Throughout a chaotic and injury-plagued regular season, Cahokia girls track and field coach Roscoe Dowell admits there were doubts — often times serious doubts — that the Comanches would have even a glimmer of hope of defending their Class 2A state title.
Last Saturday at O’Brien Stadium in Charleston, Comanches junior Raynesha Lewis and sophomore Mariya Hudson took it upon themselves to erase those doubts as they added another major piece of IHSA hardware for the trophy case at Cahokia High School.
In one of the great performances in girls state track and field history Lewis and Hudson stole the show at Eastern Illinois University, combining for 61 points and giving the Comanches a 10-point win over perennial state title contender (Chicago) Morgan Park.
The Belleville News-Democrat co-athletes of the week, Lewis and Hudson combined for four state titles and seven top four finishes. Lewis won the long jump, placed second in the 100-meter hurdles and was fourth in the triple jump. Hudson, one of the top sprinters in the nation, won the 100, 200 and 400 and placed third in the long jump.
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“Doubts? Yes there were doubts. With Earlicia (Shaw) in a cast and Raynesha with the broken bone on her (right) foot, we didn’t know if there was going to be time enough for us to get healthy. It was one thing after another,” Dowell said. “But we also knew that if we could get to the last day of the state meet with Raynesha and Mariya in their events that we might have a shot.
“My brother John (Dowell) and I were thinking that if we could get to 50 points we would be right there. When Raynesha won the long jump on her last attempt, I knew we had a shot.”
A shot at back-to-back state titles was the last thing Lewis was thinking about earlier this year. One of the Comanches top basketball players, Lewis suffered a broken bone in her right foot during a game last winter. The injury also forced Lewis to miss considerable time early in the track season.
“I did it when I came down while shooting a layup. It was hard because I didn’t know if I would be ready for the track season. But I wasn’t the only one. It was crazy at times with all of the injuries we went through,” Lewis said. “I just kept doing what people kept telling me to do and I wouldn’t have been able to make it without my physical therapist. Her encouragement kept me going a lot of days.”
Hudson wasn’t at full strength either. The defending state champion in the 400, Hudson was bothered by a nagging knee injury for much of the season. But last week, all the aches and pains of two of the best track athletes in Illinois were forgotten as they put on an impressive show.
“My knee didn’t really hurt me during the competitions this season. It was more when we had longer workouts at practice,” Hudson said. “But after the two days of practice we went through before we left for state, everything else was pretty easy. All I had to do was focus and get ready for my events.”
An early indication of what kind of day it would be for Cahokia came in the long jump. In third place entering the finals, Lewis scratched on her first two attempts. But with the pressure on her final attempt, Lewis responded with her winning leap of 18 feet 10 3/4 inches.
“It was basically now or never after I scratched on my first attempts. The trainer has my foot wrapped so tightly that it was basically numb anyway, so I just decided to go for it,” Lewis said. “In the long jump our coaches tell us to hit the black line on the board and I was able to do that.
“They have the record marked off in the landing area and when I landed I remember seeing that mark and knowing I was pretty close to it. When they put the 18 10 1/2 up on the board, there was a lot of emotion. Most of it was a sense of relief. But there was pure happiness too.”
One of the people she overtook was Hudson, who was second entering the finals.
“I wanted to win it,” Hudson said with a sly smile. “But I was happy for Raynesha. It was a big moment for our team.”
Hudson then went out and produced three big moments in the 100, 200 and 400 finals.
The defending champion and heavy favorite in the 400, Hudson also had the fastest time in the 200 in the preliminary round on Friday. If there was a concern it was in the 100. Not yet exceptionally fast out of the starting blocks, Hudson was good enough on this day, finishing with a winning time of 12.02 seconds.
“Assistant coach (Greg) Crockett is always telling Mariya that she doesn’t have to be in the lead coming out of the blocks. She just needs to be even because with her back end speed, she’s not going to get beat if it’s close in the last few meters,” Dowell said. “When she was even in the finals out of the blocks, I knew we were in good shape.”
Hudson then won the 400 in a romp — finishing ahead of the field by nearly two seconds with a time of 54.79 seconds. It was the 200 that worried her the most.
“There were a few good girls in the 200 and I had just finished the 400 a few minutes earlier. I was tired,” Hudson said. “Once the race started, I felt good and very motivated because the state title could have been on the line. We wanted to make history.”
And with Hudson’s win in the 200 the Comanches did.
“What does it mean to win back-to-back state titles? It means a lot,” Lewis said. “The one last year was great but this one, because of everything we went through as a team, maybe means a little more.
“Mariya and I may have scored all the points last weekend, but honestly, and I mean this, we could never have accomplished what we did without our teammates. Their encouragement and support last weekend helped keep us going. To win a state championship two years in a row ... that’s something you’ll remember the rest of your life and something that can never be taken away. It’s very special.”
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.
At a glance
▪ Cahokia junior Raynesha Lewis and sophomore Mariya Hudson combined for 61 points to help the Comanches to a 10-point victory and state championship during last weekend’s Class 2A girls state track championship.
▪ The championship was the second consecutive title for the Cahokia girls.
▪ Hudson won the 100, 200 and 400 meter finals.