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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Whitehaven High's Maia McCoy sprinting to end of standout prep career

Image and Article from Commercial Appeal 


At the season-opening track and field jamboree at Southwind three years ago, a willowy freshman from Whitehaven named Maia McCoy settled in with the other competitors for the start of the 100-meter dash.

McCoy took her position in the blocks, got set and at the crack of the starter’s pistol ...
“She stood straight up,” said Whitehaven track coach Yusuf Sharif. “I’ll never forget it. She had only really been out for track about one week and she didn’t really know what to do. So she kind of hesitated, then froze and just stood there.”

But what happened next is what Sharif remembers best. McCoy — despite spotting the rest of the field a good 10 meters because of her hesitation — ran down the other competitors to win.
“(Whitehaven football) coach (Rodney) Saulsberry was in the stands,” Sharif said. “And I looked up at him and he shouted down, ‘You’ve got one there.’ ”

Saulsberry was right. McCoy has developed from hesitant freshman to a senior who’s one of the finest sprinters ever to come out of the Memphis area. And with high school track heading into the postseason, she’s poised to add to her legacy.

As a sophomore, she won the AAA state titles in both the 100 and the 200 on the way to being named Best of the Preps track athlete of the year. Last year, she repeated those feats while also running a leg on the winning 800-meter relay team as Whitehaven finished runner-up in the team competition.
It’s been more of the same this year. She was voted Mile Split’s national performer of the week after winning both sprints and running on the victorious 1,600-meter relay team as the Tigers took second at the prestigious Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans last month.

She then won the 100 — the 200 wasn’t contested — and added two relay wins as Whitehaven won the team title at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Relays, ending a 24-year winning streak by the host school, East St. Louis.

Not bad for a basketball player who had to be coaxed out on the track in the first place.
“I’ve played basketball since I was four years old and AAU ball since I was eight,” McCoy said. “Coach Sharif asked me to run track but I was like, ‘I don’t even like running at basketball practice so why would I want to run track?’

“I didn’t know anything about track ... I was out there in a my Kobes.”
But despite being rough around the edges, Sharif and Whitehaven sprints coach Brandon Jones could see McCoy’s natural ability. So they began to work on harnessing it, the first step being to lose the basketball shoes and get a pair of proper spikes.

“Each year I try to pick out something different to work on,” said Jones, who competed in the jumps at Middle Tennessee State after a standout career at Cordova.

“One year it could be technique. The next it could be arms, or blockwork ... She’s got those long arms and long legs and a long torso. She just had to learn running within the concept of her build. She can cover the same ground in two strides that someone else covers in four.”

As a freshman, McCoy finished sixth in the 200 at state but didn’t even qualify for the 100 finals. Janel Pate of Nashville Hillsboro took both events, and even though McCoy made a quantum leap in her sophomore year, her confidence was still playing catch-up.

“After I won the region (meet) my sophomore year I said, ‘Well, that’s the last I’ll be winning,’ ” said McCoy, knowing that she’d still have to deal with Pate for the next three years.
“It was just so exciting and new to me. I worked on my form and how to get out of the blocks — I’m still working on that — but I never thought I’d be so good that fast.”

McCoy has run as fast as 11.5 in the 100 and 23.9 in the 200 and currently has the top 200 meter time in the state (24.14), a result that also puts her among the nation’s best. She’ll continue her career at the University of Tennessee after finally settling on Olympic aspirations over WNBA dreams.

“I think when she’s in college she can get into the low 11s in the 100 and the high 22s or low 23s in the 200,” said Jones. “I think she’d have been able to compete at the USA junior (level) if she had trained year-round. She was thinking about not playing basketball her senior year but why give up doing something you really love?”

With four individual state championships already in the bag, McCoy said she’s looking to end her career in style at next month’s Spring Fling. She’ll be targeting the state records of 11.46 and 23.86, both set by Chattanooga Howard’s LaQuisha Jackson in 2010.

“I know with Janel (still competing), I’ll probably have to break the record to beat her,” she said. “And we want to break the relay records too. This year, I’m focused on winning it all.”

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