Harding girls ready to take steps to state

Charles Penny remembers the 2008 Warren G. Harding boys track and field season. It laid the foundation for the eventual 2010 Division I state championship.

In 2008, the boys 4×100-meter relay team of juniors Jarrale Butts, Aunre’ Davis and Joseph Threats, along with sophomore DeAver Williamson went from barely qualifying for state finals to placing third in a time of 42.23 seconds.

Penny can draw some correlation to the 2008 team, but not to this year’s boys team. Instead, its the progress of the WGH girls track and field team.

“This team reminds me of the 2010 team when they were all sophomores, back in 2008. It’s very reminiscent how these girls are,” Penny said.

The Raiders’ girls team came from humble beginnings – again, like the boys team that won in 2010.

“We basically started from scratch, had our goal on the boys side to win a state title,” Penny said. “We never diverted from that. We kept our standards high. We lost some kids to numbers because of work ethic or whatnot or various reasons. We never lowered our expectations. We kept everything at a very high level.

“With the girls program, that’s the same approach we took. When we took it over, we felt they could win a state title someday, hopefully with us. We raised the expectation levels up, not just field a team and have them out there, but to field a very, very good track team that could some day compete for a state title. We laid the framework when we took the girls program over. When we started, we only had four or five girls the first year for girls track. Each year from that, our numbers rose, along with the mentality of these girls.”

The WGH girls made its first major steps as a program in 2007 as the Raiders won the Trumbull County Track and Field Championship – a title they dominated from 2010-12.

The next step was qualifying individuals to state, starting back in 2011 with a large contingent of Harding girls advancing to Columbus.

Then, it was Ja’Quana Threats who led the way for Harding’s fifth-place regional team. She qualified for state in the 400, long jump and was part of the qualifying 4×100 and 4×200 relays. The Raiders also went to state in the 4×400.

The only event WGH placed in at state was the 4×100, but it laid the foundation of the now proud Raiders program. Since then, the 4×200 (2012) and the 4×100 (2013) placed at state.

“Once we started getting girls to the state meet, that validated good work ethic and good athletic ability of doing things the right way. With that, good things will come,” Penny said.

“Now, we will fill a girls team with well over 30 members. We’re yung and we have very good talent. We took a bunch of kids to indoor state meet this year. We feel very good with the course we’re on.”

Harding finished 11th at state indoors with its runners taking five top-eight finishes in the 60, 60 hurdles, 200 and 4×200 relay. Juniors Chyna Stroud and Nautica Hill, along with sophomores Justice Richardson, Aisha Jackson and Gariana Berchini were the WGH contingent that represented the Raiders at indoor state in Akron.

“I definitely see a difference in our work ethic and how much tougher we are from last year and how strong our desire is to win,” Richardson said.

She said the work ethic Penny instills in his teams makes the WGH girls a viable threat this season.

“It made us mentally tough. If we could compete through the hard workouts, we could do anything we put our minds to ,” Richardson said.