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STATE CHAMPS AGAIN!!!

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Every track & field athlete knows you better save something for the finish, the stretch run or the final jump, or vault or leap.

Everyone needs a little extra.

At Monroe High, they have a river of it.

It's been flowing for 10 years, and Saturday it gushed and splashed and overflowed at Hugh Mills Stadium, spilling over and soaking this track & field team and this program like never before.

And while kids and coaches and families from all over Georgia were celebrating titles at the GHSA girls state-wide track & field meet, Monroe was celebrating a decade.

Run river run ...

That's Monroe, where the Lady Tornadoes won their third Class AAA state track & field title in a row, and their sixth in the past 10 years, crushing the field with 82 points. Day 2 leader St. Pius was a distant second with 53.

"It has been a decade -- a decade for Monroe track!'' shouted Paul Jones, a Monroe assistant coach who has been part of it since 2001 when the girls won their first state crown.

They've won half a dozen and they were the state runner-up once, while the boys won one title and finished second last year.

"That's nine times in the past decade that Monroe's name has been at the top of Georgia in track & field,'' Jones said. "Nine times!"

LaToyia Johnson, who took over as the head coach this year, almost cried a river after her kids won.

"I wanted to cry, but I couldn't,'' Johnson said. "I wanted to cry when I was talking to them just before the 4x400 relay. Then after (that final race) when we won (the state team title), I wanted to cry, wanted to cry tears of joy ... "

She stopped and kept smiling as the celebration erupted around her, and said softly: "Maybe I'll cry later.''

Her kids were shouting and screaming and hugging, a huge ball of green jubilation crashing together. No one wanted to let go. No one wanted to see it end. They wrapped their arms around each other and the moment and tried to squeeze every drop out of it.

The Monroe kids celebrate like they run -- they leave it all on the track.

"We're family,'' said Mimieux Land -- Monroe's extraordinary "Mimi," who redefines track & field like no one in the Peach State.

There she was, atop the podium looking like she was born to be there Saturday, winning not only the J. Ferrell Henry Trophy for scoring the most points of any athlete in Georgia in the field events, but she also won the Lewis C. Smith Memorial Trophy, named for Monroe legend and awarded to the girl who scores the most points in Georgia for the entire meet.

That's Mimi.

Here's the funny part: She also won them both last year.

And it gets better. She's only a junior.

She won titles in the high jump (5-6), long jump (19-2) and broke her own state record in the triple jump, flying 40 feet, 1 inches on Friday to score 30 points in the field to get Monroe started. She won all three of those state titles last year, and also has a high jump state title as a freshman -- marking seven state titles in three years.

Then she ran the anchor leg for Monroe's state champion 4x100 relay team that started the day Saturday, and finished the day and the meet by running the first leg on Monroe's 4x400 relay team that finished second.

Last year she said, "I'm ecstatic,'' when Monroe won its second team title in a row. She had doubled up in wining three field events, but didn't want to double her words.

"Well, what's a higher word than ecstatic,'' Land said. "I was ecstatic last year and it's even better this year. I don't even have the words to describe it.''

Ironically, it's Land who usually leaves people speechless.

She was shouting after the meet as she danced toward her teammates who were all standing together.

"Hey,'' she shouted, "can you say 3-Peat?''

They said it, and they did it.

"This one is better,'' said Maikea Davis, one of only two seniors on this team. Davis, who has already signed with Western Kentucky, had a magnificent day. She literally put Monroe over the top early in the day, and she did it with a race for the ages with the best stretch run of the meet -- a brilliant, unrelenting burst in the final 30 meters of the 400-meter run when she somehow made up ground on Eastside's Kimberly Thomas, catching her at the wire and winning the state title in 55.71.

It was the fastest time of her life in the race.

"I just kept digging,'' Davis said. "I think she might have slowed down, and I just kept running. When I caught her at the finish line she didn't look shocked. She just said, 'Nice job.' That was my first state title, and it felt great. It felt wonderful.''

That race gave Monroe the team title. St. Pius started the day with 53 points and Monroe, thanks to Land, Alexandria Childs, who won the discus title and was eighth in the shot put and Vanshayla Johnson, who was eighth in the discus, Monroe scored 42 points in the field.

Then Jade Perry, Shameka Carter, Davis and Land opened the meet on Saturday by winning the 4x100 relay in 47.83 to close to 53-52. St. Pius didn't have anyone qualify for the running finals, and everyone knew at Monroe that Davis could put them over the top in the 400.

She did.

"I knew,'' Davis said. "Everyone knew if I won, we would win the meet.''

The meet started at 1 p.m. and Davis crossed the finish line at 1:33 p.m. That's how long it took -- 33 minutes -- to nail down the 3-peat.

"Three in a row ... Three in a row,'' Davis said twice. "That's a blessing.''

Davis, who was third in the 100 and fourth in the 200 last year, finished second in the 200 on Saturday and Perry was eighth in that race to keep adding points for Monroe. Destinee Collins finished sixth in the 800 and the river flowed and flowed. The 4x400 relay team of Land, Perry, Davis and freshman Perheasha Perkins topped off the day by running a PR time of 3:55.58.

The Lady Tornadoes ran away from the field, and they did it without last year's top 400 runner Davone Anduze, who was out with a hamstring injury, and Ashley Johnson, who was second in the 100 meter hurdles and fourth in the 300 hurdles last year. Johnson, who might have won titles in both events, was out with a broken foot.

Still, Monroe won easily for the third time in a row. How can you explain a 3-peat?

"It's just another one of those dreams that always come true when you work hard and believe,'' said coach Johnson of Monroe's title. "It's just natural.''

Vanshayla Johnson added: "It's because of our unsung coaches. We have the best coaches.

Childs chipped in: "It's not over. We're coming back next year and winning it again.''

Other area runners who finished in the top eight in the state Saturday include Early County's Justice Lee, who was third in the Class AA 400 and fifth in the 200 and Albany High's Na'Kedra Gervin, who was fifth in the Class AA 100 hurdles.

In Class A, Miller County's Salina Diamond finished fourth in the 100-meter dash and Mitchell county's Akerian Florence was fifth. Pelham's Urssala Aviles finished seventh in the Class A 800.

But the day --- and the decade -- belonged to Monroe.

"I am just proud to be part of the legacy of this track program,'' said Monroe assistant principal Ben Johnson. "It is a legacy.''

And a dynasty. Perhaps a dyna-legacy.

"The 3-peat is amazing,'' Land said. "It's amazing, but we did it. We try to be No. 1 -- always No. 1. That's what we work for.

"And we are No. 1.''

That might not change

Just listen to freshman Znastasha Green, who made it to the state meet in the hurdles as a ninth-grader.

"We are coming up,'' she said of the freshmen on the team. "When everybody leaves these ninth-graders will step up to the plate and bring it home, and keep it going.''

Run river run ...