Fly like an Eagle: Winslow’s girls ready for state title run

While Winslow’s highly successful girls track team has won six straight spring outdoor state championships, they haven’t collected an indoor winter title since collecting their fourth in a row in 2015. The three-year drought could certainly end in ’19.

One Winslow Township for years of consecutive Group 3 state titles in the spring outdoor season. Because of the talent of the likes of Tionna Tobias, Rayven Rouse, Shevelle Higgs, Janeya Hammond, Nylah Perry and Alexandria Morrison, the Eagles could easily collect a state crown this winter. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

When the best high school programs are successful year after year, for decades, spanning fathers and sons and mothers and daughters, like Haddonfield tennis, Moorestown lacrosse, Eastern field hockey or Paulsboro wrestling, outsiders might get lazy in their jealousy, roll their eyes and say something like there must be something in the drinking water in those towns.

Winslow Township’s girls track team knows the feeling.

The Eagles have won six straight Group 3 state titles in the outdoor spring season. They’ve won six indoor group state championships since 2006.

“A lot of people think winning to us is easy, like we just step on the track and we win,” said Winslow Township High School senior Alexandria Morrison. “It’s not like that.”

So what is it like? How do successful programs — pun intended — run?

“You’ve got to put in the work behind closed doors and when it’s actually time to step on the track, that’s when we show our name, that we are Winslow’s girls track team, and that’s why we are six-time state champs and this is why we do what we do, because when it’s time to put in the work at practice, we do the workouts, we hit our marks,” Morrison said.

Fellow senior Rayven Rouse concurred.

“(It’s) actually putting in the work that the coaches give us,” she said. “The work we put in behind closed doors. We’re listening to our coaches. And it’s not just the work at practice, but at home. So if she tells us to do something outside of school, that’s what we have to do, not just training in school, that’s not going to get you far.”

What can an athlete do at home?

Continue running. Go to the gym. Keep up with a smart and healthy diet. Continue to drink water.

Long story short, the high school athletes at the premiere programs in South Jersey can keep the championship wheel turning, no matter who graduates each year, through an unending dedication to their sport.

And just like those other programs — Paulsboro wrestling, Eastern field hockey, etc. — the athletes that show up to run at Winslow are hardly just learning the sport.

Shawnika Brown, a Winslow alum and the head girls track coach, also coaches in Age Group, the AAU of the track world.

“So with a lot of these girls, they’ve been running since they were 5 and 6 years old,” Brown said as she looked around at six of her runners one day after school. “We develop our underclassmen a lot, a lot of the girls run Age Group, so they come in with track experience. … We’re not just focused on our upperclassmen; we try to keep our young athletes involved as much as possible.”

The Eagles girls track team has made a habit of filling up the school’s trophy cases each school year. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

The result is a track program that runs as smoothly as a finely-tuned machine. Winslow’s girls team lost four seniors from last year’s team — that might sound like a small number, but all four are running at Division-I colleges — but it’s almost as if they went in for new tires, taking a nice vehicle and keeping it up and running with new girls ready to hit the road (or, track) without any speed bumps.

“Just getting our (five) freshman to the level we’re at now,” senior Tionna Tobias said of early-season goals. “Our freshman are pretty good, they still need to work on some things but we have faith in them. They’re basically just like us when we started off, so we have hope and faith in them that they’ll grow just as much as we did.”

The Eagles run in the spring fueled by the current streak, six state titles in a row. They might run this winter fueled by collecting their first state title since 2015 (after winning four straight).

Whether it’s errors like false starts and dropped batons or girls just having off performances at inopportune times, the winter hasn’t been quiet as bountiful to the school’s trophy case as the spring (which, of course, is setting a high bar). But betting against the Winslow girls team wouldn’t be wise, either.

Sure they’re hungry to start a winter streak and they’re talented enough to run toward a state title in a few months. But there’s another reason programs like Moorestown lacrosse, Haddonfield tennis and Winslow track succeed year after year after year.

“These girls are like a family,” Brown said. “They’ll run through a wall for each other. They’re not just a team; they do things outside of school together. When you see one, you see them all. And that keeps the bond on the track.”

“The bond that we have,” Rouse added, “I don’t think any other team has a bond like us, and it shows on the track.”

“As we fall down, we pick each other up,” Morrison said. “It’s not like pointing the blame like, ‘Oh you false started.’ We all false started then. How are you going to grow as a team if you can’t help each other when you need it the most?”