Running down a dream

A Q&A with Winslow Township senior and Iowa commit Tionna Tobias, who has five state individual titles, has helped lead the Eagles to four of their six straight outdoor Group 3 state championships, and has Olympic aspirations, too

Winslow Township High School senior Tionna Tobias will compete in the long jump and will anchor the Eagles relay team at the Penn Relays later this month. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

On a recent afternoon at Winslow Township High School’s newly updated track, girls head coach Shawnnika Brown waited until one of her star athletes was in the middle of an interview before she delivered the news.

“I want to tell you, because I just found out, you made the Penn Relays long jump,” Brown.

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Senior standout Tionna Tobias gave her coach a high-five.

“We were biting our fingers on that one,” Brown said with a laugh.

But as Tobias enters the final season of her senior year, it’s almost to the point where nothing is a surprise. She’s just that talented and goal-oriented.

Three years ago, as a ninth grader, Tobias set a New Jersey record for a freshman when she had a 18-9 long jump at the 82nd annual Eastern States Indoor Track and Field Championship. It was just the second long jump competition of her budding career.

Two years later, she won her first Easterns championship, set an all-time Camden County record, and pulled off the second-best indoor long jump ever by a South Jersey female athlete (former Olympian Carol Lewis has the best mark) as a junior. She followed that by nearly jumping 20 feet in the long jump in the spring, recording the best long jump in the history of the NJSIAA Group Championships.

Tobias enters the spring with five individual state titles (in the long jump, high jump, 55-meter dash and high hurdles) and has been a part of the Winslow program that has won back-to-back Group 3 indoor state championships and six straight outdoor state titles as a team.

So to be one of the 20 girls who will compete in the prestigious Penn Relays is surely impressive, but also par for the course when it comes to Tobias.

“She’s very hard-working,” Brown said. “She studies her craft. She’s in the gym before practice, after practice. She’s in there on Sundays, she’s in the long jump pit. She’s really attuned to her events. She’s phenomenal as far as work ethic.”

Tobias, a former competitive cheerleader who comes from an athletic family who will continue to work on the long jump, hurdles and heptathalon at Iowa University next year, took some time before a recent practice to talk about her accomplishments, her goals for this season, and more.

South Jersey Sports Weekly: You’ve been a top performer in the state for a while and now here we are in the final spring season of your high school career. Does it feel like that flew by?

Tobias: It actually does. I just remember coming in my freshman year with Coach (Brown), and now everything is just moving so fast.

SJSW: What’s your favorite part about being in this program? You guys are almost expected to win state titles at this point.

Tobias: My favorite part is our bond. Every team has teammates, but (they don’t always) have friendships. I feel like our friendship is (like that), we’re like sisters. We can tell each other anything and we can correct each other, show each other things ….

SJSW: … and no one gets offended because of how close you all are.

Tobias: Yeah, it just feels normal.

SJSW: Speaking of sisters, that’s a good transition. You had a sister (Tacquaya)  who was pretty good at (Our Lady of Mercy and then Duquesne University and Rutgers University). And your brother (Greg) was a very good athlete at St. Augustine (walked on to football team at Syracuse). What do you look up to in those two, anything specific you admire?

Tobias: I admire my brother because he motivates me to work hard. And my sister, she actually introduced me to the long jump, so she’s helped me with everything.

SJSW: So who is the best athlete in the family?

Tobias: We’re all pretty well-rounded. [laughs]

SJSW: So you’re not going to make any bold statements?

Tobias: No. [laughs]

SJSW: Is your family competitive, even silly things like washing the dishes faster or other tasks?

Tobias: [Laughs] Well, it’s definitely competitive because I always strive to break (my sister’s) records.

SJSW: Your mom started the Omega Track Club in 2000 (the year you were born). What was it like to grow up with that around you right away, to see kids coming through an elite program?

