came in with more natural speed than those in the past," said Molyneaux, who has led the Western track program for the past 15 years. "Also, I have more talented athletes in a group than in the past. We have four good runners. In the past, we may have had three or two good runners. But in a relay, you need to have four good ones. And that is what has brought these teams together. There's no slow leg. There's no weak leg on the teams at all."

Gondo, on the other hand, prefers to view the intangibles.

"We're a bunch of girls who just like to have fun," she said. "When you have a team that's more like a family, it becomes much easier to connect."

In reality, both coach and pupil are correct. And it is this fortuitous combination of talent and chemistry that helps explain why Western's relay teams could be a threat to challenge in the high school girls division at the prestigious 108th Penn Relays, to be held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia today through Saturday.

"With a relay team, you have to be patient with one another, and you have to be understanding because sometimes we will make mistakes," Gondo said. "Each mistake can affect the overall performance, so you need to have patience and tolerance. And that's what we try to practice every day."

According to junior Alicia Williams: "We're good individually. We say before we run, `Let us run well individually and it comes together collectively.' No matter what problems we might have before the race, we put it aside and it all comes together."

For Western's 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter relay teams, the bar has been raised by repeated success this season. In the indoor track season, the Doves' 4 x 800 relay team of Gondo, Williams and juniors Latosha Wallace and Midchild Carter won the state title and broke a state record with a time of 9 minutes, 30.90 seconds.

The same team, with freshman Rokesha Williams replacing Gondo, then took its success outside on April 13, winning the Morgan State Invitational. Western's time of 9:37.36 bested second-place North Penn (Pa.) by more than five seconds.

Even more impressive, the 4 x 400 relay team of Gondo, Wallace, Alicia Williams and Rokesha Williams won the Morgan State Invitational with a school-record time of 3:51.07. That bested second-place West Catholic (Pa.) by less than one second, and national powerhouse William Penn (Pa.) by more than three seconds.

Western's 4 x 400 winning time at Morgan State was also not far off the state outdoor track record time of 3:50.1. That record, set in 1983, is one of the longest standing outdoor track records in Maryland. And Western's girls have targeted it for a long-overdue update.

Wallace, the lead runner in both the 4 x 400 and 4 x 800, said the Doves could potentially "demolish" the 19-year-old mark. Molyneaux said the record is almost certain to be broken this year, but conceded it may not necessarily be by his girls.

"Three teams can break that record: Largo, Eleanor Roosevelt or us," he said. "I don't know which one it'll be, but one of us is going to break it."

The first step to any record or title begins with Wallace. More comfortable as a half-mile runner, Wallace said she uses a different strategy than most in the 4 x 400 to gain an advantage.

"In the [4 x 400], I have to get out, maintain speed, then go again," Wallace said. "I have the endurance in me more so than a sprinter, who will probably run the curve and daisy off. The sprinter has the foot speed in the end. I want to get in front of the sprinter, so I can have a chance."

Said Molyneaux: "Latosha Wallace is an excellent, excellent leadoff person. I have never seen an athlete on my team that runs as fast as her as a first-leg runner. She usually brings the baton to the front and motivates the team to continue to stay in front."

In the 4 x 400, Wallace passes the baton to Alicia Williams, and in the 4 x 800, it goes to Carter. In both cases, the lead Wallace ordinarily builds is usually maintained.

The third leg in both races is occupied by freshman Rokesha Williams (no relation to Alicia). According to Molyneaux, Rokesha Williams is the "most talented freshman I have ever had," and although her contribution is sometimes overlooked, it is no less significant.

Finally comes Gondo to anchor the 4 x 400 and Alicia Williams the 4 x 800. Gondo is Western's No. 1 sprinter and has enjoyed plenty of individual success as well. At the Nike Classic unofficial national high school indoor track championship meet last month, Gondo finished fifth in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.75. At Morgan State, she placed second in the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.27.

As the anchor on the relay, quite simply: "If she is in the front, or if she's close to the front, we know we'll finish in front," Molyneaux said.

The five aforementioned girls comprise perhaps the two most talented relay teams in the history of Baltimore City track. But they are far from being satisfied with that appellation.

"The school record [in the 4 x 400] was a good accomplishment, but we're looking for bigger and better records," Wallace said. "We can do a lot better. Now that we broke the [indoor] state record [in the 4 x 800], confidence has skyrocketed for everybody on the team. We're all looking down the road for the same thing - a state championship."

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