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After record-setting years, Long Beach Poly girls' 1600-relay team looks to culminate efforts at state meet

June 03, 2004|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

No ceremony will be held and no dignitaries will give long-winded speeches marking the occasion, but an era of sorts will come to a close at about 8 Saturday night during the state track and field championships at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento.

It is then that Long Beach Poly expects to be celebrating its second consecutive team championship, its third consecutive title in the girls' 1,600-meter relay, and seniors Shalonda Solomon, Jasmine Lee, Dashanta Harris and Chanda Picott will have competed in their final meet wearing the school's green and gold uniforms.

With sophomore Shana Woods and junior Shana Solomon, Shalonda's sister, expected back next season, Poly will again field relay teams most schools dream of, but the impending graduation of the elder Solomon and her senior cohorts could signal the end of the Jackrabbits' national record-setting days.

"It going to be our last meet together, and we're going to try to make it our best," said Lee, the defending state champion in the 400. "We're going to go after our record [in the 1,600 relay]. We're going to try and put it out there where no one can touch it for a long time."

Running 3 minutes 34 seconds in the 1,600 relay -- an average of 53.5 seconds per leg -- is Poly's goal. And even if the Jackrabbits don't run that fast, it would not be surprising if Shalonda Solomon, Lee, Harris and Woods are able to better the national record of 3:35.55 that Poly set in the Penn Relays in Philadelphia last year.

That was the fourth -- and final -- national record of the 2003 season. This year, Poly has set national records of 3:38.91 in the 1,600 relay indoors and 44.50 in the 400 relay and 1:33.87 in the 800 relay outdoors heading into the state meet, which begins Friday.

"When they first came in as freshmen, you could see that they were special," longtime Poly Coach Don Norford said of the seniors. "They were silly like a lot of ninth-grade kids, but when they stepped on the track, they were all business.

"And they were eager to learn. When you get a bunch of 14- and 15-year old kids together, it's not always easy to get them to listen to you, but they did."

Shalonda Solomon, who won the women's 100 and 200 and ran a leg on the victorious 400 relay team in the Pan American Junior championships last summer, said she and her teammates could not have accomplished what they have if they had goofed off in practice.

"There's always a time for play and a time for work," the South Carolina signee said. "And when we step on the track, it's time to work. When you want to run the kind of times we want to run, you have to practice hard. You can't expect to run fast in meets if you don't practice hard."

Although Poly has been the nation's best girls' sprint relay program the past three years, it was only four seasons ago that the Jackrabbits were second best in the Moore League to Long Beach Wilson.

Wilson won the 400 and 1,600 relays in the 2001 state championships in Sacramento and its then-national record time of 3:35.72 in the 1,600 relay left it four seconds ahead of a runner-up Poly squad that included Shalonda Solomon and Lee.

"We were in the ninth grade and the competition we were running against seemed so much better than us," the USC-bound Lee recalled. "[3:35] seemed so fast back then, but then we ran 3:39 and thought we could get better in the years ahead."

The Jackrabbits certainly have. They're the first girls' program to hold national outdoor records in the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays at the same time. They also have six of the top 12 high school times ever run in the 400 relay and six of the top nine in the 1,600 relay.

"They're all one in the same," Shalonda Solomon said when asked if any of the national-record relays she has anchored were more memorable than the others. "Just to know that you were part of a team that set a national record means a lot."



Poly on the Run

National records currently held by the Long Beach Poly girls' relay teams:

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