Stories of the Meet
Welcome Back, Eddie Smith Field House!
After being unavailable for high school competition during the entire 2010-2011 winter season, UNC's great facility is again ready to host North Carolina's best prep athletes. One of the best flat 200m tracks in the nation is paired with well-built field event areas to provide a place where athletes can bring their absolute best. Of course, it has never been a great spectator facility, as it wasn't designed for that purpose. Nonetheless, for everyone who has been around for awhile, it will be fantastic to walk in those doors and see the two-tone blue track in person again. It will be even better to see all the great performances!
Although the top of each event's performance list is filled with top-flight North Carolina talent, there do seem to be several athletes of each gender that have been entered with questionably strong marks. It always makes me a little sad to see athletes put in a position where success is all but impossible, simply because their coach entered them at a time that is far beyond anything the athlete has ever been able to run. Athletes do not become better just because they are in a race with faster runners; they run as fast as their ability and training allow them to run, and no faster. Coaches, we simply need to do a better job of getting athletes in the RIGHT heat, because the only thing you earn by putting overmatched athletes into the fast heat is a building full of people shaking their heads.
From the 300 dash (currently 26 heats of girls, 29 of boys) to multiple sections of the 1600 and 3200, this meet will take a little while. The Durham Striders, who host and operate the meet, do a good job handling the crowds, and they may be able to reduce heats by scratching no-shows. Coaches and athletes: make sure to check in at the proper time, to avoid being scratched! And everybody, bring your blankets, snacks, and patience, because if you've been to Eddie Smith before you know it will be hard to walk around in there with all the athletes and spectators around. On the other hand, there should be great performances in just about every event, thanks to the large number of talented athletes that are signed up. A few specific events jumped out at me for having the potential to be special, and I listed those below.
Girls' Events to Watch
Although North Carolina doesn't currently sport a dominant female hurdler, there are a bunch of really good ones in the state, and many of them are in this race. Mollie Williams (Clayton) is arguably the best returner in the state in this event, but she'll face a group of fast, experienced hurdlers that includes Teaunna Cuthbertson (North Rowan), Francesca Evans (Cummings), and Shemiah Brooks (Southwest Guilford). It seems that Janell Griffin has moved from Washington High School to J. H. Rose, and her early results indicate she has improved from last year; this will be her first indoor meet, I believe. Hannah Hensley (Pinecrest) is back after injuries all but wiped out her 2011 track season, and she will be a contender, too. Hunter Roberts (Southwest Guilford) rounds out an experienced, deep field, while a few newer names will try to get into the finals as well.
For fans of the sport, it will be a joy just to watch Briana Haith (Granville Central) race again after a serious injury ended her track season early (and also took her out of summer track). One of the best all-around sprinters in the state, she is particularly great in the 200, 300, and 400 range. This will also be the first major competition for Gabrielle Gray (High Point Central), the 2011 4A state champ in the 100. Alexis Murphy (Apex) is a strong all-around sprinter; she is making her debut at the 300m distance after sticking to shorter races in the past. Aalaya Faulcon of Southern Durham, on the other hand, is a long-sprint specialist with a PR of 54.99 in the 400 outdoors. Ro'Daijah Faucette (Cummings) is one of the best all-around athletes in the state, but her greates strength lies in the long sprints. There are too many other strong sprinters in this race to name them all, and it is easy to imagine a top-5 finisher coming out of the third- or fourth-fastest heat.
Wesley Frazier (Ravenscroft) is making her winter debut; the last time she ran the mile, she was capping an amazing three days at New Balance Outdoor Nationals with a huge come-from-behind victory. Darby Middlebrook (Watauga) already leads the state in the 3200, and with her PR of 5:00 in the 1600 she will be right in the thick of this race. Wesley's sister Ryen is also entered, and she clocked 5:09 last spring to make her one of the better milers in the state in her own right. Esther Williams (J.H. Rose) is currently listed with no time, and has been placed in the slowest heat; hopefully her coach will correct that mistake, because it would be a shame for a 5:01 miler to miss out on this race. Freshman Allie Klimkiewicz (Oakton VA) has already put up a 5:10 this winter, while veteran Madelin Talbert (South Mecklenburg) ran 5:02 last spring and showed strong improvement in the fall. It will be interesting to see how Jennie Cunningham (Pinecrest) does in the 1600; she normally focuses on the 800, but her continued improvement in cross country might be a sign that she is ready to become an elite miler, as well. Expect a bunch of other runners to break 5:20 in a deep field.
