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Freshman propels Howard girls to first state track title


State Class 3A high jump champion Mona Jackson of Howard High discovered Saturday that life sometimes can be lonely at the top.

The freshman's teammates were in such a hurry to get to their prom, they rushed off before learning they had won Howard's first state girls track championship in Westminster.

Jackson, who at 15 is a little too young to attend proms, was left behind clutching her stuffed toy fox, her lucky charm. It didn't fail her Saturday.

In addition to her high jump title, the team's youngest member to advance to states also finished second in the triple jump and third in the long jump, scoring 24 of her teams' 58 points.

It was the best performance by a freshman since Hammond's Kisha Jett won three events in 1991, and it capped a terrific year for Howard's girls track program.

The Lions captured county, regional and state crowns. The only title the team had won previously in 19 years was one regional title.

"We were all close as a team, and I think that's what made the difference," Jackson said. "Coach [Joe] Thomas kept calling us a team of destiny because things always seemed to go our way."

Jackson's biggest personal challenge was the long jump, one

of the last two events of the meet. Catonsville, a school with two strong long jumpers, was breathing down Howard's neck for the team title.

Jackson and teammate Laurine Sanders needed to outscore two Catonsville jumpers to ensure Howard's win.

"We didn't feel like jumping," Jackson said. "It was a long, hot day, and we were tired and just wanted to go home, but coach said we had to."

The long jump is Jackson's weakest event, but she beat out Catonsville's best long jumper, Kim Combs, by three-quarters of an inch to earn third place and six team points. Jackson's distance was 15 feet, 5 1/2 inches.

And Sanders beat Catonsville's second-best jumper by the same 3/4 -inch margin to earn fifth place and two team points. Sanders jumped 15-3 when her previous best was only 14-5.

The two Catonsville jumpers finished fourth and sixth for a total of five points.

Howard edged two-time defending state champion Bladensburg, 58-53. McDonough was third with 52 1/2 . Catonsville finished fourth with 51.

Jackson also overcame lots of pressure in the high jump, her best event. Twice she missed attempts at 5-1 before hitting that distance on her third and final at tempt.

The most rewarding event for Howard turned out to be the triple jump. The Lions finished first, second and fourth, earning 22 points, and all three girls turned in personal bests by wide margins.

They all exceeded 35 feet, a distance that none had jumped before.

Camille Powell surprised the most. Her previous best was 33 feet, but she won the event at 35-2. Jackson was second at 35-1 3/4 and Julie Bowers fourth at 35 1/4 .

Powell is one of several examples of how luck went Howard's way. First, she qualified for the finals by a mere 3/4 -inch. Then, her original triple jump was estimated at 34 feet, but because the judges were not looking at the time she landed, they made her jump again. On that next jump she passed 35 feet and took first place, earning 10 team points. Her first jump would not have placed her in the top six and would have been worth no points.

Howard finished third in the 400-meter relay with a team of Tori Mills, Nicole Showell, Jenny McClanahan and Diedre Presley, and again turned potential disaster into a plus.

"We had a hand-off problem in that event, but still got our fastest time of the year [50.6 seconds]," Thomas said. The same foursome finished second in the 800 relay.

Tori Mills also finished fifth in the 200 and 100 runs.

Most of the team didn't learn of the state title until Thomas showed up at the prom that night and made the announcement publicly just before the Prom Queen and her court were introduced.

"This team was a family, and you could see that at the prom because they all moved together to the middle of the floor and were hugging one another," Thomas said. "It takes that kind of closeness to win."

In other girls state championship action, Glenelg finished fourth in the Class 2A division with 44 points, well behind first-place Central which won its 12th straight state title.

Debbie Snyder led Glenelg with a second place in both shot and discus. Kelly Pelovitz took fourth in the 1,600 run. Marguerite Rupsis was second in the 300 hurdles.

Hammond finished seventh with 32 points -- 30 of those from sophomore Kisha Jett, who successfully defended her titles in the 100, 200 and 400.

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