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By Daniel Maher/Correspondent
Each day at practice, Menchville hurdlers Kali Watkins and Nicole Saunders get the chance to keep an eye on some of the best competition theyíll face the whole season.
Like several pairs of teammates/competitors in the Peninsula District, all theyíve got to do is look at one another.
Watkins, a state champion in the 55-meter hurdles, knows that being pushed by Saunders for three years has contributed to her success. Saunders is a state silver medallist.
"I actually really enjoy it because you two are the best at what you do," Watkins said. "And itís great to compete every day against the best. It ... helps you prepare for what youíre going to see at a meet."
The two can be expected to run neck-and-neck again in the next few weeks as the track season begins its annual sprint from district to regional to state championship meets. The Peninsula District championships are Friday and Saturday at Todd Stadium.
Saunders appreciates the high standard that Watkins sets for her to chase.
"When I race her, I know itís in her mind that sheís a state champion who expects to win." Saunders said. "And I know sheís a state champion, so it makes me want to go after her and push her."
Hamptonís Tierra Brown and Kristina Chapman and Bethelís Shakia Forbes and Crystal Carrington are among the other high-octane teammates.
The Crabbers run seniors Brown and Chapman in the 300-meter hurdles.
Together they have formed a lethal combination since their days at Eaton Middle School.
Brown is the reigning state champion in the 55-, 100- and 300-meter hurdles, making her one of the nationís best hurdlers, but Chapman finished fourth in the 300 meter hurdles at the 2006 Group AAA state meet, so she has enough talent to fuel Brownís competitive juices.
That suits Brown just fine.
"I like to be pushed," Brown said. "I only run good when Iím mad, so me and her have tough love. Iím just pushing her to get there; I just tell her that sheís got to have that anger."
Chapman sometimes finds it hard to muster the kind of drive that has made Brown a state champion, but she always finds positive energy generated by her friendís example.
"Afterwards, we never have animosity," Chapman said. "I donít try to have ill feelings towards my competitors anyway, but it helps me to know weíre both there accomplishing our goals."
For Bethel, seniors Forbes and Carrington have been pushing each other since the indoor track season, where they both starred in the 55 meters.
At the Peninsula District indoor championships, Forbes, also a Nike All-American in the long jump, showed her versatility by winning the 55 meters in 7.17 seconds. Carrington trailed just .15 seconds behind.
A week later at the Eastern Region meet, it was Carrington claiming victory, nipping Forbes by .13 seconds.
The pair virtually tied for second at the Group AAA indoor state meet, matching times of 7.18 seconds. Carrington was declared the second place finisher, but sheís reluctant to declare her head-to-head matchup with Forbes a rivalry.
"I donít know if itís a rivalry," Carrington said. "We both have to compete because our coach pushes us to do our best. Weíre teammates, so we do want one of us to win. I can accept being beat by a teammate."
Forbes likewise prefers to see Carrington more as a family member than a rival.
"I agree with Crystal," Forbes said. "Itís like having your older sister out there with you. You may lose, but in a sense we both win because we continue to get better. Weíd rather lose to one another than to another team."
The Peninsula Districtís best shot-putters, Denbigh senior Jaymes Brooks and Terrence Riggins, are also among teammates who must strike the balance between camaraderie and competition.
For Riggins, a friendship dating back to eighth grade football isnít strained by competition, and he said he likes chasing the superior standards set by his colleague, the second-ranked shot putter in the state.
"Having Jaymes is kind of a positive thing," Riggins said. "It pushes me and gives me something to aspire for. It gets more for us as a team."
Brooks agreed the daily competition in practice is good, but reflected that the finality of competition has a downside.
"Itís always hard to compete against a friend," Brooks said, "because somebodyís got to win and somebodyís got to lose."
Woodside senior Tremaine Peterson and junior DeAndre Simmons helped propel the Wolverines to second in the district during the indoor season, and they are expected to be among the districtís best in the 200 meters during the outdoor championships. They also relish the chance to push one another and advance their team.
"Heís like a brother to me," Peterson said. "As long as weíre making each other better, itís all good. Iím showing him how to do things and making him better too."
Simmons recently moved to the area from Kansas, where he was accustomed to a cousin being his teammate and chief competitor. He echoed Petersonís comments about the brotherhood forged by competition and he said jealousy has no place when teammates are evenly matched.
"Itís just about getting better. Itís just about improving yourself," Simmons said. "Everybody has their days. So some days heíll win and some days Iíll win. Iím just glad heís here."
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