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Monroe girls win Smith & Benson Relays in Johnson's first year as coach

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- She was at a loss for words.

Honest.

LaToyia Johnson didn't know what to say.

Then she opened up and gushed a bit, singing praises to her kids, as well as God for giving her the opportunity to coach at Monroe.

"To be here,'' she began, "it's just God's grace that I have this opportunity I have to work with my students and let Him shine through me.''

It was a big day for the Monroe girls Saturday, and even bigger day for Johnson, a first-year coach of the boys and girls track teams at Monroe, where the girls have become the biggest Class AAA force in Georgia.

And there they were once again, atop the field Saturday, winning the prestigious 21st annual L.C. Smith & Winfred Benson Relays, a meet named for a pair of Monroe legends that runs deep in the heart of Albany.

"With the weather and rain and with key people being out and everything, I can't tell you how I feel (to win). I don't have the words,'' Johnson said.

Johnson then added: "This is something I will never forget, to win my first Smith & Benson Relays. I'm ecstatic. I didn't even know we were winning (until the end of the meet).''

Monroe was feeling sky high after beating a field of 15 teams at Hugh Mills Stadium, where the Lady Tornadoes have won the last two Class AAA state track titles -- and now the last two Smith & Benson Relays. But it was Johnson's first as a head coach.

"It's the first of firsts, the best of the best to win the Smith & Benson,'' she said.

Mimieux Land led the way. She always does. It's hard to believe Land is only a junior. She has already won four individual state titles, and had little trouble winning the long jump (17-11) and triple jump (37-6) on Saturday. Land, who has won two state high jump titles, finished second in the high jump, but her problem wasn't clearing the bar as much as it was clearing her head.

"I wasn't focused going back and forth to the events. I just needed to focus between the (three) events,'' said Land, who has to dart from all three events during big meets. "I just need to get back in my rhythm.''

Alexandria Childs won the discus title (116-0) and finished third in the shot put. Monroe's Sheniqua Young was second in the long jump and fifth in the triple jump, and Jade Perry finished third in the 100- and 200-meter dashes as quartet combined to pick up 66 points.

Destinee Collins was second in the 800 meter run, and Alexandra Alex was third in the 300 hurdles. Maikea Davis was third in the 400-meter dash, but didn't run in the 200 or the relays Saturday.

Ashley Johnson and Davone Anduze also sat out the meet, but Monroe had plenty of firepower without those girls to easily win the meet.

Monroe racked up 108 points to beat Valdosta (91) and Bainbridge, which finished tied for third with Lowndes County with 67 points. Westminster (59) and Jonesboro (48) were fifth and sixth, and seventh-place Lee County (42) was led by Holly Ebbets' first-place finish in the pole vault, Mariah Davis' fourth place in the 800-meter run, Diamond Rogers' fifth-place finish in the 300 hurdles and Shantell Luster's sixth-place finish in the 100-meter dash.

Westover and Cairo tied for eighth with 34 points, and Dougherty was 10th with 27 points, followed by Tift County (23 ), Thomas County Central (23 ), Albany High (13), Troup County (13) and Crisp County (4).

Erica Taylor led the way for Westover by winning the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. She ran a personal best in the 1,600 (5:21.79) and won the 3,200 in 12:05.

"I think I'm a lot better this year,'' said Taylor, a sophomore who won the Class AAA state cross country title last fall. "It's because of all the training I've been doing. I'm pushing myself.''

Westover's Alysia Potts was fourth in the pole vault, and Shawntasia Crawford was fourth in the 100 hurdles. Toianna Campbell was sixth in the triple jump.

Dougherty's Shontishia Eady was second in the discus and Jasmine Lavant was fourth in the 400. Albany's Samaria Roberson was second in the shot put and Elisia Hollinger was fifth in the 400.

Bainbridge's girls also had a big day. The Lady Bearcats have only two seniors and juniors Kadeejah Cooper, who won the 300 hurdles and finished fifth in the 100 hurdles, and Diamond Boui, who finished third in the high jump and sixth in the 100 hurdles, are the new leaders of a young team.

They both ran on Bainbridge's winning 4x400 relay team that included Ashley Mango, a sophomore, and Raven Burney, a freshman. Mango was third in the 800, and Portia Green finished second in the 300 hurdles and fourth in the high jump. Kadeedra Sparrow was third in the discus.

"We had a real good day,'' Bainbridge coach Tandria Phillips said. "We are such a young team and to come here and do well means a lot. A lot of people are intimidated by Hugh Mills Stadium. This team has a lot of potential. I just hope we peak at the right time during the region.''

Winning the Smith & Benson was a big step for the Monroe because so much is expected of this team, which has struggled at times early this season.

"As a team, we need to come together more,'' Land said. "We've had too many injuries, and we need to get in better shape and start getting ready for the region. It's spring break this week, but it's not a break for us. We need to work hard this week and start getting ready for state.''