Oak Park sprints for fourth straight state championship

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Oak Park has showcased some of the premier runners the last several years with Anna Jefferson and Brianna Holloway leading the way to three straight Division 1 state championships.

Now, it’s up to senior sprinter Tamea McKelvy to try to keep Oak Park’s dynasty going with a fourth consecutive championship with Jefferson (Virginia) and Holloway (Ohio State) competing at the next level.

McKelvy, who will compete at Texas next year, owns the top times in the state in the 100 and 200 after finishing second in the 100 (12.11) and third in the 200 (24.25) last year.

“I would say as far as her maturity she has matured the most out of any kid I’ve had going from ninth to 12th grade,” said Oak Park sixth-year coach Brandon Jiles of McKelvy. “Early on, her training habits were a little bit bad and she wasn’t real serious about track, but as she’s gotten older she’s gotten a lot more serious and has matured so much as far as her practice habits and just listening, just following directions. She’s been one of those kids who has always had talent, but her maturity has pushed her to the next level.

“She’s watched some of the older girls, Anna Jefferson, Brianna Holloway, those type of kids and it’s like you step in that role and she’s anchored six state championship relays and been all-state individually three out of her four years. She’s stepping up and is now showing great leadership. It’s been fun to watch her mature for sure.”

McKelvy has a time of 23.8 in the 200.

“If you get down under 24 seconds that means you’re pretty special,” said Jiles of McKelvy. “She’s been consistent in the 100 as far as her times and she’s just competing at a different level, winning and getting used to winning.

“The first year I had her she didn’t want to run the 400. This year she is one of the best 400 runners in the state. We went to the national championship indoors and she had the fastest relay leg in the nation, split 53 and Anna Jefferson was the only kid I ever had that split 53 before so she stepped up.”

McKelvy said she just wanted to be like Jefferson and Holloway before her.

“I wasn’t really used to winning a lot before I got here, so I just wanted to be like all the other girls who were winning, just wanted to be on top like them,” McKelvy said. “Just like running with them in practice pushed me a lot. They made me compete harder.

“I love competing at the level we’re at, like to travel out of town for events and stuff, love to look good. My strongest event is the 200. My favorite part is the turn, running and trying to catch everyone in front of me. I can always run real fast at the end, the last 100 I bring it home strong.”

So, what is McKelvy’s goal for the final month of the season?

“My goal is to break the 200 state meet record which is 23.7 and my best time is 23.8 so I feel I have a chance, that and win the 100,” pointed out McKelvy who has a 3.3 grade-point-average and plans to be a sports psychologist.

McKelvy has high praise for Jiles and says she enjoys playing the role of a leader.

“I like to see everybody do good so if I see someone doing something wrong I try to help them out,” McKelvy said. “Coach (Jiles) is tough, but I know it’s all out of love. He pushes us and wants us to be the best we can be. He believes in every one of us.”

Oak Park has a number of other standouts, including senior Carlita Taylor who will run at Columbia next year.

Taylor, who has a 4.1 GPA, has made a smooth transition from running the 400 to hurdles where she is ranked No. 2 in the state in the 300 hurdles with a time of 44.61, along with a strong showing (14.7) in the 100 hurdles.

Sophomore Janae Barksdale is ranked in the top five in the 100 meters and third in the 400 after placing fourth at state in the 400 her freshman year.

Jiles also expects big things from freshmen Jayla Jones (800) and Aasia Laurencin who is ranked fifth in the 100 hurdles.

Jiles knows Oak Park will have to be at its best to come away with a fourth straight Division 1 state title June 3 at East Kentwood. The OAA Track & Field Championships are set for Thursday (3:30 p.m.) at Oak Park.

“Ann Arbor Pioneer is really strong, they have a great distance team and they're balanced with their sprints and hurdles so a lot of things will have to happen right for us,” Jiles said.