ABOVE: Monroe’s Chakerah Fletcher lies on the track at Hugh Mills Stadium and covers her face Thursday after she dropped the baton during qualifying for the 4x100 relay finals that eliminated the Lady Tornadoes from defending their state crown. BELOW: But Fletcher found redemption later in the day, coming back strong to win her heat in the 400 and 300 hurdles. (photos by firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — By the end of the night Chakerah Fletcher was smiling.
And so was Monroe.
That smile, that wisp of a grin from Fletcher was the biggest surprise to come out of the first day of the GHSA girls state track & field meet at Hugh Mills Stadium, where Monroe is trying to make history this week by becoming the first Class AAA team in Georgia to win four consecutive girls state titles.
That’s why Fletcher was in tears early Thursday. She crashed to the ground on her own and bawled her eyes out, weeping as she lay on the track in a heap, her head buried in her eyes.
In a nightmarish moment, Fletcher dropped the baton with about 10 yards to go in the prelims in the 4x100 relay, and the realization that Monroe, which had won the race at the state meet for the last three years, would not be in the finals, was too much for the sophomore, who broke down in tears.
But Fletcher picked herself and Monroe up off the track and then ran two courageous and gutsy races, winning her heat in the 400 meters and running a personal best in the 300-meter hurdles to win her heat and put Monroe back in shape to win it all again this weekend.
Fletcher also ran a strong leg for Monroe’s 4x400 relay team that qualified for Saturday’s running finals.
“She pulled that from deep down within. She really did,’’ said Monroe coach Latoyia Johnson of Fletcher’s dramatic performances in the 400 and 300 hurdles “That was an awesome comeback.’’
Johnson went to Fletcher after the baton was dropped and tried to ease the pain.
“I know she was hurting,’’ Johnson said. “I told her, ‘It’s over and done with. We can’t do anything about it.’’
Fletcher felt miserable.
“I don’t know what happened. It just fell out of my hands,’’ she said. “It was hard (to get back on the track), but I pushed through it. I just felt like if I gave them a little more from inside ... I just felt I could give the team more. I was running for the team. I always run for the team.’’
Monroe needs a big day today from the field, and the Lady Tornadoes have Mimieux Land, who has won seven individual state titles (two in the long jump, two in the triple jump, and three in the high jump) to put the team on her back again. Alexandria Childs, the defending state champ in the discus is also expected to get Monroe points in the discus and the shot put.
“I’m hoping for 35 to 45 points in the field,’’ Johnson said. “Mimi and I have talked about having a big day in the jumps. We’re still in good shape (after Fletcher’s comeback), but we need to have a big day in the field.’’
Fletcher’s dreadful start also sparked Destinee Collins, who ran an inspirational race to win her heat in the 800-meter run.
“After what happened with the 4x100 relay team, I knew I had to qualify for finals,’’ said Collins, who simply wouldn’t be denied in her heat. “I just had to get it. We were already out in the 4x100, so I knew I had to get in. My teammates were all around the track yelling at me, shouting, ‘Go Destinee, go!’ ”
Collins said watching Fletcher run the 400 inspired her.
“The way she came back, that was really big right there,’’ Collins said. “That shows a lot of character, a lot of heart. We really want to win the fourth one, and we came back. We still have confidence.’’
No one was sure how many points Monroe could get in the running finals, but the Lady Tornadoes now have a chance to score in the 400, the 800 and the 300 hurdles, and they got a big surprise from freshman Nardesia McKinney, who was seeded 12th and ran the fourth-best time of the day to qualify for the finals in the 300 hurdles along with Fletcher. And, of course, there is the 4x400 relay team of Land, McKinney, Fletcher and Collins.
“There’s a lot more to us than the 4x100,’’ Monroe assistant coach Paul Jones said. “Dropping the baton doesn’t mean anything. If that baton is going to kill us we might as well stop running right now. We’re not done. Chakerah came back and ran great and we got Nardesia in the 300, and Destinee ran a great 800. We’ve got enough (on the track) to win. We just need a good day in the field (today).’’
All the field events will take place today, beginning at 9 a.m. There was only one final held in the Class A, Class AA and Class AAA meets, and Westover’s Ericka Taylor finished third in the AAA 3,200-meter final with a comeback of her own.
Taylor, who has been bothered by leg injuries for the past 18 months, was hurting so badly a year ago she didn’t even compete in the 3,200, just months after winning the state title in cross country.
But Taylor, a junior, is on the comeback trail and made a statement Thursday.
“It feels great to be in the race because I didn’t run in it last year,’’ she said. “I ran a good race, and was one second off my (personal best) at 11:47. I was tired at the fifth lap and started to slow down, but I heard footsteps behind me and started to pick it up again.
“Last year feels like it was 10 years ago. It feels great.’’
The Class AAAA and Class AAAA schools will hold running prelims today as well as field events, and all other running finals will be held Saturday.
Albany High qualified Kair’Shay Jackson, who won her heat in the 400, and Na’Kiedra Gervin in the 100-hurdles. Albany’s 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams both qualified for the finals.
Gervin, Jackson and Elesia Hollinger run on both teams and Faith Evans runs on the 4x100, while Tanesha Tumblim ran on the 4x400 team.
Dougherty’s Quannesha Gatlin qualified in the Class AAA 400, and Early’s Justice Lee qualified in the Class AA 400.
Baconton Charter’s Kimmie Davis, Miller County’s Mallory Diamond and Mitchell County’s Akerian Florence all qualified for both the 100- and 200-meter dashes in the Class A meet.
Terrell County’s Quanza Dennard qualified in the 100 and 300 hurdles in Class A, and Pelham’s Rainsha Florence qualified in the 300 hurdles in the Class A meet. Terrell County’s 4x100 relay team, and Miller County’s 4x400 relay team each qualified for the finals in the Class A meet.