Hailey Cook (Hendersonville) is back to defend her title, and her toughest competition will be her own high standards.
(Schedule, Performance Lists)
Sprints & Hurdles
First, a piece of advice: you have to take polar bear sprint results with a grain of salt unless there are indoor marks to back them up. That's because it is too easy for a hand-timer to anticipate the finish, stopping the watch a tick too early and giving the runner a faster time than warranted. Even with the conversion of 0.24 seconds, often the hand times still significantly exceed what the athletes can produce under FAT. This is especially true in the 300 and 500, where the wider curves of the outdoor tracks make it easier to maintain speed compared to the 200m indoor track. Keeping all that in mind, the clear favorites in the 55's are teammates Paisley Simmons (55 dash) and Nora McKiver (55 hurdles) of TW Andrews. Simmons has a full tenth on the next FAT time in the rankings, which belongs to freshman Jessica Morris (Granville Central). Keep your eye on another freshman, Desire Brown (Trask), to see if she can match her outdoor times; also watch for Maya Grier (Berry) to make it into the top 4, as she has solid indoor times. McKiver leads by over 3 tenths of a second in the hurdles rankings, with Ariel Davis (Northern Guilford) and Kayla Mitchell (Overhills) being the closest to her. Monroe's Reneazia Collins is on top of the rankings in the 300 and also could be a finalist in the hurdles. Ro'Daijah Faucette (Cummings) will take her to the limit, and don't forget about Simmons. Maya Evans (Fike) is dominant in this classification in the 500, and she could also contend in the 300 if she isn't too fatigued from the longer race, which goes first. Nicolete Hurrinus (Cuthbertson) and Collins have both been under 1:20 in that race (it will be interesting to see which races Collins chooses to run).
With the difference between polar bear and indoor times being just a little less significant in the longer events, the door is open to consider a wider range of contenders for individual titles. Nonetheless, we end up with two very familiar rivals competing for the 1600 and 1000 titles. Blake Dodge (West Carteret) comes in with the better 1600 time, while Carmen Hilliard (South Brunswick) has a slight advantage in the 1000. Both races are a toss-up, but they should be very entertaining. Two other girls, Hana Ratcliffe (Durham School of the Arts) and Katie Cease (West Carteret), have been under 3:10 in the 1000, while Cease and Mary Grace Doggett (Cardinal Gibbons) lead a fleet of girls in the 5:20's for 1600. The 3200 should be pretty wide-open, as incoming rankings leader Arden Vessie (Corinth Holders) will have stiff competition from Callie Wynn (West Davidson), Allie Castro (North Lincoln), and Doggett.
Hailey Cook (Hendersonville) might be the surest bet of the meet: she holds a 7-foot lead over her nearest competitor in the shot put, the aptly-named Heidi Brickhouse (West Henderson). There are four athletes with season bests in the 34-foot range, which could make for a very competitive battle for the remaining two medal positions. In the pole vault, Korie Bennett (Swansboro) has cleared 11 feet this winter, with Tess Rogers (North Stokes) close behind at 10' 6", and there looks to be a 4-way battle for third developing. The most entertaining event of the day for field-event fans could be the high jump, where Makayla Roten (West Wilkes) and Elizabeth Olesen (Hickory Ridge) have both peaked at 5' 6" indoors. In addition, we will see Libby Florence (Cedar Ridge) and Qizeah Jackson (Westover), who both have season bests of 5' 4". Courtney Crawford (McMichael) leads the long jump field with her mark of 17' 3.5", with Hurrinus being the only other jumper over 17. Of course, Crawford is quite capable of 18-foot jumps, and she could dominate if she gets on rhythm. Finally, the triple jump features Teshlyn Smith (South Granville), who has a best of 37' 6"; Tamilia Wright (Williams) and Talvanisha Lawing (AL Brown) have both jumped in the 36's. Bold prediction alert: someone whose name starts with a "T" will win that event.
Teams to Watch
In the 4x800, there could be a stellar battle between Marvin Ridge and West Carteret, although if it comes down to the anchor leg it appears the Patriots would have the advantage. Weddington could also get involved with a good race. Philip O. Berry has the best time in the 4x400, although it can sometimes be hard to duplicate your best in that event after an intense 5 hours of competition. Chief contenders appear to be Marvin Ridge and West Carteret again, but don't count out Northside, whose runners might save their energy for this one chance at a medal.
In overall team competition, it appears that West Carteret is the favorite; however, they depend heavily on Dodge and Cease, who are each entered in four events, and fatigue could be a factor down the stretch. If Dodge is willing to sacrifice individually and save just a bit in her early races, it could lead to a team win. Marvin Ridge relies heavily on depth, but with a good race here or there the Mavericks could definitely get within striking range of the team title. It looks like Berry leads the next group, with TW Andrews and Cuthbertson hard on their heels in the battle for third.
