Adding to the Medal Count: Johnson, Mannis both trying to collect more hardware at state meet

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

May 10, 2007 - BIRTHRIGHT - Ebbonye Johnson has made her reservations in Austin for the last four years. She's never came home empty-handed.

Johnson, one of the most accomplished athletes in Class A over the last four years, will be trying to add to her collection of six medals from the UIL State Track and Field Meet this weekend.

She will be joined in the pursuit of medals by NHHS junior Jessi Mannis, who won a silver at the state meet in Austin last year.

The pair will each be competing in multiple events Friday at the Mike Myers Stadium on the University of Texas campus.

Johnson will be competing in the high jump, long jump and 300-meter hurdles, while Mannis will be running the 1,600 meters and the 3,200 meters.

Johnson's best event is probably the high jump, an event she has medaled in all three previous years, including a gold in 2006. She took second in the long jump last year and was third in the 200-meter dash.

She participated in five state events as a sophomore and four as a junior. This season, with three events on her plate, Johnson will have a little more time to rest in between events.

She is scheduled to high jump at 9 a.m., long jump at 12:10 p.m. and run the hurdles at 8:05 p.m.

"This year, I have a lot more time to rest, so I hope that works in my favor," Johnson said. "I'd like to win them all, but you never know when you get down there. Last year, it was hard getting me on the board in the long jump, and I didn't jump my best in the high jump.

"I'm hoping my experience will help me a little more this year."

While she is a veteran in the high jump and long jump, this is the first year she has ran the hurdles. In previous years, she qualified for state in the 200 (twice winning bronze medals) and the 400.

"I'm a little nervous. I like the hurdles just fine, it's something different," Johnson explained, "but I don't know what to expect. In the high jump, I know what to expect, but in the hurdles, I'm nervous.

While she goes into the state meet with the second-best performances among the qualifiers in the long jump (17-6) and high jump (5-4), she has the seventh-best time in the hurdles (47.78).

"In the hurdles, I'm trying to get 46 or lower, because I ran a 47 at regional and I think I can go faster," Johnson said. "The crowd at state gets my adrenaline going and makes me run faster. Last year, I ran a 25 in the 200 because I was so excited to be running in front of so many people. I hope that happens again this year."

While this will be the last high school sporting event for Johnson, who has been a part of the state championship cross country team and lettered for four years in volleyball and basketball as well as cross country and track, it won't be her last sporting event ever.

She is mulling over college offers from SFA, Sam Houston and A&M-Commerce to participate most likely in the heptathlon, five events combined into one that would take advantage of her athleticism.

Mannis, meanwhile, won a silver medal in her first event at the state meet in 2006. This year, she has been bothered by a hip injury that has cut her training down. She still, though, placed second in both distance events at the regional meet.

"I'm definitely going to have to go out there and run with my heart," said Mannis. 'I'm been hurt, so I'm behind, but I'm going to have to go out there and run with my heart."

She ran a time of 12 minutes, 17.81 seconds in the 3,200 at regional, which is a full 30 seconds off her state time last season. The best qualifying time is Allie Reyna of Ralls' 11:45.50.

In the 1,600, Mannis had a regional time of 5:31.37, which is three seconds faster than her state time in 2006. She will run the metric two-mile at 9 a.m. Friday, and the 1,600 at 8:45 p.m. Friday.

"I really want to go out and run a fast time, my personal best, even if it isn't first place," said Mannis, who has a personal best of 11:47.54. "As long as I get my best time, I'll be happy."

She took two weeks off from training because of her hip, which still hurts her.

Unlike Johnson, Mannis doesn't pay much attention to the crowd.

"I don't really notice, I just run. I don't notice the atmosphere," she said. There are definitely more butterflies, but when you're running, you just forget about everything and keep running."

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