Lady Panthers ready for state meet
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

May 10, 2006 - BIRTHRIGHT - Going to state is never old hat, but four North Hopkins girls certainly know what to expect because they've all been there before.

Sprinter/jumper Ebbonye Johnson and distance runner Sabra Thomas are both competing in their third state track meet this weekend in Austin, while senior thrower Katy Williams is in her second. Sophomore distance runner Jessi Mannis will be running in her first state track event, but like the other girls has been to state numerous times in cross country.

"We've got some experience, so hopefully we won't be wide-eyed when we get there," said NH coach Tim Menke. "We've tried taking them to a lot of big meets, plus these kids have a lot of big meet experience and big game experience in cross country, basketball, volleyball and track."

Johnson, a junior who has already had a sensational high school career with three state medals, will be competing in four events - the 200-meter dash, 400, long jump and high jump. Mannis and Thomas are both in the 3,200 and 1,600 runs, and Williams is throwing both the shot put and discus.

With all of the girls in multiple events, Menke is hoping the Lady Panthers can break into the top three in the team standings. North Hopkins scored 19 points last year - Johnson may score more than that herself this time around.

She has the top qualifying high jump in Class A - having cleared 5-6 four times this year - the second-best 400-meter time (60.48), the third-best long jump (18-1 1/2), and the sixth-best 200 time (26.43).

Last year, she participated in five events at state, but did not qualify in the 100 this year. That may actually work out for the best. Because of the track schedule, the 100 takes place immediately after the high jump, then there is only 30 minutes before the 400 and another 40 minutes until the 200.

"I am hoping that it will be easier," Johnson said of the fewer events. "It should work out better for me."

Menke pointed out that last year she was in a time bind.

"That 100 is right after the high jump, and last year we asked if she could check in at the track, but things got confused," Menke said. "They had her go up a flight of stairs up behind the stadium, and she had to do that about three times, and it really messed her up in the high jump. I think it will be less stress on her this year."

Johnson said there already is less pressure in Austin than at the Class A, Region III meet.

"Actually for me, regional is the hardest meet," she explained. "I'm very nervous at regional, and once you get to state some of the pressure is off because you're there. The pressure is to get to state."

For Williams, who has been part of the state championship cross country team and is a three-time All-State center in basketball, getting to state is expected.

"I think we kind of take going to state for granted," she said because North Hopkins seemingly always takes a healthy number of participants. "But, I guess it's just that goal that I have to make it to state."

She goes into the competition with the fifth-best qualifying mark in the shot put (37 feet, 3 inches) and the seventh-best discus throw (109-6). She is within reach of getting on the medal stand in both events.

"I'm at the point that it's almost here, and it's too late to worry about how you'll do. I've just got to go out there and do it," she said. "I just want to place, get some points.

"If I can get a 39 or a 38, then I'll be in the running for a place in the shot. Then, in the discus, I just want to get my best throw which hopefully will be something over 115. I might have a chance with that. It's tough competition this year."

Mannis and Thomas know going into the meet that it may take their best run of the year to get on the medal stand. But, that's what they are planning for.

"I'm going to have to run faster to keep up with them," Mannis said of the competition. "I'm going to run my race. I'm going to have to run with the fastest girl out there, and I think it will actually make me run faster."

She timed a 12:10.01 in the 3,200 to win the regional meet, but she has dipped under 12 minutes this year. She has a goal of 11:45. Thomas ran a  12:23.06 at regional and she also wants to get into the 11's.

In the 1,600, Mannis goes into the race with the second-best qualifying time of 5:29.57, while Thomas has the fifth-fastest mark of 5:36.98.

For Thomas, the key will be to envision herself among the leaders, she said.

"I'm going to have to have a positive attitude. Coach Menke has been drilling me on staying positive," she explained. "I need to go into the race thinking I'm as good as everyone else and not get myself beat before the race even starts.

"Really, all the training we do is geared to get us to state and do good there."

And, train they do. The distance girls put in about 49 miles per week including a seven-mile run on Mondays and two interval sessions per week.

"Coach Menke talks about state every day," Mannis said. "That's what we train for.

"It's worth it in the end."

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