Mariah Atwater and Jirah Sidberry have the top-ranked Ravens track team closer than ever to hoisting the school’s first team championship
MINT HILL — The Rocky River girls track and field team learned first hand this winter that it’s the near misses that sting the most.
The Ravens entered the December indoor track and field championships ranked the No. 1 team in the region and in the state based on performance, and they had a great showing at the meet, with four individual placers and two relays that were within the top six.
But it wasn’t quite enough.
Southeast Raleigh edged the Ravens by four points to claim the state championship that Rocky River so coveted.
As they set to enter the conference, regional and state meets for this spring’s outdoor season, the Ravens are in a familiar spot, ranked first in the state once again.
But this time around they’re committed to making amends and they have just the power duo to do it with senior sprinter Mariah Atwater and junior jumper Jirah Sidberry leading the charge.
“These two are everything,” said Ravens coach and Jirah’s father Antoine Sidberry. “Mariah is the momma of the team and Jirah is the auntie of the team. They bring everybody in, they hold the team accountable based off the expectations of the coaching staff, and they keep everyone focused on the goal. We don’t have to be there and we know things are going to get done because these two are going to be on top of it. Outside of being great athletes, these two are great leaders for this team. They’ve been working really hard and they have goals that they want to attain and one of those goals is to win a state championship.”
And they know just how bad it stings to walk away so close to doing it.
“We were so close, but I never want to have that feeling again,” Jirah Sidberry said. “That really brought the whole team together and made our practices so much more competitive. We know that it starts here at home and we’ve been working so hard and been having such great competitiveness. Now we all have the same mindset that we can do this and that’s our number one goal.”
Jirah Sidberry knows what it’s like to raise a championship medal.
At the indoor championship this winter she won two individual titles, taking the long jump (18 feet, 8.50 inches) and the triple jump (39-8.0).
“At first, winning those titles was a lot of pressure because I knew everyone was out to get me,” she said. “But it just goes back to me being mentally prepared for everything and having the mindset that I can do it every time out.”
Sidberry has improved her jumps this season, and with it improved the Ravens’ chances of winning the school’s first team state championship.
She’s first in the state in the triple jump (she cleared a new personal record of 38-10 in April) and is third in the long jump (Sidberry jumped a personal best 19-1 in March), just three inches from the state’s top mark.
But all of that is not by accident.
“What Jirah did at indoors shocked everyone,” Antoine Sidberry said. “I knew she could get to where she got at indoor, but not that soon. We set goals and I thought those jumps were more for the middle of next year, but she’s well ahead of schedule because she’s a hard worker. If I go in her room, she’s doing pushups and situps. She does all of the small things that a coach tells their athletes to do, and she’s really focused on what she’s doing. She has some good competitors, and that drives her as well.”
Jirah Sidberry said her distances have come from hard work and a drive to lead the Ravens to the top.
“Having success has taught me a lot about myself, but it’s also taught me a lot about my team,” she said. “Track is not just an individual sport, and I have to be mindful that I’m helping them out as much as I’m helping myself out. That’s something I’ve learned over the last couple of seasons as I’ve matured.
“Last year was really rough on me because one week I would do really well and the next week it would be the opposite. That put a lot of pressure on me because I’m the type of person that if I’m not hitting my marks I get really frustrated. It got to where it wasn’t fun anymore, but once I got back to having fun and enjoying it, it made everything so much better and so much easier.”
While Jirah Sidberry is making her mark, Atwater is continuing to make a name for herself — something she’s done for the past four years.
She recently signed to run at East Carolina University and is having an outstanding senior season.
This winter she placed in three events during at the indoor championship. That comes on the heels of Atwater winning regional titles in the 100- and 400-meter runs and placing second in the 200 as a junior at last year’s outdoor Western Regional.
This outdoor season Atwater has kept it going, recording the state’s top time in the 100 (11.94 seconds). She’s also fourth in the state in the 400 (57.46) and tied for eighth in the 800 (25.08) and, like last year, she’ll compete in the trio of individual events once again.
“Last year, I did better than I thought I was going to do,” she said. “It gave me a lot more confidence and made me realize how good I could do. Now I know it’s more of a mindset. I know I don’t have to be the fastest person to win the race, but if I’m mentally strong I know I should do well.”
Antoine Sidberry said both of his stars are great athletes, but also great leaders who have his young team primed to make up for their near miss at the indoor championship.
While Jirah Sidberry and Atwater will be the centerpieces, the Ravens will also lean heavily on Lauren Powell, who holds the top time in the 100 and 300 hurdles in the region and will compete in two relays, and Ty-lisha Kimble, who runs the 100 and 200 and will compete in two relays.
Freshmen Mojave Gibson and Modesty Shelton and junior Nyah Sidbury will also play a pivotal role as the Ravens look to finish on top.
“We have the same group for the most part, but we added some really valuable pieces,” Antoine Sidberry said. “Based off performance right now, we are the No.1 team in the conference, region and state again. I think we have a really good shot to win all three meets. It’s going to take everybody and we need everyone on their ‘A’ game to make it happen. We can’t afford to have any mistakes.”
Atwater said the feeling of coming close is a painful one, and something she hopes to erase this month at the end-of-year races that mean so much.
“It would mean the world to me and it would prove a lot of people wrong,” she said. “We were so close, but to be that close hurts. It’s my senior year and I want to make sure I go out with a bang.”
Coach Sidberry thinks he has the team, and the two leaders at the top, to make this outdoor season a memorable one.
“This is it. This is the best shot we’ve had to win it,” he said. “I told them to embrace the moment and where we are as a team. I don’t want them to have arrogance, but we have to have a certain morale about us to perform at the level we’re seeded. We can’t practice like we’re some Joe Schmo team and expect other teams to give it to us based off where we’re seeded. That happened to us at indoor. We performed well, but we got out-performed by four points. We can’t make that mistake this time and I don’t think we will.
“I think we’re ready to do it.”