By Max Goodwin
This summer, Ruskin High School sprinters set a new school record in the 4×100 meter relay at 48.76 seconds and won the school’s first state title in any girl’s track and field event since 2008.
The championship quartet included just one senior, with two freshmen and one sophomore. Rahkia Moore, Samya Fontleroy, and Myala Taylor wanted to help get the lone senior, Todjai Ross, a state championship before she graduated.
“They held up under pressure and worked hard to get to where they were,” head coach Carla Sole said. “They were so hungry this season. We knew pretty early on that we had a chance being led by our senior TJ [Ross]. It just all came together.”
Before the meet was over, Ross would also claim an individual state title in the long jump.
On paper, Ross wasn’t expected to make the medal stand. But with one jump, the best of her high school career, Ross took home an individual state championship. At 17 feet, 9.5 inches, it is now in the record books as one of the best long jumps in the history of Ruskin High School.
“That’s it. All you need is one jump,” Sole would tell Ross in training. Ross had qualified for state as a freshman in the triple jump but had yet to be back, and now as a senior she was faced with her last shot at an individual state title in the long jump.
“I said back then that she was the most explosive athlete I’ve ever worked with and I will still stand strong on that,” Sole said. “Both explosive as an athlete and explosive as a personality. I mean, to know TJ is to love her. You just want things to go well for her. She’s just this tiny little firecracker. And so I wasn’t ruling anything out.”
Ruskin was once a powerhouse in girl’s track and field, winning state championships in 2002 and 2003 as neighboring school Hickman Mills High School won state championships in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Less than a decade later the two schools merged, but the success of both schools on the track dried up.
Sole became head coach of the boy’s team at Ruskin in 2002. In her first two years, she was also an assistant on the girl’s team and saw them win back-to-back state championships. In the two decades since, the Ruskin girls had struggled to replicate that success.
“It was just really frustrating to watch this powerhouse of a girls team become nothing,” Sole said.
Eight years ago, Sole was given the chance to be the head coach of both boy’s and girl’s teams at Ruskin. Her goal was to bring consistency back to the girl’s program. In recent years, there has been slow progress.
Since Ruskin had won its last state championship, rival Grandview High School sprinters have made a name for themselves. Angie Annelus alone filled the trophy case in her time at Grandview, winning three consecutive 100-meter and 200-meter state championships from 2013 to 2015. The team took the state title in 2014.
So it meant something to Ruskin’s effort to once again establish credibility on the track to win the 4×100-meter relay this year ahead of second-place Grandview. It’s the first time since 2004 that Ruskin girls have won multiple state titles in track and field events in the same year—a sign that Ruskin girl’s track and field might be on a path to return to its former glory.
Next year, Ross will head to Southeast Missouri State University where she hopes to both play basketball and run track.