Meade's girls team rises to the occasion to win its first county championship and gain school recognition equal to the boys

A banner season

Track and field

February 14, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

The banner hanging inside Meade's gymnasium listing the school's Anne Arundel County championship teams instilled conflicting emotions in Christina Mason.

There was the sense of pride for the crowns captured by the Mustangs boys teams in outdoor and indoor track and field last year. As a member of the girls squad, Mason witnessed the subsequent celebrations.

And yet the senior couldn't help but also feel a sense of emptiness because the girls team had not accomplished a similar feat.

"It was motivation because we wanted to see girls track and field be up there, too," Mason said of the banner that greeted the squad every time practice was held inside the gym. "We wanted to be just like the boys."

Consider that mission accomplished for the girls team, which claimed the title at the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover on Jan. 16. The championship was the first in school history for the girls indoor track program.

According to coach Nigel Holder, the last time a girls team from Meade won a county crown was the 1996-97 girls basketball squad.

While the victory might have surprised the Mustangs and Holder himself, at least one coach was well aware of their potential.

"Meade has always been a factor in Anne Arundel track and field, so their recent success is not a surprise," said Chesapeake coach Skip Lee, who guided the Cougars to their first county title last winter. "It takes a talented coach to assemble a championship lineup. Coach Holder knows what he's got and is able to put athletes in places where they can be successful."

The achievement has galvanized the school and the squad. Classmates stood on their chairs and applauded the track athletes the day after the championship meet. Hardly a day goes by when assistant principal Darryl Kennedy doesn't take a few seconds during his daily morning announcements to congratulate both the girls and boys, who captured their second consecutive county title.

"It's made a big difference," Holder said of taking the crown. "Ever since counties, I've had perfect attendance every day. Prior to counties, it was sporadic. Girls came and went. But now that they can see it, they believe, and they love it. They buy into it now, and it's really a driving force for them."

Morale wasn't always this high for Meade. The team has just 13 girls on its roster and only two - Mason and Martina Dodd - are seniors.

The lack of depth means that the Mustangs likely won't score any points in the high jump, shot put and pole vault, according to Holder, a former long-distance champion at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt who earned a track scholarship to UMES.

Perhaps the biggest drain on the team's confidence occurred after members came back from winter break and learned that senior tri-captain Jenny Barbett had opted to skip the remainder of the season to concentrate on soccer.

"She scored almost 30 points last year," Holder said of the team's top sprinter. "A big piece of the puzzle was kind of taken away, but soccer is her love. We didn't worry about it or let it bring us down. We looked at it as a challenge, something to overcome."

Added Dodd: "You can't think about who you don't have. You have to think about who you do have."

Yet the signs of the Mustangs' talent were evident. The team placed first at a league meet Dec. 6 and then at an inter-county meet pitting schools from Anne Arundel and Howard counties last month.

At the county championship meet, Meade trailed Annapolis, 79-67, with just two events remaining. But Mason and sophomore Jasmine Savage finished first and fourth, respectively, in the 800-meter race, giving the Mustangs 14 points and a slim 81-79 lead over the Panthers.

With just the 1,600 relay left, Holder reminded Mason - who had already won the 500 and placed second in the 300 - Dodd, junior Lauren LeClercq and sophomore Ashley Hendricks of what was at stake.

"It makes you buckle down, because you know what you have to do to win," Mason said of Holder's tactic, which some coaches might avoid because it places so much pressure on their athletes. "It gives you more focus in the race."

The strategy worked, as the foursome won the 1,600 relay in 4 minutes, 14 seconds, clinching the victory for Meade.

But rather than sit back and become complacent, the Mustangs continue to hunger for more and recognize that their triumph has simply raised the bar.

"After you feel the joy, you feel the expectations," Savage said. "You've got to go back and do well again."

It's a strange but welcome feeling for the girls, who will try to add another crown at the Class 4A-3A Central regional championships tonight.

"We know that if you work hard, you'll get results like the ones we got at counties," Dodd said. "So we want to keep getting results at regionals and states. We don't want to stop here. We want to keep on moving."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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