Several teams have their trophy hopes pinned to athletes that are grinding through multiple events.
Familiar foes meet again in the girls' hurdles, where Ebony Williams (Parkland) has the top seed followed by Gabriele Cunningham (Mallard Creek) and Breanne Bygrave (Wakefield) - and the three have raced each other more times than I care to count. All three are ranked in the top 18 in the nation, too, which means that any technical mistake in the final could cost someone two spots. Cunningham will double back for the 55 Dash, and she is also seeded second there behind Sydnei Murphy (Apex), the only NC girl under 7 seconds so far this season. Charminiqu Hackney (Cary) went under 7 last season, and though the Imps as a whole started out the indoor season slowly, they are rounding into shape right in time for the state meet. Hackney would have to leapfrog Katlyn Sherman (Parkland) and Tamara Clark (High Point Central) to even take a shot at the top 2, and that won't go over well with those two. Marcus Krah (Hillside) is the top seed in the boys' hurdles; he has a 0.13 advantage over Emmanuel Jackson (Sanderson) when FAT times are compared. Behind those two there will be a tightly-packed cluster of hurdlers vying for the final two spots on the podium: Brent Carroll (Phillip O. Berry) is the most likely to emerge from that group with 3rd, although Brian Kendrick (Hopewell) and Benjamin McMillan (Hough) are capable, as well. Caleb Walker (Independence) suffered a broken leg two weekends ago, and while I wish he could be recovered in time to compete, I doubt that is likely. Nyheim Hines (Garner) exploded onto the scene two weekends ago at the Eastern Challenge, running a US #6 6.32. In the same race, Rodney Rowe (Clayton) also entered the national, clocking a 6.42 in his first indoor sprint ever. The next weekend, Rowe beat Hines in the final of the 60 Dash, and that sets up a really interesting battle today. Cara King (Apex) is the lone contestant in the girls' 55 Wheelchair, as is Desmond Jackson (Hillside) in the 55 Dash Adaptive; Jackson has been sprinting very well this winter, and keeps creeping ever-closer to the 8-second mark.
For fans of the sprints, it doesn't get any better than the girls' 300 at this meet. The top 4 seeds have run between 39.005 and 39.19, with all 4 ranked in the top 12 in the country. Parkland teammates Ebony Williams and Katlyn Sherman will try to lock down a second team championship by going 1-2 in this race, but Clark and Charla Ward (Ragsdale) will not back down. It's worth noting that Ward ran 2 seconds faster in the David Oliver Classic 400 this year than she did last year. It has been a bit of a quiet season for Layla White (Cary), to the point where one wonders if Cary decided not to put a lot of emphasis on the winter this school year. Nonetheless, last weekend White showed signs of being ready to put up big numbers, as she won the David Oliver Classic 400 over McKinley McNeill (Parkland). McNeill holds the top seed in the 500 (and the US #2 ranking), though, and she was tracking White down at the end of that 400. The two have not raced at 500 this season, so we have something new & exciting to watch on Saturday evening! Erin Morrison (Parkland) is still recovering from injury, and the last I heard from her people they were expecting her to have to sit out this meet (although the very fact that they considered it possible for her to run is encouraging). Tia Robinson (Wakefield) is certainly not an athlete to be discounted, and she will be stalking White and McNeill to try to steal their glory.
For a while this winter I was worried that something happened to Jayon Woodard (Southeast Raleigh). His only races after January 3rd, when he set US top-10 marks in the 300 and 500, have been a pair of 400's. When I asked him about it last weekend after he won the David Oliver Classic 400, he said he was "just chillin." In other words, he had the big times he needed, and he went back to training hard - and we get to see the results Saturday afternoon. Woodard is the top seed in both of his races; in the 500 his chief competition is T.J. Bleichner (Fuquay-Varina), while Dylan Peebles (Wakefield) and Jeremiah Brown (Southwest Guilford) should provide a big push in the 300. Don't be surprised if Kaylan Love-Solves (Rocky River) busts out a strong race in one or both long sprints, too.
