She's in the homestretch

Western's Shalaiyah Sommerville looks to finish strong as she enters her final high school track season.

March 29, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

The word "tomboy" is an insult to some girls. To Shalaiyah Sommerville, it was an apt description.

"I was a tomboy," she said. "[My mother] always made me wear a dress, but I would put shorts on underneath so that I could race the boys."

Those races would provide the foundation for a track and field career that has helped Sommerville graduate from running lightpole to lightpole in her neighborhood to becoming one of the best sprinters in the metro area.

The Western senior is putting the finishing touch on a high school resume that includes individual state crowns in the 200- and 400-meter sprints, 15 individual regional and Baltimore City titles and four appearances on the All-Metro team in indoor and outdoor track and field.

Sommerville, who played an instrumental role in helping the Doves capture the Class 3A state championship last spring, has already accepted a scholarship to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where she is expected to showcase her talent in the 200, 400 and possibly the 100.

Western coach Jerry Molyneaux, who rarely brags about his athletes, ranked Sommerville among the top five athletes he has coached at the school.

"She has a good work ethic, good timing, and a good attitude. All-around, she puts that package together," Molyneaux said. "I've had athletes who are faster and talented, but they have issues with dedication. ... She's a person you'd like to have back again because of who she is."

To hear Laila Thompson, Sommerville's mother, speak, her daughter was destined for track and field.

"She was two months early," said Thompson of Sommerville, who was born Sept. 6, 1988. "She was always in motion even when she was in utero. I couldn't get any sleep because she was moving all the time."

Genetics definitely could have played a role. Thompson ran the 100, 200 and 400 and competed in the high jump for Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia.

Later, representing Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, at the 1989 Utah Summer Games, Thompson won the 100 and 200. At the time, she was eight months removed from giving birth to Sommerville.

Sommerville's father, Orrett Sommerville, is from Jamaica, and he ran the 400, 800, and 1,600 and competed in the long jump. Thompson said Orrett Sommerville was the base champion in the long jump.

As she got older, Sommerville would engage in daily competitions with the neighborhood children to see who was faster. She got a particular kick out of beating the boys.

"I'd give them a head-start and I'd still catch them," Sommerville said. "It was before school while we were waiting at the bus stop, it was after school, during school. Any time they wanted to race me, we would run."

Thompson, who joked that she was looking for any extracurricular activity to sap Sommerville of her seemingly boundless energy, signed up her 8-year-old daughter for the Randallstown Track Club, where she competed in a number of events that included the 800 and long jump.

After four years there, Sommerville switched to the Ed Waters Track and Field Club in Baltimore and met Molyneaux.

"I thought she had some potential to be a good athlete, looking at her natural ability when she ran," he said. "She didn't really have a coach. The times she was running were above average for the event that she was running. When you see that and no coaching, you realize that athlete has potential."

As a freshman at Western, Sommerville found herself second on the depth chart in her events behind standout Latosha Wallace. Rather than feel threatened by the presence of a talented underclassman, Wallace served as a role model, according to Sommerville.

"I would always play around, and I would see that she played around, too. But when it was time to work, she would work and go all-out," said Sommerville, who became known as "Little Latosha" among the Doves. "She knew when to have fun, but when she was real focused, we knew to leave her alone. That's what I admired about her."

After Wallace graduated, Sommerville, then a sophomore, flourished and was considered the pre-race favorite to win the 200 at the state championships at Morgan State University.

But Alyssa Evering of Fallston caught Sommerville by surprise and claimed the crown. The sting of that loss stayed with Sommerville for much of her junior year.

"Last year, I was training for her," Sommerville said of Evering. "I would be real serious, as if she was right next to me, and I would train for her because I wanted to beat her."

At the state meet, Sommerville and Evering met again, and while Sommerville was standing near the start line for the 200, she said she got some extra motivation.

"I heard all these comments like, `Fallston's got this' and `Western will get second,' " she recalled. "The more they kept saying that, the more I was like, `Oh no. This is going to be the last time she will ever beat me in the 200.' "

Sommerville made good on that pledge, winning in 24.32 seconds to Evering's 24.60 seconds.

After turning down offers from Syracuse, Maryland and Florida Central to commit to UNLV last November, Sommerville helped Western win indoor championships at the Baltimore City and Class 4A-3A Central regional levels. At the city championships, Molyneaux raised some eyebrows by asking Sommerville to compete in the 800. She finished third.

"It was not a calculated risk," he said. "I look at athletes like her and Theresa Lewis and Letecia Wright as athletes who need to run as many individual events as they can because of their talent."

Sommerville said she didn't mind running in the 800 and has even told the UNLV coaches that she would be interested in competing in the 400 hurdles, an event in which she hasn't run since she was 15.

"I know that if my team needs points, I will do it even though I don't want to," Sommerville said. "And I won't slack off either."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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