Monroe High School assistant track coach Paul Jones, left, and head coach Latoyia Johnson, center, are doused with water during a moment of celebration by members of the team after winning their fourth straight GHSA Class AAA state title Saturday at Hugh Mills Stadium, becoming the first program above the Class A level to accomplish the feat. (email@example.com)
ALBANY — The first voice was Mimieux Land’s, and the others soon followed.
“Four-peat, four-peat,’’ shouted the kids from Monroe. “Four-peat — 9, 10, 11, 12!’’
Then they laughed, and shouted again, right there, standing atop the podium.
Where else would they be?
This was Monroe’s girls track & field team, you know, Monroe, the first ladies of track & field in Georgia — feeling right at home atop the podium, where they feel like they belong.
There they were again Saturday at Hugh Mills Stadium, where they didn’t just win another GHSA Class AAA state title, but made a little history along the way.
That’s four in a row for Monroe, which became the first girls team in Georgia to win four consecutive state championships above the Class A level, running away with this year’s title with 67 points. Sandy Creek was a distant second with 40.
Three teams have pulled off four in a row in Georgia’s smallest classification, including Landmark Christian, a private school that completed a five-year run in 2005. Reidsville won four in a row from 1987-90 and Whigham won four straight in Class A from 1982 through ’85.
But Monroe is in a class by itself as the first big school to pull off four in a row.
“It’s quad-riffic,’’ said Monroe coach Latoyia Johnson, who used the same term before the meet began Thursday. “We made history —
literally. It’s not just the team, it’s the franchise. It just keeps going and going at Monroe. When the odds are against us, we just become better.’’
Johnson became Monroe’s coach two years ago after Octavia Jones, who started the run, left to become the football coach at Westover.
“I feel like I walked into a dynasty,’’ Johnson said. “I’m just proud to be a part of this.’’
They all were Saturday afternoon. Alexandria Childs, a senior who finished second in the discus and sixth in the shot put, was singing.
“Can you feel that joy?!?!’’ shouted Childs.
It was hard not to. Everyone at Monroe felt something.
“I wouldn’t say I cried, but I had some water in my eyes,’’ said Paul Jones, a longtime assistant coach at Monroe who also runs the Albany Ruff Rider Track Club, where most of the girls grew up running summer track.
“This is special,’’ added Jones, who was doused with a bucket of water along with Johnson during the celebration. “My babies are leaving. I have been with these girls since they were babies. I couldn’t even talk to them this morning before the meet. I was breaking down.’’
Land said she and a group of the seniors planned the four-peat years ago while running for Jones.
“We said we were going to do it when we were in middle school,’’ Land said. “We were running summer track and talked about when we got to Monroe that it would be four-and-done, and we did it.”
Land then echoed her teammates’ shouts: “It’s a four-peat!”
Land, The Herald’s two-time reigning Player of the Year for girls track & field, has been remarkable and is at the heart and soul of the four-peat run. She closed her high school career this week by winning individual state titles Nos. 8 and 9, giving her four in the high jump, three in the long jump and two in the triple jump, and she also ran on both relays teams every year. She scored 26 points by herself in her final state meet, winning the high jump and long jump and taking third in the triple jump. She ran the first leg of Monroe’s winning 4x400 relay team that capped off the day and the four-peat with a dramatic finish.
Not only was the 4x400 relay victory the icing on the cake for Monroe, it came with a slice of poetic justice.
The meet started out with a nightmare Thursday when sophomore Chakerah Fletcher dropped the baton just 10 yards away from the finish line during the 4x100 relay qualifying — the first race of the meet. Fletcher collapsed on the track in tears and wept uncontrollably.
But there was Fletcher on Saturday, taking the baton on the anchor leg in the 4x400 finals and making up a half-dozen yards to take the lead for Monroe, which was seeded fifth in the race. And there was Fletcher near the finish line, hanging on to the baton — and the lead — and storming home to end the meet.
She ran the fastest 400 meters of her life (56.11) to make her point.
“I was still thinking about that first day and dropping the baton when I was running (the anchor leg),’’ Fletcher said. “I knew I had to give all of myself and pick the team up. I gave it my all to the end. I knew if I helped us win the 4x400 that (dropping the baton) wouldn’t really matter.’’
