The inaugural meet in the NCRunners Elite series kicks off at noon tomorrow at the JDL Fast Track in Winston Salem. The Last Chance nationals qualifier and tune-up runs through Sunday, and it features a strong field of athletes. Some are trying to get into New Balance Indoor Nationals, some want to sharpen up for their trip to New York, and some are just searching for that one last PR to close out their indoor season before moving on to spring track. Athletes from North Carolina form the backbone of the meet, but the events have been filled out with participants from South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Alongside the high school competition there will be collegiate races, and the highlight of the entire weekend could be the presence of Jamaican Vonette Dixon, who has finished as high as eigth in the world championships in the hurdles. Another athlete with international experience, Rashan Brown of the Bahamas, will compete in the collegiate 200; she has been to the World Youth and World Junior competitions. When you consider the national-caliber high school talent, the colleges, and the professional, there should be something exciting going on in every event this weekend!
Events to Watch
The girls 400m dash is stacked at the top, with three elite runners that all have a strong history at this distance. Briana Haith (Granville Central) finished seventh at NBIN last year in this event, and she will be pushed hard by Aalayah Faulcon (Southern Durham) and DeJah Jones (Wakefield). Both of those contenders have the ability to put up a big time in this race: Faulcon has a PR of 54.99 and ran 40.26 for the 300 this winter, while Jones finished fourth in the North Carolina rankings at 500m with her time of 1:17.80. Don't count out Takeyra Jenkins-Dodd (Grier, SC), who has a PR of 56.71.
Jones is also scheduled to compete in the 800, which was her specialty coming up as a youth track star. In that race, she will face teammates Mattie Blue and Megan Sullivan of Broughton, who rank third and fourth in the state in the 1000. The boys 800 presents an interesting field, as defending 4A state champ Carl Walton (Northwest Guilford) is competing for the first time this winter. If he is not too tired from the 400 earlier in the day, he will face Tommy Schotzinger (Cardinal Gibbons) and John Elwood (Northern Guilford), as well as a fleet of boys from South Carolina distance power Lexington High School. Zach Hostetler (Wesleyan Christian) ran 1:58 last year, so he will be right in the mix, too.
The boys' pole vault should be entertaining as well, since North Carolina's top two vaulters are being joined by one of the best in the nation. Jeffrey Linta (North Myrtle Beach, SC) went 16' 0.75" in the last high school meet held at the JDL facility, which ranks him fifth in the country. Austin Vegas (East Forsyth) and Ethan Smith (Cedar Ridge) will try to draw inspiration from Linta's performances and elevate themselves to new PR's, as well.
The girls' 60m hurdles only has North Carolina athletes, but that's just fine: with Tyler Brockington (Dudley), Hunter Roberts (Southwest Guilford), Francesca Evans (Cummings), and Alvonna Blakney (West Mecklenburg), there's more than enough talent to make a top-notch race.
Athletes to Watch
Avana Story (Woodward Academy, GA) is the current national leader in the weight throw; her heave of 58' 0" won the Simplot Games. A member of the nationally-known club team Throw 1 Deep, Story and her teammates will dominate both the weight throw and the shot put this weekend. Todd Gurley (Tarboro) emerges from a winter of training to compete for the first time since racing in France for the World Youth Games. When he is in shape, Gurley can stand toe-to-toe with any sprinter or hurdler in the state. His hurdles race on Saturday will be a good indicator of where he stands going into the spring season. He will be joined by Demonte Wilson (Crest), who is also one of the state's best in the hurdles and will also be long-jumping on day one of the meet. Finally, Cameron Hudson (Berry Academy) returns to the JDL facility where he put up big marks in the 55 dash and the long jump a few weeks ago. Colby Coulter (Lexington, SC) and his teammates are entered in a ton of events, and will likely be choosing a few on which to focus; with a large team present, they could make a run at the qualifying marks in the 4x1600 or the 4x800. Makayla Roten (West Wilkes) cleared 5' 6" to win the 1A/2A/3A state championship in the high jump, and she is also entered in the triple. The Durham Striders Elite girls 4x200 team could be interesting to watch; I'm not sure if they all run for the same school (they could be an "all-star" team, which would be perfectly legal at this type of meet). Isaiah Moore (Cummings) will be working the same two events that propelled him to MVP status at the 1A/2A/3A state meet (the hurdles and the long jump). Claytin Lewis (Word of God Academy) was sub-50 last year in the 400.
