NC's Best Girls Teams Highlight Friday, Saturday AM Sessions: JDL Mini-Meets Preview

Cary's Layla White is back to try to duplicate the success she had on Friday night last year, and then Parkland is on the docket for Saturday morning.

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Saturday AM | Saturday PM

Friday Night

You may recall that this is the meet where the Cary's Layla White broke out in the 300 last year, made all the more impressive because she had already won the 500. She's entered in the same combination this year, and the only question is which two relays she will run as the Imps try to claim all three in the same evening. That pursuit kicks off with a bang at 5 PM, as the 4x800 features the current state leaders defending their position against Providence, TC Roberson, and Cardinal Gibbons. Following the 4x800, Cary will duel Dudley in both the 4x200 and 4x400, and don't be surprised if Berry Academy and TC Roberson get into the mix in one or both of those races. White's top competition in the 500 will come from her teammate, Lakeisha Warner, while Lydia Gamble (Durham School of the Arts) will be there to push her in the 300. Let's not forget that Cary also boasts the state's only returning sub-7 55 runner in Charminiqu Hackney, as well.

In addition to these shorter races, expect a great battle between Malia Ellington (CSD), Grace Sullivan (Providence), and Sophie Ebihara (Cardinal Gibbons) in the 1000, and it will be interesting to see how fast Elly Henes (Green Hope) can go in the 3200. Henes may not have the well-known Roger Collins Green Light tonight, but the presence of Lily Anderson (TC Roberson), Ellington, Caroline Yarbrough (Page), and Theresa Enright (Green Hope) could make things very interesting. Ellington may run rampant in the 1600, which Sullivan and Ebihara are bypassing, but behind her there could be an entertaining race right around 5:20 with runners like Brooke Turner (Tuscola) and Yarbrough, among others.

The girls' long jump stands out, so make your way over to the back stretch to see current NC #2 Olivia Walker (Hopewell) take on would-be 18-footers Lauren White, Courtney Cefalo (Ledford), and Nicole Lawson (Hopewell). Lawson and Walker are also top triple-jumpers, and the teammates should have competition in that event from Peighton Simmons (TW Andrews) and Michelle Cobb (TC Roberson).

On the boys' side, distance may dominate the top performances of the evening, starting with a 4x800 that goes at least six deep in strong teams and could become pretty interesting. There will be a 1600 rematch between Kyle Christ (West Johnston) and Henry Pehr (Green Hope), which Pehr won at the NCRunners Holiday Invitational, and a few other runners might try to pull along with them to threaten the 4:30 mark - guys like Zach Marchinko (Jesse Carson). Later in the day Christ will take on Zach Boone, Connor Lane (Cardinal Gibbons), and Dean Abushouk (Cary) in a stacked 3200.

Tritian Shaver (Ledford) is the breakout pole vault star this season after going 15' 5" last weekend (his PR coming into the season was 14 feet); he will take on a quality opponent in Cary's Kevin Schmid.

Brent Carroll (Berry Academy) will be looking to build on a strong summer of hurdling to propel him under 7.60 for the first time in the 55 Hurdles. The 55 Dash features the first indoor race for Raul Oquendo (Millbrook), who was part of the super-fast Mideast 4A 100 Dash last spring (a race that may have been wind-aided, but was certainly very interesting nonetheless). Oquendo will face a pair of up-and-coming sprinters from Glenn, sophomore Kier Meredith and freshman Dysaun Razzak, both of whom have already achieved MileSplit Silver status during indoor 55's. It will be interesting to see what Brian Fernandez (Pisgah) will be able to do indoors in the 500 after running 1:06.60 at a polar bear; the senior is much improved over last year, which ended with a 50.00 PR in the 400.

