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Land paces Ruff Riders at national track meet

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

ALBANY -- As they say, "Mimi was Mimi,'' but it wasn't just Mimieux Land who had a memorable meet at the Junior Olympic Nationals in Wichita, Kan., where 10 members of the Albany-based Ruff Riders track & field club earned All-American honors.

Land won her fourth national title in the high jump, matching her personal best with a leap of 5-feet, 9 inches, but the Ruff Riders also saw nine other young girls -- all from the ages of 10 to 13 -- finish in the top eight in the nation as members of three relay teams.

Land might have won at 5-9, but Ruff Riders coach Paul Jones said this is the beginning for Land, a senior who has won seven individual state titles in the past three years while leading Monroe High School to three consecutive Class AAA team state titles.

"She cleared 5-9, but she was six inches over the bar,'' said Jones, spreading his hands to show the distance.

"She will clear 6-1, and I can see her clearing 6-4 some day. She just has to get her technique down to clear over 6-feet.''

When Land landed, just about every big college track program in the nation saw her.

"When Mimi jumps, everyone is there,'' Jones said. "All the big colleges don't move when Mimi is jumping. They have every eye on her when she jumps.''

Still, with college coaches from all over the nation watching, Land said she didn't feel any pressure winning another high jump national title.

"It felt real good to finally reach 5-9,'' she said. "When I was jumping I was relaxed. I was just jumping. I don't feel pressure. The high jump is my bread and butter. It's like it's my home field.''

Land won her first national high jump title when she was 12, clearing 5-5 1/2, and she has been soaring since.

The only question left for the senior now is where she will land in college.

"Everyone wants Mimi,'' Jones said.

Land, who always seems cool, confident and -- above all else -- calm, has the same demeanor when choosing her future.

"I'm just going to take my time and make visits to schools and make a decision,'' she said.

She has already picked five schools to visit. Her first trip will be to the University of Miami, and she plans on making trips to Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and LSU, but is considering other schools as well.

Her future is a lot like her aspirations in the high jump. When asked how high she eventually wanted to jump, Land smiled.

"I don't know how high,'' she said. "I just want to keep going higher.''

Jones was just as proud of her younger kids, the next wave of Ruff Riders, many who were making their first trip to nationals.

"This is the best group of young kids we have ever had,'' Jones said. "In the next five years we will have five national champions from this group. They are better than any young group I've ever had, and all our young kids weren't even at this nationals meet. Daysha Polite (10 years old) would have made our relay teams a lot faster. We probably would have won both relays.''

Even without Polite, a future superstar, the Ruff Riders' 9-10-year-olds took fifth in the 4x400 relay and seventh in the 4x100 relay. Simone Ponder, Zykia Ewings and Kristion Jefferies ran on both teams. Jamilya Poole ran on the 4x400 and Jordan Fletcher ran on the 4x100 team.

Jeffries, 10, finished seventh in the nation in the triathlon and Ponder, 10, finished eighth. Ponder also ran a 1:03 split in the 4x400 relay, and Ewings ran a 1:07 split.

"Those times would beat some high school kids,'' Jones said. "And they are only 10 years old.''

The Ruff Riders' 12-13-year-olds took eighth in the 4x400 relay and Jones' daughter, Yo'Era Jones, 12, finished eighth in the nation in the pentathlon. The 4x400 relay team included Jalah Hatcher, 12, Jakeeyah Seymour, 12, Chakeriah Fletcher and Jones.

"These young kids are the future and will keep things going,'' assistant coach Leshonda Jones said. "We had stars before Mimi, and now Mimi is the (star), and these kids look up to her and see her win a national title and they are next in line behind her. They are part of the legacy and will keep the legacy going.''