Breakout Senior to Lead AU at NCAA Track Meet

Sacramento, Calif.--The last person on the Auburn women's track team a person would want to upset is Markita James. One of the fastest 400-meter hurdlers in the country and a fifth degree karate black belt, the former Smiths Station High athlete packs a punch on and off the track.

One of the major reasons Auburn is having the best track and field season in the history of the school's women's program is the way the senior has blossomed as a senior. On Wednesday, James and her fourth-ranked Auburn women's team look to have a strong showing at the four days of competition at the NCAA Track and Field Championships.

"The season has been going pretty good," James tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I have been steadily progressing and staying consistent. In the beginning, I just worked hard. My coaches have been working me with me to train hard in my events."

The senior's description of her season as "going pretty good" is definitely an understatement as her hurdles coach, Henry Rolle, points out. She set a school record of 55.40 in the event this spring at Georgia Tech and smashed that in the regional qualifier in Knoxville, Tenn., with a time of 54.54.

"I think in everything it takes time and patience and she has definitely put in the time and shown patience," Rolle says. "She has gotten better every year. I think in the beginning she was just splitting her time between martial arts and track and field.

"She just decided that she was going to put the martial arts down for a minute and concentrate on track and field," Rolle says. "It was the highway to heaven from there."

James hasn't been on her track highway quite as long as most college seniors. She didn't even compete in the sport until she was a junior in high school. She was a cheerleader at Smiths Station High and competed away from school in karate.

"One of my friends asked me to come out for the track team because she just wanted to have a friend out there with her having some fun," James remembers. "It took a while to convince my father to let me run. It all paid off and I am glad he did."

James ran into some initial resistance to the idea from her father, her karate instructor, because track meets in the spring conflicted with some of her karate competitions. "Basically, him and my mom and I sat down and well, we decided this is something I want to do," she says. "He understood and here I am."

The hurdler says her years of karate training have helped her in track and field. "It helps you learn to train and stay focused, be humble and be dedicated to the support. It helps with your flexibility and strength, major elements that carry over to the track area. I am grateful and glad that I did that."

James has progressed to the point where she is good enough to compete as a professional in the sport after she graduates at AU and make a run at the 2008 Olympics. That goal is a rather new one for her.

"I knew it was something that I wanted to do in college, but I never really thought it could go beyond that," she says of track and field. "My senior year, everything started clicking and I realized this is something that I can probably pursue."

James has made steady improvement throughout college, but his year has been the big jump. "Each year the workouts have getting a little bit tougher," he says. "I am in better shape than I have ever been. I do more strength and endurance workouts and speed work. I know it is paying off for me to be stronger coming home. We are doing a lot of hurdle drills to get my technique better. That has paid off a lot."

James has also benefitted from being around other good hurdlers at Auburn. She gets to train with Josanne Lucas, another world class hurdler in the 400, and men's team member Reuben McCoy, a talented sophomore.

"It is hard to practice an event by yourself," she says. "When you have somebody there to motivate you, it really takes a lot off of you. You are there to support each other."

Former Tiger All-American Dean Griffiths also was a great person for James to watch when she arrived at Auburn. "His hurdle technique is awesome," James says. "He gave me some excellent points on how to be quicker over the hurdles."

James says Rolle has really improved her form in the event and helped drop in her times. "When I first started, words can't really describe how sloppy I was going over the hurdles," she notes. "I still have a long way to go, but he has brought me a long way. I am steadily improving. He is an awesome coach and a great person. I am going to keep training with him."

"I think she is definitely still a novice to the 400 hurdles," Rolle says. "She is really just now starting to get a grasp and as she gets stronger and faster the event changes and she makes those adjustments she will get better.

"Personally, I think she can run 53 seconds in the event," her coach adds. "Whether she does it this year in a race, I don't know, but she has done those. It is just a matter of putting it together in a race. I know she can definitely run 50-point in the 400 and 53 in the hurdles, which makes her world class in both events. It also puts her in a great situation to make the U.S. (national) team, which is one of the toughest teams in the world, if not the toughest to make, in both of those events."

Rolle says that in addition to having the physical tools to be successful, she also has the right attitude to be a star in the sport.

"She has got the size, the stamina and the strength in the weight room," he says. "I think the only thing that needs to develop in that event is her speed.

Coach Henry Rolle will continue to train the AU senior as she takes the world stage in track and field after graduation.

"She is definitely a team player," Rolle says. "She is a coach's dream. I think it goes back to her discipline with martial arts. Individuals like her and the girls I have now come around every four or five years. It has been a dream season for us so far and we hope to carry it on to nationals and hopefully come out on top. Markita has been a key part of it for us."

Nine other members of the Auburn women's team will be in Sacramento for the NCAA meet and four men's team's members are competing.

Other top competitors for the Tigers include junior Kerron Stewart, who is ranked number one college runners in the 100 meters. She is also ranked eighth in the 200.

Lucas is ranked fourth nationally in the 400 hurdles and is sixth in the 100 hurdles.

Angela Homan is ranked ninth in the 10,000 meters, Jovanee Jarrett is 10th in the long jump and Michelle Vaughn is 10th in the triple jump.

AU's 4x100 relay team of Tamara Thomas, Jarett, James and Stewart is ranked fifth.

Head coach Ralph Spry redshirted three of the key men's team competitors. McCoy, who is ranked number two in the 400 hurdles, is AU's top performer going into the meet. Ty Akins is ranked 10th in the 110-meter hurdles.

The competition from Sacramento will be televised from 7-9 p.m. CDT on Friday by CSTV and CBS will cover the final events from 2:30-5 p.m. on Saturday.

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