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Statesboro's Okafor on fire heading into sectionals

    Many track and field athletes spend all four years of their high school career hoping to claim just one region title.
    Still just a sophomore, Statesboro’s Genevieve Okafor took home four event titles earlier this week. During Wednesday’s Region 3-AAAA meet at Womack Field, Okafor took the top spot in the long jump before hitting the track to win both the 200 and 400 meter events. Okafor finished off her impressive day — and added points that led to the Lady Blue Devils’ fifth straight team region championship — by running the anchor leg for Statesboro’s first place 4x100 relay team.
    “It was such a great day for me and for the team,” Okafor said. “To win like that and for everyone to have success made it fun for everyone. It was great to see a lot of hard work pay off.”
    Last season, Okafor showed promise as a freshman, but wasn’t able to advance past the region meet and into sectionals in any of her individual events. One year older and one year stronger, she showed on Wednesday that she will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of her tenure at Statesboro.
    As for this year’s success, Okafor credits plenty of practice, but also looked at the mental aspect of competing.
    “A lot of it was improving my attitude,” Okafor said. “Last season, there were races where I got behind and just kind of gave up. I wasn’t giving it my best effort if I didn’t think that I was going to win. All of our coaches pushed me and now I think that I’ve got a much better mindset at meets.”
    While Okafor saw her own performances improve throughout the season, she also took it upon herself to start spurring on her teammates.
    Last season’s squad was packed with seniors, leaving Statesboro with a massive rebuilding project on its hands this year. As younger girls looked to find their place on the team and returners tried their hand at new events, Okafor stepped up to lead the way.
    “I approach each practice like it’s a meet and I encourage everyone else to do the same thing,” Okafor said. “I just want everyone to try their hardest. Push yourself during practice. Don’t lay down or sit down just because you’re tired. Those kind of things make you a little better and a little tougher.”
    Okafor’s devotion and intensity are necessary for her to be able to perform so well in four relatively different events. In a normal day of practice, she focuses on the raw speed of the 200 meter sprint, the power of the long jump, the teamwork of the relay race, and the strategy of the 400 meters.
    “My main event is the 400, so I really concentrate on that,” Okafor said. “I also think it’s one of the toughest. There is a lot of strategy involved before you ever start running.”
    Okafor and many of her teammates will get another chance to shine on April 27 as Statesboro welcomes 36 schools from around the state for the sectional meet. Okafor is happy for the chance to continue running on her home track, noting that friends and family in the stands are a big part of every competitor’s motivation.
    At sectionals, the top eight finishers in each event will move on to the state finals in May.
    “It would be great to make it to state,” Okafor said. “I know that there are a lot of great runners out there, but I see myself as being able to compete and win. That’s what I use to keep pushing myself.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.