COVINGTON, Ga. — Before Elaina Housworth launched her body upward and forward for a pair of record breaking jumps during the NewRock track meet, she had to have a little conversation with her biggest motivator — herself.
The result? School records fell, Housworth’s confidence soared and Alcovy track and field coach Ricardo Branch couldn’t help but to feel a bit validation in what he was seeing — not just from Housworth, but from his entire team.
But make no mistake about it. Housworth’s record-setting marks — an 18-foot-4-inch long jump and a 36-foot-9-inch triple jump definitely ranked toward the top of Branch’s list in terms of high-water marks in his two-year tenure at the helm of the track and field program.
“I was actually there taking pictures while Elaina was doing the long jump,” Branch said. “She actually broke the long jump record twice, but both times it was amazing to see. Her adrenaline was running.”
And so was her mind.
“When it happened, I didn’t even know what to do or what I could do to celebrate,” Housworth said. “It just made me feel accomplished because I’ve been trying to break the school record (in the long jump) ever since this season started.”
Coming in to the March 26 NewRock meet, Housworth said she was “only one centimeter away” from breaking the long jump record. As for the school’s triple jump high mark, well, she’s had her sights set on that since she stepped onto Alcovy’s campus as a freshman. Both records were held by the now-graduated Quantasia Perry.
So it’s no wonder that Housworth already knew what would be required of her in order to make history. That’s where her self-talk comes in.
“My PR was a 17’9, and I knew I needed a 17’10,” she said. “So I just kept telling myself, ‘You want to jump an 18. An 18. An 18.’ I was saying it while stretching, doing my drills and as I was doing it, my body started getting warm and I started feeling as if I could do it. I felt a connection with God, and it was like he was telling me, ‘You’ve put in the work. You can do this.’”
Then the voice of her coaches started to sound off in her mind.
“Use your arms to stay in the air,” she said. “Fix your posture. When you’re running, you tend to lean. If you straighten up a little bit, you’ll get it. Hold yourself up and then look in the sky. These were all the things my coaches have said.”
Perhaps the coachspeak that was most responsible for her NewRock exploits came as the team was riding the bus to the meet. It was there that Branch issued a challenge to his squad.
“I had a long conversation with the group on the way there,” he said. “I told them, today’s going to be something special. Today was going to be the turning point for Alcovy track and field.”
Coaches sometimes tend to wonder if their pre-competition speeches hit home to their athletes. But this one, Branch would need not wonder.
“I definitely remember that challenge,” Housworth said. “When he was telling us that, I was really starting to get mentally prepared. I really had to focus, and not be distracted because I knew NewRock is one of our biggest meets for our county and Rockdale County. And it was one of those opportunities for us to put Alcovy on the map and show everyone we’re not just mediocre anymore.”
Putting Alcovy on the map is a refrain Branch has preached to his track athletes since he began with the program. Except he poses it as a question.
“Why not us? That’s what I tell them,” Branch said. “Alcovy’s been down for a while athletically, and people always talk about it, so I talk to them and say why not us, as in why don’t we be the ones that help turn the perceptions of Alcovy athletics around?”
This year, Branch said the message is starting to take shape, individually and collectively. The Alcovy girls finished third at NewRock while the boys finished fourth. Alcovy’s girls have taken several first place finishes in smaller meets this season, and both squads have had their fair share of top five finishes, both individually and as a team.
At NewRock, two other athletes — a pair of freshman girls — also found first place in their respective events. Destiny Rhodes won the 100 meters with a time of 12.56 seconds, and Giah Thomas’ 26.04-second time in the 200 was good enough to edge out Newton’s Laliyah Sterling for first place.
Branch also pointed to boys performers such as junior jumper Oliver Gerard and newcomers Justin Evans and Dillon Driver who came out from the basketball team.
And while the others haven’t smashed school records yet, a la Housworth, Branch said they’re all bought in to the idea of creating a program that competes for region and state championships. And that buy-in is happening faster than Branch thought.
“The kids are finally seeing the fruits of their labor,” he said. “They’re working hard. They want to improve and want to get better. It’s a new mindset, and it’s coming from all the coaches, because we’re all on the same page with the kids.”
As for Housworth, as sweet as her top individual accomplishment was, she too sees it as just a piece of the whole picture — one that paints Alcovy athletics in general as a winner.
“I do believe that our third place finish allowed people to see that Alcovy is really on the rise,” she said. “We’re not here to play around. Everybody’s been overlooking Alcovy for so long. But now we’re all starting to believe that we’re better than that, and we’re starting to say it. And If we keep saying it, then I believe we’ll keep seeing it.”