By Elliott Denman
Is one noted Floridan's national record destined to be taken down by another Floridian?
"Youbetcha," say flocks of Sunshine State track fans who've been fortunate enough to see Ebony Eutsey in full flight.
The sensational junior at Miami's Southridge High School has been a state champion since her freshman year and heads to the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. as both America's fastest girls scholastic 400-meter runner (at 52.42) and a soon-to-be threat to Sanya Richards's USA all-time girls best (50.69) notched for St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale in 2002.
In addition to the nation-leading 52.42, achieved at the Miami Elite Invitational back on Apri1 11, Eutsey has recorded such other quick laps as 52.68 (at the Florida 4A State Meet), 53.36 (at the Sam Burley Hall of Fame Meet) and 53.43 (at the Greater Miami Championships.) Plus an array of sizzling relay legs, all while, under the careful tutleage of Southridge first-year head coach Dja Duque, were planned not to stretch out her limits too far, too soon this spring campaign.
Coach Duque's exquisitely-plotted game plan for her star pupil is to head into Greensboro with the fresh legs needed to do something really sensational on the national stage,=2 0and then carry that momentum into the USA National Youth Trials, coming up June 30 and July 1 in Ypsilanti, Michigan July, the meet that chooses America's team bound for IAAF's 6th World Youth Championships, set for July 8-12 in Bressanone, Italy.
"Ebony is one young lady who is destined to go far, not just in track but in real life," lauds Coach Duque.. "She's as hard-working in the classroom as she is on the track. She gets lots of A's but if she happens to get a B you know she'll work that much harder that it doesn't happen the next time.
"She is just a phenomenal person, who can be really great, and is willing to put in all the work necessary to make that happen, in whatever she does."
Eutsey is also phenomenally versatile. She's excelled at all events from the 100-meter dash to 5,000 meters of cross country, along with the hurdles races and triple jump.
Whatever the event, whatever the challenge, Eutsey says she's ready to take in on full-blast.
"I love competition," she declares. "The bigger the meet the better. The more fun it is, too."
For Eutsey, who is the youngest in a family of four brothers and four sisters, it's been a love affair with the sport of track and field since the third grade.
"It was little meet over at Goulds Park," she says. "My best friend, Marquisha Reece, who was already running track, told me about it and said "Ebony, why don't you come on over to the meet, too?.
"So I did. Marquisha, she was already pretty fast, but I guess I was, too. I think I won the 200 and the 400 that day. I can't even remember my times. I just remember how much fun it was."
So, sure enough, she was sold on the sport from that point on.
By the time she was a freshman at Southridge, she was ready to face her state's best. And a triumph in the State Meet held at Winter Park served as her formal prime-time arrival.
"I'd never been to a meet that big before," she said. "Kids were there from everywhere. I felt really good just being good enough to be there. " And she felt even better when she crossed the finish line a winner.
Again, the time it took her to run a lap was an afterthought. "I think it was 54 something," she says. "But I'm not really sure about that, either. Whatever, I knew I'd just won States."
She also ran to a sizzling freshman best of 52.67 at the USATF Youth Championships, and it ranked her third in the nation, trailing only two seniors. As a sophomore, she did even better, winning both the 200 and 400 at the Florida State meet, ran a 53.23 at the Adidas Golden West Invitational in California (for another #3 national ranking) and cut her 200 best to 23.67 at the Bob Hayes Invitational.
In addition to her USA #1 52.42 over 400 meters this '09 campaign, she's sped half-laps in 23.84 (at the Greater Miami meet), 24.02 (at the Sam Burley meet) and 24.06 at the Florida 4A State Meet. And she's been sub-52 on a 4x400 relay split.
So, now it's on to Greensboro….then Ypsilanti….and, maybe just maybe, Bressanone.
"Coach Duque's workouts are more intense than what I had been doing until this year," says Eutsey.
"Practice sessions don't take longer than I was used to doing, but they are really focused. I'll work on things like getting out of the blocks, my technique around the turns, my knee lift, coming home strong. All of it's given me a lot more confidence. I know I can handle just about anything now."
Coach Duque's videotape reviews of all her races are a key training factor, too.
"That footage is making her a much better runner," says Duque. "When she sees it, she understands it."
Typical workouts will range from explosive bursts out of the blocks, or drills on specific sections of her 400 race, such as the turns and homestretch. Interspersed will be easy runs designed to restore full resiliency to the legs.
"So when that gun goes off, Ebony is always ready," says Dugue. "To see her run is something special. Some people can't believe how smooth she is. Then they'll check their stopwatches and ask 'did that girl really run that fast?'"
Among the clock-watchers and charts-checkers are the coaching staffs of most of the nation's leading NCAA Division I teams. Everybody from Southern California to to LSU to Notre Dame to Columbia to Georgetown, along with all the top schools in Florida where track and field is a biggest-time activity, are beginning to extend invitations.
Eutsey, though, is playing it all with caution. "I just know that I'll have a lot of opportunities, and that I want to major in business or education," she says.
Coach Duque succeeded the legendary Burley, who retired from the post, as Southridge's head coach this year. Her own schooling took her to Park University of Missouri and the University of Kansas for undergraduate work, and Barry University in Florida, where she completed her Masters degree in occupational therapy.
She was a multi-faceted runner who, like Eutsey, competed at all distances through cross country. But her 55.56 400 best has been far eclipsed by her star pupil.
How fast can Eutsey eventually run?
"If all goes well, I think she can go under 51 this year," says Dugue.
"And next year, who can tell?
"Sure, she'd like to get Sanya's national record. But you can't look too far ahead about these things, either."
The ages-old bottom line: Ebony Eutsey is going to take it one race at a time.