(May not include entries submitted after the deadline.)
Sprints & Hurdles
Out of a huge group of athletes with outdoor marks in the 55, James Drummond (Lexington) is the one that has clearly proved himself indoors under FAT. He is a heavy favorite, but it will be interesting to see which of the 6.44 hand-timed guys will emerge and prove himself as the real deal. That group includes Brandon McLean (Triton), Tyshawn Siders (Jacksonville), and Chris Graham (North Brunswick). McLean is definitely legit in the 300, as he holds both the best polar bear mark and the best indoor time in the event. Drummond should be a contender there, as well, and keep an eye on Justin Tigen (Marvin Ridge), who has the second-best indoor time in the field. Don't discount the value of experience running the tight curves; if this is the first indoor 300 for a sprinter, you can count on them struggling. The 500 is completely wide-open, and could be won by any number of athletes, most of whom only have polar bear experience. Saadiq Sweezer (Eastern Alamance) has run under 1:07, but he is closely followed by a host of low-1:07 athletes. Look out for dark horse candidates DeAndre McGill (Northeast Guilford) and Trae Drayton-Ferguson (Berry), who are not ranked in the top 8 but have valuable experience at the JDL facility and could exceed expectations. The leaders in the hurdles are no surprise: teammates Isaiah Moore and Thomas Jones II (Cummings) have gone 1-2 in some order in every meet they've attended this year. Sterling Jones (Winston-Salem Prep) is one of several contenders for third place, and it could all come down to who has the cleanest race.
The top 8 runners in the 3200 have all run faster than 10 minutes, which should make for a very exciting lead pack. Give the early advantage to AJ Tucker (Cedar Ridge), who could be pushed by Matt Burns (Weddington) and Ryan Shannon (North Lincoln); don't be surprised if Tanis Baldwin (East Henderson) gets in the middle of that race, too. Baldwin has the top mark in the 1600, however, and could be at a disadvantage against fresh legs in the two mile if he runs both races. Burns could also attempt the double, and may very well come away with two medals. Andrew Fea (North Lincoln) leads four contenders within one second of each other in pursuit of the medal stand in the 1600. John Crossley (West Carteret) leads the field in the 1000, and should focus solely on that event, giving him an even better advantage. Steve Stowe (North Forsyth) will be right on his heels and prepared to kick for the title, while George Corbin (Nash Central) and Bryan Brackney (Watauga) are also legitimate contenders.
In his pursuit of the MVP award, Isaiah Moore will compete in two field events, and he is the top seed in both. In the high jump, Moore has a best mark of 6' 6", which is 2 inches better than Jordan Warren (Hickory Ridge). Moore is a dominant favorite in the long jump, having a season best that is a foot and a half beyond any of his challengers. There could be a great battle for second, however, as Gary Woosley (Northest Guilford) and Cameron Stinson (Hickory) are only separated by a half inch in the rankings (and Jayvonne O'Neal is close behind them). Even if Warren can't quite catch Moore in the high jump, the Hickory Ridge senior is the top seed in the triple jump, enjoying a 17-inch advantage over the next competitor. Kyheem Cheetham (North Brunswick), Woosley, and Justice Taylor (Kings Mountain) are all over 44 feet, and that could make for a competitive event. The shot put features three potential champions, with Colin Minor (South Brunswick), James Rowland (Northside), and Myquon Stout (Carson) all within 10 inches of each other in terms of season bests. Finally, Ethan Smith (Cedar Ridge) is the overall state leader in the pole vault, and when he is on he is dominant (although this event is famous for producing inconsistency). Ian West (Fike) and Thor Smith (Northern Guilford) have both cleared 14 feet, and could challenge if Smith falters.
Teams to Watch
The 4x400 could be a real barn-burner, with six teams that come in having times between 3:29 and 3:33. Give Berry the slight edge, as they ran their best mark indoors (as did Northeast Guilford), but do not count out Asheville or Jacksonville. Midwest 3A rivals Marvin Ridge, Weddington, and Robinson top the 4x800 entry list, although it looks like the race may be the Mavericks' to lose.
In overall team scoring, our virtual meet predicts that Cummings will come out on top. Their closest competitor, North Brunswick, depends heavily on hand times for their entries, and that means we don't know for sure what we'll get from them. Weddington could stay in the hunt by working Matt Burns hard, but might decide to focus on quality performances instead of team points. Marvin Ridge has a ton of depth in the meet, and with a few good races could get themselves into contention for the top three. The same is true of Nash Central, whose primary scorer (George Corbin) will be running indoors for the first time this year; how he responds to the new environment could determine how well his team fares.
(May not include entries submitted after the deadline.)