While many indoor track coaches in Prince George's County are sighing wistfully over the 2001-02 yearbook, Largo's Darryl Hamilton has no qualms about turning the page with his girls' team.
Although he'll certainly miss All-Met runners Lakisha Brooks and India Ransom, who were among the most successful of the county's excellent class of 2002, Hamilton has more than 30 girls on his team eager to step out of the understudy role.
"I think it's one of the best teams I've had at Largo," Hamilton said. "We've got more depth, more people. People leave, the show still goes on."
Much of the spotlight will fall on junior Sirdonea Davis, who finished third in the 500 (1 minute 15.6 seconds) at the Maryland 4A/3A meet and was part of the state champion 4x400 relay team and runner-up 4x200. She followed that in the outdoor season with runner-up finishes at the 4A state meet in the 400 (56.78) and triple jump (36 feet 3 inches), and a third-place showing in the 300 hurdles (44.70).
Hamilton realized early that Davis could inherit the legacy of Largo's top runners.
"I knew [when she was] a ninth-grader, because she just worked so hard, and now it's her time to shine. It doesn't have to be her time yet, [because] we have good senior leaders and she doesn't have to carry the team, but I think she will."
However, Davis wasn't convinced that she had all the tools to take over until last year's indoor state meet, when she placed third in the 500 -- less than a second behind Brooks, the runner-up, and champion Renee Clarke of Eleanor Roosevelt.
"Physically, I knew I had the potential, I just needed a little more heart," Davis said. "Getting third in the 500 -- that turned everything around. I'd never done open events much, just relays, and when I started I was just striving to be in the mix, not even up front."
But Brooks and Ransom, who won 4A/3A titles in the 300 and 55, respectively, not only carried the torch of Largo's reputation in track, they also made sure it would be passed to another potential star.
"Sirdonea used to work out with Lakisha [Brooks]. They battled all the time, and Sirdonea just followed her lead," Hamilton said.
Davis said: "It felt funny at first [not having them] this year; we knew we wouldn't have India [Ransom] to score 40 points. It shook me up a little last year and it's a little more pressure on me, but I don't let it bother me."
Davis is not the only Lion poised for a state championship. Senior Vanessa Sessa has already run personal-best times in the 300 and 500 this season. Senior Natalie McKenzie returns after placing fourth during the outdoor season in Maryland 4A in the 100 dash. The three will run the 4x200 relay with promising freshman Mashayla Galloday, who also figures into the 4x400 relay team of Davis, Sessa and senior Darshal Smith. And senior Rhonda Reddick is coming off a fourth place in shot put in the outdoor state final.
Davis enters the season after placing fourth in the 400 hurdles and 10th in the triple jump at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics in Tennessee. However, she failed to qualify for the 400 finals, which remains her goal.
"I cried when I didn't make it, because it's not like me," she said. "So I'll use that race; it'll motivate me."
"She's a tough girl, a coach's dream -- if she's losing she asks what's wrong, and whatever you want her to do, she'll do," Hamilton said. "She's stronger and more experienced this year, but the biggest thing is she's into track."
Davis proved her dedication by running cross-country despite dreading every race.
"I couldn't stand it, but it helps my track," she said. "I never thought about cross-country as being my season -- I thought about it as a training season."
It helped that she began to excel in the three-mile races, eventually placing second behind Eleanor Roosevelt's Crystal Anyanwu in the 4A South Region. The emphasis on endurance has already paid off with wins in the 800 and 1,600 meters at two early-season meets.
Although Davis will face Anyanwu again in the 500 meters and 4x400 relay, her focus is almost exclusively on Roosevelt senior Tiandra Ponteen. The All-Met runner of the year clocked the Washington area's best times in the 300 and 500 meters and, like Davis, returns as the top hope for a graduation-depleted team.
"Knowing I have to step up and fill Lakisha's shoes, that gets in your head," Davis said, "and you hear it over and over."