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Fort Bend Marshall's girls pose with a photo with the UIL Class 5A state championship trophy.
Fort Bend Marshall’s girls track and field program is predicated upon work and sacrifice. That is its essence in its entirety.
Easier said than done for most but simply a way of life for the Buffalos.
The Lady Buffs are no strangers to the state track and field meet, having gone at least every year since second-year coach Shahira Ehiemua was dominating lanes on 1220 Buffalo Run in 2007, but they are at the top of their class these days. Marshall’s girls won their first team state championship last year and are a considerable favorite to repeat this weekend at Mike A. Myers Stadium at the University of Texas.
“We know how it feels to win and we know we have a target on our back,” senior Tairah Johnson said. “We have to move accordingly. We never got comfortable and we’re working just as hard as we did last year.”
Marshall returned four of its five girls who led the state championship run last season.
There’s Johnson, who won individual golds at the Region III-5A meet two weeks ago in the 100-meter hurdles and long jump and ran the first and second legs of the champion 4x100 and 4x200 relays. Senior Cesley Williams is the defending 400-meter state champion. Senior Desirae Roberts qualified for state this year in the 100 and 300 hurdles. Senior Janai Williams anchored the 4x100 and 4x200 state champ relays last year.
“After winning state last year, that momentum carried on,” Ehiemua said. “They were already a mature group, but this year they’ve all only matured more. They individually have their own motivations pushing them to do even better this year, but collectively we have the same mindset of winning state and doing whatever it takes to do that.”
The Buffs’ excellence and standard start with Johnson. The North Carolina A&T signee has an irrepressible drive to be great.
Johnson had an impressive 2021. Not only did she bring home gold in the 100 hurdles at state last year, she won the Louisiana Governor’s Games and finished third at The Outdoor Nationals and USATF National Junior Olympics in the summer.
“Tairah is dominant,” Ehiemua said. “There’s no denying that. She’s so passionate about this sport. She wants to get better every day and knows the importance of drilling and practice. She’s always striving for the next goal.”
Fort Bend Marshall senior Tairah Johnson.VYPE Media
At regionals, Johnson won the 100 hurdles with a mark of 13.73 seconds and the long jump with a mark of 19’-11.50.” She got the 4x1 and 4x2 relays off to great starts.
Johnson has been running since the sixth grade and has always had an affinity for the hurdles.
“I just loved jumping over things, and I have long legs so I always had stride,” she said.
In her second year in the sport as a middle-schooler, Johnson was already breaking regional and national records. She said she’s better this year because of her commitment to the weight room.
“I’m finishing workouts better,” Johnson said. “I’m stronger at the end of races.”
Lloyd Banks, Marshall’s director of track and field operations who oversees the boys and girls programs, said Johnson is a “bull.”
“She does not stop working,” Banks said. “She is tedious. She makes you better as a coach.”
If the program’s culture was a person, Johnson would be its face.
She’s selfless almost to a fault, enjoying others’ success more than her own. She works tirelessly. She loves to compete. She runs as if competing with a chip on her shoulder.
It’s a gritty doggedness that permeates the entire program.
“As a whole, they’re a resilient group,” Banks said of Marshall’s girls team. “They’re tough. The biggest thing for us is letting everybody know that it’s not just the boys we’ve got going. It’s the girls, too. Every meet, they prove it.”
Banks has been director of track and field operations for the last three years. Prior to that, he led the Marshall boys program since 2010, leading them to team state championships in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Since 2015. Fort Bend Marshall's girls and boys track and field teams have won five state championships. Here they are pictured after sweeping the team championships at the Region III-5A track and field meet two weeks ago.Courtesy of Fort Bend Marshall
The Buffs’ success on the track, whether it’s the girls or boys, is no coincidence. Banks and his coaching staff have a meticulous plan for each kid’s individual and long-term success. Kids work hard and sacrifice because “we work our butts off for them when it comes down to scholarships,” Banks said.
Coaches plan out kids’ races before the season starts. Coaches stress a plan with kids on their primary and secondary races but emphasize versatility in events because it attracts colleges.
There is an open line of communication between coach and athlete. An athlete will never be thrown an event to compete in unexpectedly, and they always know why and when they will be competing.
‘The biggest thing is just having a plan for the kids. Period,” Banks said. “We sit down in December as a staff and take our top five kids, take care of their races, and then fill in everyone else after that and so on.”
During after-school practices, junior varsity boys are put in the same training group as varsity girls.
