Akala Garrett Chases State Record at NCRunners Elite Tune-Up

The biggest NCRunners Elite Tune-Up ever (by far!) will have the loaded distance races that we've come to expect from the state's best post-season high school meet. With over 450 athletes entered, more than double the amount of any previous Tune-Up, expect deep and competitive battles across the board! Strong fields will battle for milestones in the mile (especially the sub-5 mark for the girls), both 800's should be intensely competitive and produce numerous PR times, and one of NC's stars will push for a new standard in the 3200.

This year, however, the sprints and hurdles are remarkably deep, and they could steal the spotlight from the events that have traditionally been the focus at the Tune-Up. It all starts with Akala Garrett's pursuit of the all-time state record in the 400 Hurdles, which currently stands at 55.20 (set by Anna Cockrell in 2016). The Albemarle senior, daughter of former Independence High sprint star and current Albemarle coach LaSonja Collins, already holds the state records in the 100H and 300H - although we would love to see a verified wind-legal 100H time that makes her claim to that record even stronger. Garrett will be in both hurdle races Saturday night, with the 400H scheduled to run at 7:40.

The boys' and girls' 200 fields are also unusually strong this year, putting that race in a featured position near the end of the meet, just before the mile. Janiah Pulliam (Butler/Purpose Driven NC Elite) seeks to join the ranks of the sub-24, pushed by a fleet of mid-24 girls that are looking to move up in the final state rankings. While the 21-second barrier is probably not under threat in the boys' race, the top 5 seeds are separated by only 0.28 seconds, which should make for an exciting final stretch. Dudley's Rory Baker, Porter Ridge's Calen McKinney, and Albemarle's Dre Davis will lead the charge.

Of course, it wouldn't be an NCRunners Elite Tune-Up without stacked mile fields, as always the concluding event of the meet, run under the lights with the Charlotte skyline in the background (and in cooler temperatures). NCHSAA 3A champion Harper Clark (West Johnston) holds the top seed in the boys' race, but Luke Young (Green Hope) and Andrew Parker (Science & Math) will be right on his heels (if Young doesn't opt for the 3200). Here's hoping the competition can push them down into the 4:15 range and threaten the top 10 in the overall state rankings!

In the girls' mile, current NC #7 Justine Preisano will try to become the 6th NC girl (and 4th Cuthbertson athlete) to run 4:50 or faster this spring. Behind her, several athletes will try to break 5 minutes for the first time in their careers, led by budding star Kaitlyn Estep. The rising 8th-grader is currently the 5th-fastest middle school miler in the nation according to the MileSplit database, and she could push for the overall lead with a good race Saturday night. Carly Arrington (Providence Day) and Kasey Cone (Charlotte Country Day) should also be in the hunt for sub-5.

Earlier Saturday evening the 800's will take center stage, and both feature exceptionally deep fields. Avery Belk (James Island SC) comes in with a PR of 2:14, and she should be pushed by a pair of Mount Tabor stars in Katie McFerrin and Bronwyn Parks. It takes sub-2:15 to crack the top 10 in the NC overall rankings, and this group should be capable of that. Don't be surprised if someone from the second group - Caroline Timmons (Cardinal Newman SC), Country Day teammates Emma Lewis and Abby Kerrins, Lake Norman freshman Kasey Dingman - upsets the favorites. This race should be a mad dash to the finish at the end!

The boys' 800 will also be intense, with current NC #8 Aaron Caveney (Durham Academy) and NCHSAA 3A state champ Noah Nielson (Northwood) leading the way. Caveney ran the 400 before the 800 at the NCISAA Division 1 state meet, but this weekend he will enter this race fresh. Expect Tim Brown (Hough) and Andrew Riley (Mount Tabor) to be hard on their heels in the pursuit of sub-1:53.

Rounding out the distance races will be the 3200, where Weddington's Grace Hanson seeks to improve greatly on her current 10:40. Given that she clocked 10:37 way back in November at the Dash for Doobie, she is certainly capable of running in the 10:20's and moving into the top 4 in the NC rankings. If Luke Young chooses this race over the mile, he will be aiming for sub-9:10 and a top 10 ranking, but it could be a solo effort - he leads all seeds by 17 seconds.

There will be other highlights in Saturday's Tune-Up as well:

  • The boys' long jump features 4 22-footers, and the triple has three 46-foot jumpers with three more in the 45's.
  • Nia Poole and Jahaila Wright are looking to threaten the 40-foot mark in the girls' triple
  • Xavier Branker, NCHSAA 4A state champ at 300H, takes aim at sub-54 in the 400H
  • Both 100 dash races should be ultra-competitive, with the top 4 seeds all within hundredths of each other