Events to Watch
The day will kick off with the 3000 (for colleges) and the two-mile (for high schools), and the boys' two-mile is possibly the most loaded event of the weekend. North Carolina's Sam Roberson (Broughton) and Stephen Mulherin (Science & Math) have already established their position among top distance runners this winter. They will be joined by three elite runners who have run little to nothing in terms of races so far this year. Jack Manesiotis (Hilton Head, SC) was 12th at Foot Locker South, and he has run sub-9 for 3000m in his only race of the winter. James McAlister (home schooled, Charlotte) was only one place behind him at McAlpine, and he reportedly just missed Penn Relays qualifying while running in a collegiate 3000 earlier this winter. Ben Fiedler (Asheville School) has a PR of 9:20 for 3200, but his last race was in November. As if that wasn't enough, there are two more sub-9:40 runners entered: Andre Ivankovic (Daniel, SC) has a PR of 9:37.90, and Guy Shelby (Trinity, VA) has posted 9:39.52 this winter but did not quite make it to the Virginia state meet being held this weekend. How deep is the field? The 3A state champ for cross country, Steven Phillips of Cardinal Gibbons, is the tenth seed! One more interesting entry: Chris Reeder (Chapel Hill), whose team trains through the winter season.
The boys' 60m Dash final should be electric, with potential national finalists Tevin Hester (Granville Central) and Hudson, who are both ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Add in Gurley and raw talent James Drummond (Lexington), and this could be a very interesting race. Don't forget about Knightdale's Joseph Horton, who finished second in the 4A state meet this winter.
The afternoon session features the 200, which is strong for both boys and girls. Haith will square off with Alexis Murphy (Apex) in what could become a two-girl race, as both have their eyes on a run at the banked Armory track in two weeks. Behind them the field is full of solid 25-second sprinters, including Madison Rayfield (East Forsyth) and Chelsea Darden (Beddingfield). The boys' 200 is truly loaded with talent. as Hester, Horton, Gurley, Hudson, Wilson, and Drummond will be joined by Chris Boyd (Ben L Smith), who is looking to become a 200m star this spring and was the state's top 300 runner indoors.
The distance runners come back for the mile later Sunday, and there is plenty of talent in both race. For the girls, Blue and Sullivan will be joined by Ashley Brubaker (Reagan) and Meghan Blackstone (Paul VI, VA), plus a strong contingent of West Johnston girls. Blackstone has run 5:14.12 this winter, so that should make for at least a four-girl front pack. Keep an eye on Lauren Pollard, who lost some training to injury earlier in the winter but has been rapidly dropping time since getting healthy. In the boys' race, teammates Josh Copus and Macon Gambill (Mount Tabor) lead a strong field that includes four boys from Lexington, SC. Jeremy Gower (West Johnston) will be right in the race if Saturday's 5000 doesn't take too much out of him. I'm not sure which Cody Wellons is entered in this race, the one from Virginia or the unattached youngster from North Carolina, but both are solid runners. Hostetler and Fiedler are both sleepers in this race, seeded a bit lower but with the potential to run very well.
Three of North Carolina's best female vaulters will face off on Sunday. Sydney White (East Forsyth) has basically trained through the entire winter season, adjusting her approach and her poles and never quite seeming to put it all together (yet). She should be zeroing in on a run at the national title at New Balance Indoors here, so expect to see her focused and ready to reach higher. Sage Proffitt (North Buncombe) and Rayna Yvars (Green Hope) have both jumped well this winter; Yvars seeks to maintain the momentum she gained from her big PR at the 4A state meet.
Finally, check out the boys' weight throw, which is an event that North Carolina doesn't normally contest. Nikolas Huffman (Virginia HS, VA) and Chase Carroll (North Cobb Christian, GA) are both ranked in the top 25 in the country, and with two more guys entered at 60-feet plus this could be a back-and-forth affair. Logan Pressley (North Buncombe) is our state's only returner with experience in this event.
Athletes to Watch
Shemiah Brooks (Southwest Guilford) broke through the 40-foot barrier at the JDL last month, and the 4A state champ will try to duplicate that feat. Although not listed on Direct Athletics, Jonathan Addison (Enloe) is definitely competing in the high jump, as he seeks to move closer to his goal of 7 feet. Mary Grace Doggett (Cardinal Gibbons) and Dakota Foskey (West Johnston) will face off with South Carolina's Elizabeth Dawson in the girls' two-mile.