“Our girls are like, ‘I’m not losing to a JV boy.’ And our boys are like, ‘I’m not losing to a girl,’” Banks said. “They’re real battles. And it all makes us better.”
The top 40 boys and girls athletes are on the track during practices. Everyone else is on a back field. It fosters a competitive environment; Marshall’s own version of “survival of the fittest.”
No kid wants to be on the back field. If they buy in and work, they find themselves part of something much greater.
“We are all part of a legacy,” Janai Williams said. “Nothing I do would be possible without every track athlete that has come through Marshall. This is a legacy. Some of our athletes have been there and want more, and others want to be next in line.”
‘BEGINNING WITH THE END IN MIND’
No one understands that ethos more than Ehiemua. She starred for Marshall from 2008-2011.
“Coach E is great,” Johnson said. “We see it as we get to carry on her legacy. We see that if our coaches have done this, we have to do it, too. We know we have to keep going what they’ve done.”
Ehiemua still holds the program record in the 100-meter dash (11.7 seconds) and was part of the program record 4x100 relay (45.51 seconds).
“It makes a difference, because I’m more passionate about what I do because this is where my foundation was built,” said Ehiemua, who ran collegiately at SMU and UTSA. “I had to bleed that some blood and cry those same tears and sweat like they do on that same exact track. But this isn’t about what I did or what the school accomplished before. It’s about the girls we have now and how we can get them better.”
Fort Bend Marshall girls track and field coach Shahira Ehiemua.VYPE Media
Ehiemua knows she has a special group.
Johnson, she said, is “the ultimate dream of a coach. A walking talent.” She is proud of Roberts for adding the 100 hurdles this season and her initiative to avenge last year’s fourth-place finish at state in the 300 hurdles.
Ehiemua admires the mental toughness and positive disposition of Cesley Williams, a University of Houston signee. She could not be more impressed by the fight and selflessness of North Texas signee Janai Williams, who has battled through a back injury this season that kept her out of the area meet so that she could be healthy when her team needed her most.
“We all have the same mindset. One goal in mind,” Ehiemua said. “We’ve been ready for this, and everything we’ve done is ready to show itself. They deserve to be here. Now it’s time to execute and trust their training and their coaches. The culture has been set. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids and beginning with the end in mind.”
HOUSTON – Throughout an athlete’s career it is inevitable that there will be adversity and injuries.
For Fort Bend Marshall’s Janai Williams both of those statements ring true to her track career. But when faced with those she has done nothing but overcome.
Last year, Williams stood atop the podium at Mike A. Meyers Stadium as a part of the 5A State Champion 4X100-meter relay team and eventual team State Champion Fort Bend Marshall Buffs girls track and field team.
Earlier in April, Williams added another accomplishment as she verbally committed to the University of North Texas to continue her track career.
“It means so much to continue track on the college level because of the adversity and setbacks from injuries that I have faced throughout my track career,” Williams said. “In my recruiting process although I had many interests in the end North Texas was the first school to pursue me and saw me as a key to a growth in their program. I love the dynamic and bond the team has created over the past few years as well as the vision for the future that the coach has for the team.”
HTX -> DTX🦅I’m grateful and blessed to have the opportunity to run track at the collegiate level. Thank you to God, my family, coaches, and extended support system. I am proud to announce my commitment to the University of North Texas! 💚#GoMeanGreen #LightTheTower pic.twitter.com/R48xd8sUsI— Janai Williams (@janailwilliams) April 8, 2022
Williams has grown up in an athletic household – she’s a coach’s kid. Her father James serves as the head football coach at Fort Bend Marshall High School.
“My parents (James and Alveda) have undoubtedly played a major role in my athletic upbringing,” Williams said. “My dad being the head football coach at Fort Bend Marshall High School has set high expectations for me in the sports world, but it has done nothing but motivate me to become the athlete I am today.”
So far this season, Williams has set new personal bests in the 100-meter dash (12.25) and the 200-meter dash (24.81), which she wants to break the school record in.
Williams also wants to advance to the UIL State Track & Field Meet in the 200-meter dash, which she finished ninth in at the Region III-5A Meet a year ago. As a team goal, she wants to help Fort Bend Marshall, which won its first-ever girls track & field state championship last year, to do just that again.
As far as inspiration on the track – that comes from Olympian Gabby Thomas.
“She is a big inspiration to me in the track world because I see myself in her,” Williams said. “From our build to running the same events. Seeing someone who looks like me do nothing but great things motivates me everyday.”