Hannah Hensley (Pinecrest) leads a group of 4 or 5 top-flight jumpers that could find themselves dueling at the end of the meet. Alexis Perry (Jordan) has been a consistent 5' 6" or better jumper, and she has the same PR as Hensley. Chelsea Darden (Beddingfield) has been steadily improving and has a PR of 5' 4", while Amara Bell (Southeast Raleigh) got 5' 5" or higher twice over the summer. High jump is usually better indoors during the winter, and between that fact and the competition we could see some great jumps.
Since NCRunners debuted in 2006, no North Carolina girl has broken 40 feet in the triple jump during the winter season. This could be the year, as we have two girls who have been in the upper 39's returning this year. Shemiah Brooks (Southwest Guilford) currently leads the state with her mark of 39' 4.5", while Francesca Evans (Cummings) has gone 38' 6.75" this winter. For those two, alone, this event will be worth watching, but there is also a fleet of jumpers in the 35 - 36 range in this event. That gives us two storylines to watch as the event unfolds: the pursuit of 40 feet, and the battle for the top 5.
Boys' Events to Watch
If everything goes as expected, this event should produce a great finals race, with several closely-matched competitors battling for the title. Cummings brings two talented hurdlers to continue their school's tradition in the event, with Thomas Jones II being joined by Isaiah Moore (formerly of Williams) this year. Johnny Oglesby (North Rowan) has already estabilshed himself as one of the top hurdlers in the state, while Retho Williams (Rocky Mount) has put up a fast time outdoors. Sandy Chapman (Southeast Raleigh) will try to represent the 4A schools against all of this talent from the smaller classifications, while a number of good hurdlers will try to justify solid Polar Bear times and sneak into the finals.
Although the field isn't particularly deep, the top few teams should be very evenly matched, leading to an exciting race. Knightdale has been showing early success as they extend the range of their athletes up into the middle distances, while Green Hope has been dependably competitive for several years. Centreville (VA) ran 8:03 last winter and broke the 8:00 barrier in the spring. Fuquay Varina has Clay Jones, who ran 1:55 last year, and current state 500 leader Brian Davis on their relay. Cary produces strong relay teams on a regular basis, and should contend for a top-5 spot here, as well. Don't be surprised if a few of the teams listed in the 8:40's actually run faster and push that front group.
Although some of the 22-foot seed marks might be a bit inflated, there definitely is a big crowd of young men who have cleared 21 feet in this event. Cameron Hudson (Berry Academy) currently leads the state at 22' 1", and he has consistently jumped 22 feet or better for a year now. Isaiah Moore (Cummings) broke the 22-foot barrier over the summer, and Matt Colven (Southern Guilford) got past it last spring. Jaylon Holt (Southeast Raleigh) is a tremendous athlete who leads the state in the triple jump and is also a top-flight high jumper, so you can't put anything past him. Several other jumpers have been over 21 feet, making this one of the deepest fields in the meet.
Jon Beyle (East Chapel Hill) leads an event that is strong at the top, and another event that has the potential to be better indoors than out. Colby Miller (Mount Pleasant) has also been over 50 feet in the past, while Peter Kalambayi (Butler) has a PR of over 51 feet, although he has more consistently thrown in the upper 40's. The second tier of guys is deep, with a bunch of 47- and 48-foot throwers all seeking to get closer to that 50-foot mark. Logan Pressley (North Buncombe), Timothy Edelen (Wakefield), and Collin Minor (South Brunswick) all have verified marks over 47 feet.