East Oktibbeha hoping to 'stay on bus' for state
Arthur Gillespie jumps a hurdle during Tuesday's practice at East Oktibbeha. (Photo by Joel Coleman, SDN)
By JOEL COLEMAN
It's perhaps an understatement to say the East Oktibbeha boys and girls track teams have enjoyed a successful spring.
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The Titans have already claimed a district championship. The Lady Titans finished as the district's runner up.
Now for head coach Randy Brooks' teams, four words sum up East Oktibbeha's plans as they prepare for runs at a state title.
"Stay on the bus," said Brooks. "That's the theme and motto we have this time of year. If you don't finish in the top four in your event, you don't travel anymore. So stay on the bus."
So far, so good for Brooks and his squads. Aside from the solid team efforts put forth by East Oktibbeha at the district level on April 19, all 20 of Brooks' boys and girls qualified for Saturday's region meet in Winona.
That bodes well for a sport such as track. The more athletes that compete, the more points your school has the potential to earn.
No one knows the importance of qualifying team members more than East Oktibbeha. Though the boys team had a strong spring a year ago, they came up short of actually claiming a title.
Having already claimed the district crown this year, Brooks thinks his boys group may be ready to take that next step towards even more glory.
"Boys team-wise, we're a lot stronger than we were last year," said Brooks. "We've got long jump and triple jump this year. We haven't had triple jump here since they consolidated our school, but Marlon Fair is doing that and the long jump and he came in second at district in both and that's given us team points that we didn't have last year."
The Titans tallied 117 team points to capture the district with the closest competition being Durant with a team total of 79 points.
Such a performance, Brooks says, is just another example of the talent his boys team boasts.
"They're all just enjoying track," said Brooks. "We have guys like Lexie Edwards and Terrance Rice that have been anchoring us for awhile."
Rice proved his value at the district meet by notching four individual wins â€“ three as the anchor of relay teams and one in the open 400-meter event.
"(Rice) is kind of our quarterback," said Brooks. "He and Kortland Petty, they keep the guys enthused about track because they are enthused about it. Plus there's Juwan Roberts, he's a sophomore that's been out here three years. So we've got young guys with a lot of experience that know what it takes to get to Jackson.
"They all talk about track during football season and basketball season. Once track gets here, everyone is excited about it."
The Lady Titans are just as amped up about their season. Last year, East Oktibbeha didn't even have a girls team. One year later, they are right in the mix of things in Class A.
The East Oktibbeha girls finished the district meet as the runner-up to Noxapater.
"We didn't have two girls in every event like (Noxapater) did," said Brooks. "They had more depth than us."
While Noxapater was able to win the district, the Lady Titans still performed well according to Brooks.
One such individual who shined was distance runner ChauRieal Jenkins. Jenkins captured the two-mile, the 1,600-meter and the 800-meter events. Jenkins also anchored the mile relay team that finished second.
Another strong performance came from Marjada Tucker who won the 300-meter hurdles.
"Our girls relay teams are also strong and we're looking at region in anticipation that we'll all finish strong," said Brooks.
With such all-around skill on the boys and girls side of things, Brooks says he at times has to keep his teams in check.
"Sometimes I tell them they are overconfident," said Brooks.
Such can be the case for a talented group that has already experienced success and is on the verge of attaining even more in the form of a region and state championship.
"We all want it," said Petty. "It's up to us to get it. I think we can get it this year. That's what it looks like to me."