Friday night at the Eastern High School Challenge is higlighted by three events: the 3200, the 4x800, and the girls' pole vault (there are also unseeded sections of the 1600, but the fastest sections are tomorrow). That makes it distance night, for the most part, and some of North Carolina's best runners will gladly take center stage in front of their peers. It's a nice touch on more than one front: doubling is much more feasible with a night's sleep between events, distance runners get to be the focus of the track events in front of spectators that came specifically to see the distance races, and the action on Saturday will have a bit faster pace without multiple 3200 heats tying up two hours in the middle of the meet.
Rayna Yvars (Green Hope) and Elizabeth Ambler (Northern Guilford) have both cleared 10' 6" this season, and both have PR's of 11' 0". There are several athletes within striking range of those two, including three who have cleared 10' 0" this winter. UNC's vault set-up has a way of producing good results, so it will be interesting to see if one or more of these girls can have a breakthrough night.
This is shaping up to be a very competitive event, with several of the state's best long-distance runners signed up. Wesley Frazier (Ravenscroft) is the headliner in this event, after finishing with the second-fastest time in the nation last winter. She might not be truly challenged in this race, and could lap more than a few of the fast-section runners. Rebekah Greengrass (Panther Creek) is making her indoor debut tonight, and she ran 11:10 in the fall. Defending 4A 3200 champion Anna McBride (Davie) ran 11:19 all by herself at a polar bear last week; this is her first indoor race this season. Wesley's sister and teammate Ryen has established herself as a force to be reckoned with, and has a PR of 11:13 from last spring. Several other recognizable names are in the race, including Jessica Rossabi (Green Hope) and Greengrass' teammate Dana Cox, along with Abby Motley of Kellam (VA), plus more. This should be a real treat for fans of distance running!
This event has been a bit of a puzzle this winter: in the midst of the greatest year for girls' distance running in the history of our state, both individually and team-wise, the girls' 4x800 has been sub-par thus far. Aside from Watauga's 9:51 in December, none of the many strong distance squads around the state have weighed in with a full squad and maximum effort. It looks like Green Hope will do so tonight, and may be seriously pushed by Kellam (VA). The next group of teams may be a little ways back from those front two, but close competition might elevate them into the 10:10 range. Broughton, Marvin Ridge, TC Roberson, and Pinecrest all have good teams; the edge might go to the two teams with big guns on the anchor, Broughton and Pinecrest. Don't be surprised if the next three teams (Cardinal Gibbons, Davie, and West Johnston) all run faster than their 10:40 seed, as all three have solid runners with good experience.
Several of the state's best boys are emerging from their base training to make their first race of the season, or at least their first indoor race, tonight; it will be interesting to see the level of fitness for each of them. Bakri Abushouk (Cary) has shaken off the rust with a few solid polar bear races (including a 4:26 for 1600), and his PR of 9:26 puts him firmly in contention here. Sam Roberson (Broughton) ran 9:24 in the fall, while his namesake Sam Miner (East Chapel Hill) put up a stong 9:42 in a similar race. They should be joined in the front pack by Sean Helmke (Kellam, VA), who has a PR of 9:39. After those four, a second pack could form containing athletes in the 9:50 - 10:00 range, some of which could try to bridge the gap and make this a breakthrough performance.
Defending 4A champs Ardrey Kell will debut their new relay, after losing two of the four that led the state in the spring. Knightdale continues to develop in the mid-distances after primarily being known as a sprint power, and their relay is legit. Broughton will run their first race, and their program has a tremendous history in this event; it will be interesting to see their line-up. Cary could be a contender, but will Abushouk have enough recovery after the 3200 to join them? The field also includes two more deep, strong teams in TC Roberson and Cardinal Gibbons, while Wakefield's boys will try to duplicate the success of their girls' team (which is not entered) so far this winter. Even farther down the list, you can still find quality teams (like Science & Math) and those with a great history of success in this event (such as Apex). Should be a great conclusion to day one of the meet!