The performances lists for the two high jumps could not look any more different. For the girls, there are 6 competitors entered at 5' 4", and the title could very well come down to who misses less on their way to the final height. For the boys, the jumpers are in a clear pecking order entering the meet: Keon Howe (Mallard Creek) comes in with a US #2 mark of 6' 10", Jonte Leaston (Millbrook) at 6' 8", and Steve Fossi-Noue (Mallard Creek) at 6' 6". Of course, that doesn't mean they will finish in the same order! The common theme to both pole vault lists is Apex: Anna Eaton and Zoe Early are seeded 1-3 on the girls' side, while Drew Pedersen and Michael Utecht occupy the same positions on the boys' list. The #2 seeds also both come from the same school: Chesney Ward and Joseph Popek of Ragsdale. Eaton (13') and Pedersen (16') will be hard to beat if they jump well, but both have ended up losing to their teammates in invitationals this season, so there are no sure things here.
The girls' shot put is incredibly top-heavy, with 4 girls at 43 feet or better, all of them ranked between 12th and 24th nationally. Khayla Dawson (Olympic) has the top seed at 45' 3", with Jza-Quashia Chavis (Northern Durham), Alycia Springs (Mallard Creek), and Hasana Clark (Southeast Raleigh) behind her in the seedings. After the front four, there is Tiffany Dunham (Southeast Raleigh) right at 40 feet, and then the next cluster of throwers is in th4 37's and 36's. Ryan Davis (Pine Forest) leads the boys' shot put seedings at 57' 6" US #24; he will have to improve that to stay in the national rankings. Second-seeded Terrell Adams (Middle Creek) has thrown 54' 7", while the #3 4A thrower is Daniel Ligons (Holly Springs) at 51' 10.5". Jordan Maddox (Southeast Raleigh) and Omar Sanchez (Broughton) will square off in the Wheelchair Shot Put, with Maddox chasing Bryce Floyd's 11' 6.75" performance from Friday night in his pursuit of the top spot in the rankings for that event.
Sydnei Murphy (Apex) has been working on her sprint races much of the indoor season, but she did take time to put up big marks in the jumps. The last time she went into a meet with the mindset of putting the jumps first, she posted a US #9 long jump mark of 19' 3.25" and a nation-leading 40' 10.25" triple jump. She will be looking for 3 wins and a possible MVP trophy today, so we will see how that affects her performances. In the long jump she may have to jump 19 feet to stay ahead of Olivia Walker (Hopewell) and K'Lynn Beal (Broughton), who are both solid 18-footers. In the triple, Murphy has a little bit more cushion, although Nicole Lawson (Hopewell) and Nateja Hale (Parkland) have been over 38 feet. For the boys, Marcus Krah (Hillside) is the jumper with the chance to win both; he is seeded #1 in the triple but #2 in the long jump - although he has the best indoor marks in that event. Top seed Jamie Brown (Knightdale) jumped 24' 0.5" outdoors, but his indoor best is 22' 7" (which would seed him 3rd). Jeremy Davis (Ben L. Smith) and Tevin Quick (Ragsdale) have both jumped over 22 feet this winter, and both have been over 23 feet in their careers. Charleston High (East Wake) and Darryl Shaw (Jack Britt) are the top contenders in the triple jump, as both have 46-footers to their credit. Desmond Jackson (Hillside) has shown steady improvement in his long jumping this winter in comparison to last spring, but he would still like to up his PR beyond the 17' 2" he set in March of 2014.