Fletcher had actually clinched the title earlier for Monroe when she finished second in the 300 hurdles. She also started the day by finishing third in the 400-meter run. She had to come back from those tears Thursday to qualify for both races with gutsy and courageous performances. Then she came through again and again Saturday — and left the track beaming.
“I’m smiling a lot more than I cried,’’ she said.
Johnson couldn’t say enough about Fletcher.
“She brought it back in the 400 and the 300 hurdles,’’ Johnson said. “She has ambition and courage. She has heart.’’
Monroe also picked up some points Saturday from senior Destinee Collins, who finished seventh in the 800 to lift Monroe to no worse than a tie for first. Sandy Creek was still mathematically alive, but when Fletcher finished second and Nardesia McKinney, a freshman, finished seventh in the 300 hurdles, it was over.
Fletcher, McKinney and sophomore Akeema Miller joined Land, who ran a brilliant first leg, to win the 4x400 relay to end the meet with an exclamation point.
“I lost my voice when we won the 4x400,’’ Johnson said. “That was the icing on the cake, the hammer on the nail. We were seeded fifth and we just exceeded expectations and went over the top.’’
That’s the way Monroe left Hugh Mills Stadium, rejoicing in the four-peat. Land was not emotional, but Jones all but teared up when he put his arm around his star pupil — who is headed to Clemson on a scholarship next year — after the meet.
“This one is special,’’ he said. “She is great, magnificent.’’
Land said all four team titles were special, especially the first one because no one expected it, and, of course, the fourth one because there were so many who doubted Monroe this year.
“We heard that, but we didn’t listen. We don’t care about that. We just compete,’’ Land said. “It feels great to win four in a row, the four-peat. We feel accomplished.’’
McKinney, Miller and Fletcher all talked about keeping the streak alive, and Jones said it was time “to pass the torch to the younger girls who would now take over at Monroe.’’
Fletcher seemed to understand better than anyone what that means.
“We know what it means,’’ she said. “It’s a legacy. We have to keep it going.’’
Westover’s girls didn’t score any points Saturday, but thanks to Ericka Taylor, who was third in the 3,200 and fourth in the 1,600, Ayanna Mitchell (fourth in the discus) and Alysia Potts (fifth in the pole vault), the Lady Patriots finished 11th in the Class AAA meet with 20 points. Dougherty’s Quannesha Gatlin was fifth in the 400 to score four points for the Lady Trojans.
Albany High had a good day and ended with its best finish in years as the Squaws came in 15th overall in the Class AA meet with 13 points. Kair’Shay Jackson, a junior, led the way, finishing fourth in the 400, and Na’Keidra Gervin, a junior, was sixth in the 100-meter hurdles. Albany’s 4x100 relay team (Jackson, Gervin, Elesia Hollinger and Faith Evans) was eighth, and the 4x400 relay team (Jackson, Gervin, Hollinger and Tanesha Tumblin) finished fifth.
“I’m pleased,’’ Albany coach Jessica Thomas said. “I got more girls involved at the state meet than ever, and we’re only losing two seniors. It was a good day.’’
Baconton Charter finished 16th and was the top Class A team from Southwest Georgia. That’s because Kimmie Davis, a star on the horizon, finished second in the 200-meter dash and fourth in the 100 to score all 13 points for Baconton Charter.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had anyone finish in the top four at state,’’ said Baconton Charter coach Lisa Brooks, who took over this season because of Davis. “She’s the reason I’m coaching. She asked me to coach, and I believe in her.
“I have no doubt we will be bringing home some hats and T-shirts (that first-place winners receive) next year.’’
Davis, a sophomore, is just as confident.
“It feels awesome (to take second and fourth),’’ Davis said. “I didn’t expect it, but I knew I could do it. I want to come back next year.’’
Mitchell County’s Akerian Florence was third in the 100 and seventh in the 200, and Miller County’s Mallory Diamond was fifth in the 100 and sixth in the 200. Miller’s 4x400 relay team of Kongaydra Williams, Jada Gardner, Rachel Dixon and Diamond finished eighth.
Terrell County’s Quanza Dennard finished sixth in the 100 hurdles and ran along with Chelsey Reid, Camille Harris and Jasmine Taylor to also take sixth place in the 4x100 relay.
Pelham’s Rainisha Florence was sixth in the 300 hurdles, and Early County’s Justice Lee finished seventh in the 400 in the Class AA meet.