Saturday Morning

Several of the state's top girls' programs will square off in this session - two in the power events, and two others in the distance races. Parkland will lead off with Ebony Williams in the 55 Hurdles, where she will face Gabriele Cunningham (Mallard Creek) and Imani Chapman (Sanderson). Cunningham will battle another Mustang, Katlyn Sherman, in the 55 Dash, along with Sydnei Murphy (Apex) and Lauren White. Then comes the 4x200, where Parkland is US #1 and looking to break 1:40 for the first time this winter; Southeast Raleigh and Mallard Creek might be left fighting over second place. As usual, the Mustangs really turn up the heat in the second half of the meet, starting with the 500; they have US #2 McKinley "Mac" McNeill and US #3 Erin Morrison entered. Those two won't get to run away from the field, though, with athletes like Tia Robinson (Wakefield, running unattached) and Lydia Gamble (Durham School of the Arts) in there. Parkland closes strong with Williams and Sherman in the 300 (paced by White), followed by their always-loaded 4x4 -

Of course, when Southeast Raleigh is in the house you know there will be big throws in the girls shot put, and when you add Alycia Springs (Mallard Creek) to the Bulldogs' Hasana Clark and Tiffany Dunham, that makes three 40-footers. One of the less-recognized (but very important) seniors on the Parkland squad, Ila Mumford, will go head-to-head with Murphy, the current US leader in the triple jump. Murphy is not signed up for the long jump, though, and Mumford may dominate there. There should be a pretty good competition in the girls' high jump, with Elizabeth Olesen (Hickory Ridge) coming in with a 5' 5" season best and battling against 5' 4" jumpers Saidah Hardwick (Southeast Raleigh) and Kenya Livingston (Rocky River).

In the girls' distance races, Leesville Road will know how fast the teams from the Friday night session ran, and you can bet the Pride will be targeting those times. That might be tough to do in the 4x800, as Leesville is a big favorite there, but the individual races should be much more competitive. Nevada Mareno is currently US #3 in the 1600, but she should get some push from Lexi King (Marvin Ridge) and teammate Taylor Heming (and it will be good to see Providence Day's Emma Brown back in competition after a summer and fall that were affected by injuries). Don't be too surprised if Emme Fisher (West Carteret) dips under 5:20 and joins the fray, and the Chapel Hill duo of Clare McNamara and Katherine Dokholyan make this a very deep race. Mareno will double back in the 1000 against Fisher and Sydney Winchell (Leesville Road), while King will sit that out to run the 3200 versus Emily Pettis (Leesville Road). Leesville can put together a very strong 4x400, too, and could push Parkland if the Mustangs are tired from the compressed schedule.

This could be the best session of the three for boys' field event competition, especially in the high jump: Keon Howe (Mallard Creek) and teammate Steve Fossi-Noue will square off against Christopher Garrick (Marvin Ridge), and all of them have cleared at least 6' 6" this season. Although there are no 14-plus vaulters in the meet, there will be a fleet of 13-footers led by Justin Richard (Lake Norman), and that should make for a very competitive event. Top triple jump returner Darryl Shaw (Jack Britt) comes inside for the first time this season, where he will meet up with Julian Gaines (Marvin Ridge) as both seek to move up the state rankings.

Two deep and versatile boys' teams will go toe-to-toe on the track, starting with the 4x800: Southeast Raleigh is currently NC #2 in that event, while Marvin Ridge has not loaded up their best squad yet. Nick Linder (Providence Day) will open his indoor season in the 1600, and one of the breakout stars of this past fall season, Kenny Kneisel (Mount Tabor) will be ready to challenge him. Alex Cornwell (Hickory Ridge) makes his season debut as well, in the 3200. Vincent Crisp (North Mecklenburg) will be in the building, but not in the 1000, and that likely leaves the battle to Christian Pigues (Trinity Academy) and Wes Anderson (Lake Norman), although there are a few other challengers capable of running in the mid- to upper-2:30's. Crisp will step down to the 500 for this meet as he prepares to run the Elite 400 at the David Oliver Classic, as will Kaylan Love-Soles (Rocky RIver), while Chace Washington-Saunders (Reagan) is looking to drop back down to the low-1:06 time he ran last winter.