Tobias: I’m honestly blessed, because not everybody starts in the beginning-beginning. So I learned early on how to do certain things, how to get ready for my event. How to listen to for my events. How to warm up. And (how to) help other people, too.

SJSW: You know help out as a coach there, right?

Tobias: Yeah.


SJSW: Were both your mom and your dad track athletes?

Tobias: No. My mom did track a little bit through high school (in Philadelphia), but that’s it.

SJSW: I saw how close you were to a 20-foot long jump, I guess that’s one of your goals.

Tobias: Yeah. That’s so annoying, it’s like right on the border of 20. Oh well.

SJSW: I’m just curious, what do Olympians jump?

Tobias: Like 22, 23s.

SJSW: I know you got the Group meet record for the long jump last year. What is it like to be considered one of the best to ever come through the state?

Tobias: It’s just unbelievable. It just makes me want to push harder to go to the next level and possibly be in the Olympics, get past 20 and onto 22.

SJSW: What are your other goals for this year? Any checklist of things to accomplish?

Tobias: Yeah, in the 100 hurdles, I want to go under 14 seconds. So like, mid-13s.

SJSW: I know the Penn Relays are coming up. Is there anything you like specifically about that meet?

Tobias: I like running the relays, actually, like the 4X100. This year I have to run anchor. I haven’t run anchor since middle school. So I’m kind of excited and nervous at the same time.

SJSW: So is it often a senior running anchor?

Winslow Township coach Shawnnika Brown: No, it’s just how it falls out right now. As I explained to her, I just really trust her to bring it home. We have a great leadoff and I need a great finish. [Janeya Hammond, Nylah Perry, Jaia James are the others on the relay.]

SJSW: Woodbury Relays are also this month and I know that’s most of South Jersey. Are there any other girls in South Jersey – besides your teammates – that you like to watch?

Tobias: I like watching Tierra Hooker (junior at Timber Creek) and I love watching Claudine (Smith of Atlantic City). These are just my friends.

SJSW: Any of your teammates you admire, specifically?

Tobias: I admire my friend Raven (Rouse), she’s really been improving through the years and I’m happy for her.

SJSW: Do you have a funniest teammate?

Tobias: Nylah Perry. Oh my God. She’s always late! (Laughs) Always the late one. I don’t know.

SJSW: Smartest teammate?

Tobias: Ali. Ali Morrison.

SJSW: Who would you feel most comfortable getting in a car with? Or, who is the most responsible?

Tobias: Ali. [Laughs]

SJSW: What led you to pick Iowa for a scholarship? Something specific you liked about them?

Tobias: I liked everything. But what really got me were the coaches. And it was just a feeling, I don’t know how to explain it.

SJSW: No, I know what you mean. I went to Clemson and the first time I was on campus, I just knew it felt right, felt like home.

So tell me about that video you made where you chose your college? [Laughs]

Tobias: [Laughs] I don’t know, I just made it on the spot. [Laughs] I told my mom to get me some balloons.

SJSW: What do you like when you’re not at track or training for track?

Brown: Cheer. She’s a cheerleader!

Tobias: I used to do competitive cheer, like all the time, I loved competitive cheer. But I had to stop, because just do an All-Star season now but they used to do a regular season and that was fine, but All-Star season interferes with track.

SJSW: So you were traveling with cheerleading?

Tobias: Yeah we went to Florida, Virginia, and Maryland.

SJSW: When you were little did you play any other sports?

Tobias: When I was in middle school I played soccer. I was pretty good. … And I did basketball.

SJSW: Those coaches are always going to try to recruit track athletes because you guys can run. How about outside of sports, any TV show or movie you’re into?

Tobias: I recently saw “Us.” Oh my God, it was creepy. But I understood it. It was crazy.

SJSW: How about if you’re at the Meet of Champions and you’re going to get a first-place medal and they played walk-up music. What would you pick for your song?

Tobias: I think it’s called, “Get Dripped.” By Lil Yachty.  

Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.
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