Final meet unforgettable for Sutton, Mikell

05131426 Citizen Lafayette TrackScreenwriters in Hollywood would have had a tough time coming up with a better ending than the one experienced by Lafayette High track coaches Amy Sutton and Ben Mikell this past Saturday in Pearl.

 

Sutton, in her last meet as head coach of the Lady Commodores, witnessed a team full of talent finally reach its ultimate goal, capturing the school’s first overall title in track at the MHSAA Class 4A state meet.

 

It was also the first title for the Lady Commodores since Jennifer Gillom led LHS to a state title in basketball in 1982. The Lady Commodores also defeated Pontotoc, who had won the title the past four years, beating LHS head-to-head two times in the past four seasons.

Oh, and Sutton saw her Lady Commodores capture the title at her alma mater, Pearl High School, on the same track where she ran the 400 and competed in the high jump and long jump in the mid-1990s.

05131427 Citizen Lafayette Track

“I didn’t really see the significance until it was brought to my attention. To have my athletic career start at Pearl and then in my final season as coach, to have it end in Pearl, it was surreal experience,” said Sutton, who is leaving LHS to become an assistant principal in Batesville. “The whole day I was thinking about it being my last day as a coach. I was enjoying spending time with the girls. It’s really easy to love coaching when you have girls such as Janae (Westbrook), Orianna (Shaw), Esmeralda (Rodriguez), Peyton (Hamann), even though she talks a lot, Rachel (Starnes) and Kayla (Orr), who is in her first year at doing pole vault.”

 

Mikell, who is the boys head coach and cross-country head coach, was overjoyed as well for the victory after seeing the team finish in the top three or runner-up in each of the past five seasons.

 

“It worked out great, and we had a couple of people we wanted to send off well,” said Mikell, who also assists Sutton with the long-distance female runners. “Esmeralda has almost been here as long as Coach Sutton, six years, so that was good to see her go out and her coach go out with a win. It was a good sendoff.”

 

To say that Sutton and Mikell weren’t nervous would be an understatement, even if both didn’t really show it to one another.

05131427 Citizen Lafayette Track

“Looking back, it was fun that it was close, but while it was going on, it was very nerve-wracking. That was the least fun I have had a track meet, ever. I did not have fun at all that day,” said Mikell, who is usually the cheerleader of the two. “I was worrying about the points all day. But I didn’t want the girls to panic. I didn’t want Coach Sutton to panic.”

 

“He said he was a nervous wreck but I couldn’t tell. That’s the way we’ve always played off of each other,” Sutton added. “I’m the one that’s always fussing at the girls, trying to make them do right, while he’s always very even keel. I think in that sense we kind of balanced each other. Even when he was nervous on Saturday, I had no idea. Any time I came around him or was questioning him about things, he never let on and it made me feel more at ease.”

 

Mikell and Sutton have formed a tremendous bond, and working relationship, over the past nine years. Sutton has leaned on Mikell, especially early in the season, while she finished up coaching the Lady Commodores in basketball.

 

“There’s no doubt we get along well and she gets along well with the girls,” said Mikell, who has coached the Commodores the past 10 years on the track. “She brings the basketball girls in.”

 

“With the grind of basketball season, and for the past couple of seasons us having to go into the postseason longer in basketball, it does really take a lot away from me contributing from the very beginning of the track season,” Sutton said. “He does all scheduling. He does all the conditioning as far as getting Ezi, Peyton and Rachel ready. He gets the track season started. By the time I get down here, everything is in place, everything is done and now it’s just time to fine tune.”

 

Lafayette’s girls have been as consistent as any track program the last half decade thanks to Sutton and Mikell and tremendous overall talent, but the addition of the track at William L. Buford Stadium prior to the 2014 season has been credited as the last piece of the puzzle to getting the team a title.

 

“The state championship is enough to say it was worth it,” Sutton said. “The very first year you get a track, you get a pole vault pit, your girls are winning a state championship, the first girls championship since 1982 and first track championship, boys or girls, in the history of the school.”

 

Every year, Lafayette has traveled for meets, some as close as Oxford, but several further away. LHS did host a practice meet early in the spring, with positive results.

 

“We had a practice meet here this year and we had a good crowd. We had folks scattered through the stands. They had maybe been to a track meet, but never seen a track meet run here before,” Mikell said.

 

“I think with us getting a track, and having enough people to come out and support us when we did have the practice meet, I think it instills a sense of pride and confidence in the girls about being out here and working really hard. It makes the parents more supportive in a sense,” Sutton added.

 

With Sutton leaving, Mikell will have to form a new relationship in time. He was hoping to continue to build on the success of 2014.

 

“I would like to get good support out of the new basketball coach because that just helps a lot. We will discuss it with our new AD and basketball coach. We use a lot of the same athletes. We’ll see how it goes,” Mikell said. “I think winning will increase the interest level, it should. The guys have really seemed interested. I don’t think that they realized you could come out and put together a team that could win a state championship. The girls were sort of aware of it because they had been good and scoring a lot of points.”

 

The last person Mikell and Sutton both wanted to thank was Pontotoc head coach Mike Bain, who has routinely invited both LHS teams to run in his meets.

 

“We appreciated Pontotoc. They were so gracious. They are class all the way,” Mikell said. “Coach Bain has been a good guy to us. He’s helped us out many, many times in many, many ways. He came by during the meet and he was checking his points with our points.”

Final results
The Lady Commodores finished with 76 overall points to win the meet. Westbrook was the only athlete to take first, finishing the 400-meter dash in 57.97 seconds. Shaw was second in the 400 with a 58.6. Those two finishes put Lafayette in the lead for good.

Starnes was second in the 3,200 with a time of 12 minutes, 20 seconds. Rodriguez followed with a 12:26. Hamann was second in the 1,600 with a personal-record of 5:22, while Starnes was sixth with a 5:40. In the 800, Hamann took third (2:29), while Rodriguez was fourth (2:33). In the 300 hurdles, Alisha Hickinbottom was sixth with a 49.55. Orr was fourth in the pole vault with a mark of 7 feet. Brianna Everett finished eighth in the long jump with a 15-4.

The 4×200 relay team was fourth with a 1:46.86. That team was composed of Everett, Westbrook, Shaw and Hickinbottom. The 4×400 relay team was second with a 4:05, a time that broke its own school record at the state meet. Making up the team were Hickinbottom, Everett, Shaw and Westbrook.

 

Commodores
D.K. Buford finished third in the 100 with an 11.01. Derek White ran a personal-best time in the 400 (50.68) to finish fourth. Ivan Lopez took eighth in the pole vault with a 9-6, while the 4×100 relay team was fourth with a 43.47. That team was composed by Trey Shaw, Taylor Jeffries, Buford and Eric Lewis.
john.davis@journalinc.com

Twitter:@oxfordcitizenjd



About John Davis

Eighteen years in the business. Dedicated to providing the best local content for sports. Oxford, Lafayette, Ole Miss, youth sports, outdoors and the things nobody else wants to cover.