Emmanuel Jackson (Sanderson) will most likely dominate in the 55 Hurdles, but he's worth watching regardless. The 55 Dash, though, has a very interesting combination of athletes: hurdler Jackson will take on long sprinter Love-Soles (Rocky River), while short sprinter Josh Little (East Rowan) is looking to match his big outdoor times. Lurking behind them in the seedings are Jawan Miller (Z. B. Vance), who has quietly worked his way up to NC #5 already this season, and Jakara King-Penn (Reagan), who is looking to get back under 6.50. Don't be surprised if Justin Titgen (Marvin Ridge) or Deallen Hargrove (North Mecklenburg) score, too. The 300 could be a battle of attrition, as most of the competitors will have already raced at least once earlier in the meet. That could favor Brandon Massey (Parkwood), as he will be fresh for the race; Love-Soles and Washington-Saunders will be coming off of the 500, whereas Titgen and King-Penn will have only run the 55.

Saturday Afternoon

If you want to see dominance, come see Khayla Dawson (Olympic) throw in this session - her best of 45' 3" (US #8) is almost 8 feet farther than anyone else's seed mark! The girls' long jump should be the exact opposite, though: there is no heavy favorite, but there are 6 girls entered with marks of 17 feet or greater. Three of those six have already surpassed that distance this winter: Deonic Reid (Winston-Salem Prep), Cambria Shuford (Statesville), and Kelsia Moore (Cummings) - while several others are certainly capable of getting there on Saturday. K'Lynn Beal (Broughton) is making her season debut in both the long and the triple; in the second event, she will have competition from Imani Bennett (Southern Guilford) and Kelsia Moore.

Kylie McMillan (Southern Guilford) will be looking for a double win in the 55 Hurdles and Dash. The first is pretty close to a lock, but in the second she will have Tamara Clark (High Point Central) and Atlanta Woodall (Riverside) to get through. Those three will also square off in the 300, where Woodall's greater experience in the long sprints could be an advantage if she is fit. The meet should close with a spirited 4x4, including High Point Central, Olympic, Knightdale, and more.

The girls' distance races are not nearly as deep here as they are in the other sessions, but there are still some races (and athletes) worth watching. Haley Schaeffer (Jacksonville) has running roughshod over her competition outdoors, and she will have the chance to put up strong indoor times times at all three individual distances. The best race for Schaeffer should be in the 1000 against Kate Sanborn (Jack Britt) and Emma Brown (Providence Day).

The headline matchup of the third session is probably Juwan Crowder (Forest Hills) vs. Daniel Estrada (Platinum Sports) in the boys' 55 Dash. They are currently #2 and #3 in the state, but they are the top 2 returners from last season, and both ran under 6.40 in 2014 - let's hope they do that again this weekend! With several teams still searching for that 4x200 qualifying time, that race could get pretty intense. High Point Central and Nash Central will be trying to challenge established NC top-10 teams Olympic and Butler in an event that is really fun to watch indoors. In the 300, Chuka Soronnadi (Butler) will be trying to show that his fast Polar Bear time is not a fluke, with Crowder in there to push him.

The boys' field events are not very deep in this session, but Jamie Brown (Knightdale) is there to try to live up to the huge jump he produced outdoors earlier this year. In the distance races, Polk County's boys will be looking to extend their massive advantage over all the other 1A/2A squads in the state (right now, they have a 15-second lead in the rankings). Blanton Gillespie (Shelby) wants to get into the Elite Mile at the David Oliver Classic later this season, and with Nicholas Walker (NCSSM) in the race with him, a sub-4:30 is definitely possible. Tanis Baldwin (East Henderson) will step down from his normal range - the 1600/3200 runner is in the 1000, and he will face a top-notch 800 runner there in Nick Linder (Providence Day) in the other candidate for best boys' race of the session. Don't be surprised if Gillespie and Caleb Albrecht (Franklinton) follow those two to faster times, as well. Baldwin will follow up with a 3200 that should be little more than a workout for him.