Cahokia girls track and field coach Roscoe Dowell knew something wasn’t exactly right as junior Mariya Hudson crossed the finish line with a fourth-place finish in the 400 meters at the Class 2A state track meet earlier this spring in Charleston.
The reigning 100, 200 and 400 meter state champion heading into the state finals at O’Brien Stadium that Saturday morning, Hudson had already finished third in the 100 meters and was limping slightly as she headed back up the track after finishing her race.
But something else was wrong.
“People won’t know how close Mariya was to being down and out following the 400 meters. She had an injured leg and she was dehydrated. I didn’t know it until that time but she hadn’t eaten a thing all day,” Dowell said following the meet. “We got some fluids in her and she knew that she had to win the 200 meters because we didn’t have a 1,600 meter relay team in the finals and (Maple Park) Kaneland did.”
After getting a little something to eat and drink, Hudson went out and did what all great athletes do when the pressure is on. The Comanches talented thinclad went out and executed to perfection. By winning the 200 meters in 24.40 seconds, Hudson assured the Comanches of at least a tie of a third straight Class 2A state championship.
“I didn’t know what the team points were and the coaches didn’t tell me that we needed me to win the race. All my coaches told me before the 200 was to ‘have fun,” Hudson recalled. “The reason I didn’t eat all day was in a big meet before my races, I usually get sick to my stomach because I’m nervous.
“So I thought that maybe if I didn’t eat anything that day, that maybe I wouldn’t throw up. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but after I finished the 200 meters that day, I was just relieved and just glad it was over and that we had won the state title.”
Actually the Comanches had tied for the state championship. By winning the meet-ending 1,600 meter relay, Maple Park Kaneland also finished with 53 points to tie Cahokia for the championship. Hudson, who is the 2016 Belleville News-Democrat Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year, had a hand in 30 of the Comanches’ 53 points.
The pressure of being a champion
The daughter of Marina Gayden, Hudson has been running since he was a little girl. Not too many people have been able to chase her down.
“It’s something she’s always loved to do,” Gayden said. “Mariya would be running around the house seeing how fast she could do things and the more success she had while was running and competing, the more she wanted to do it.
“I think maybe I’m a little surprised at how much success she has had. As a mother, you’re always nervous watching your kids compete because you want to do well and have fun doing it. I’m very proud of her. She’s your typical high school kid. And she’s a great kid... too.”
Typical except when she is competing. After completing her junior season at Cahokia, Hudson is spending the summer training and recently competed in the USA Track and Field Junior National Outdoor Championships in California where she placed 16th in the 400 meters.
“It was a good experience. I didn’t run in the 100 or 200 meters but it was fun to go and watch and compete against the best,” Hudson said. “College is a little over a year away yet and I’m really not talking to schools yet.
“I know I want to run in college and I know I want to someday be a physical therapist. But as far as where I want to go, I have no idea yet. I’m kind of thinking I don’t want to go to far away from home.”
Pressure at state
Unlike a year ago when she and teammate Raynesha Lewis scored all of the points in Cahokia’s second state championship, the 2016 team was much deeper.
Lewis, who will attend the University of Nebraska, scored in three events, while three other Comanches individuals also tallied points. Cahokia also placed in two relay events.
But with Lewis not at full strength because of an injury suffered at the sectional, the pressure to perform at a high level was on Hudson.
The soft-spoken Comanche has learned to deal with the pressure of being one of the state’s elite
“There is always pressure. I just try not to focus or even think about it. I just go out there and run,’’ Hudson said. “Winning the three state titles that I did a year ago, there was pressure this year because everyone wanted to beat me.
“I wasn’t disappointed at how I did in the 100 and 400 meters because I knew that I did my best in those races. Now had we lost the state championship, I would have been mad., But we won and that’s what counts.’’