Don't call this a coronation, not for a budding star who still isn't training full-time year-round. Nonetheless, this day could very well end up being the Nevada Mareno show. The Leesville Road sophomore enters with commanding top seeds in both the 1600 and the 1000, including the All-Time State Record in the second race. Blair Ramsey (Grimsley) and Elly Henes (Green Hope) will challenge in the 1600. In the 1000, Connecticut transplant Maddie McHugh (Hough) is delivering on what she promised at the beginning of cross country: track is her better sport, and she showed it in running 2:57.75 to jump into the NC All-Time Rankings at #8 with a strong race at Virginia Tech. Grace Sullivan (Providence) is also under 3 minutes and has decided not to enter the 1600, while Julia Brown (Cary) has unfinished business after running 3:00.46 last weekend. All of that means no rest for Mareno, who will have to be on her game in both races if she wants to provide the maximum points to her team. The 3200 should be a showdown between Caroline Yarbrough (Page) and Kathleen Mansure (Watauga), both of whom are ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Don't be surprised, though, if Henes, Lily Anderson (TC Roberson), and Rebekah Greengrass (Panther Creek) insert themselves into that race, and if Sullivan chooses to focus on this race instead of the 1000 she could also be a factor. 6 girls under 11? It's possible.
Philip Hall (South View) showed his versatility this winter, leading the state in the 3200 as well as ranking in the top 4 in the 1000 and 1600. If this meet were about his individual success, he would probably drop the 1000; however, with team scores being the major factor for South View, expect him to grind through the triple. It won't be easy, and the chances are slim that he will win all three. The 1600 may be the best shot, although Henry Pehr (Green Hope) is on the verge of breaking 4:20, which would keep Hall honest. In the 1000 he will run into Vincent Crisp (North Mecklenburg), who nearly became the fastest 1000 runner in state history two weekends ago and might still get the job done this weekend. Hall has the top seed in the 3200, but Kenny Kneisel (Mount Tabor) is only 6 seconds back, and there are at least 6 other runners capable of breaking 9:40 in this race. It's going to be a long a tiring day for the centerpiece of the South View distance program!
South View plans a big day, and they want to start it with a win in the 4x8. They have another goal as well, though: trying to keep Philip Hall's legs fresh. Expect some creative strategy from the Tigers to try to get the victory here while protecting their star for his triple. Lake Norman and Southeast Raleigh will try to prevent both of those things from happening, and there are a few other teams that could get into the hunt for the podium, too. 4A is the only classification with multiple sections of both the boys and girls 4x200, and 4 boys' teams have been under 1:33 indoors: North Meck, Green Hope, Hillside, and Butler. One last time: when in doubt, always go with the FAT! That's doubly true in the 4x200, where outdoor tracks are much more forgiving than the flat 200. Southeast Raleigh will try to close the meet with a strong 4x400 that could help the Bulldogs secure a team title, but North Meck and several other teams will try to intervene.
The seeds would tell you that Leesville Road is going to dominate the girls 4x800, but somehow when Cary is in the race you can never totally count them out. Providence, South View, Green Hope, and TC Roberson will be chasing the Imps and battling for the final two spots on the podium. The 4x200 is Parkland's best race, but they will still have to run well to stay ahead of Cary. By the time the 4x400 rolls around it might not matter much to the top-seeded Mustangs, and their depth will be tested if they want to win it. The final race could have a huge impact on the battle for second place in the team scores, with Wakefield, Cary, and Leesville Road seeded 2-3-4.
Parkland's girls will win unless something strange happens, and that will be truly impressive given what they had to overcome this year. Injuries to Erin Morrison and Ila Mumford (who may compete in the long and triple today) opened the door for other Mustangs to step up, and they did. The battle will be for second place, where Cary, Leesville Road, and Apex will try to keep a Wake County team on the podium, while Wakefield and Hopewell need to have good days to slip past and take home a trophy.
As for the boys, who knows what will happen? South View has a shot, but they depend heavily on a huge workload for Philip Hall. Southeast Raleigh also has a chance, but they also depend on two close races for their star, Jayon Woodard. It seems likely that neither team will score what the virtual meet predicts, and that could allow North Mecklenburg to sneak into the mix and onto the podium. This is one outcome we will have to wait to see!