The fans have spoken, and two distance runner have claimed the title of Best Overall Athlete of the Spring Season.
This is the third and final article in our spring season wrap-up, and it focuses on the distance runners. For all of the success that North Carolina has had in the sprints, hurdles, and jumps over the years, the greatest improvement lately has been in the area of girls' distance running, where our state has begun to close on some of the traditional producers of talent in the country. Both depth and top-level talent have been improving steadily over the last five years, although we still have a long way to go to match some of the northern states (or California). This was supposed to be somewhat of a "down year" for boys' distance running, which just goes to show how difficult it can be to predict from one year to the next. Boys around the state stepped up to fill the shoes of those talents that had graduated over the last five years, and we ended up with a strong year after all. It also just so happens that the two athletes votes Best Overall by NCRunners fans both happen to be distance runners, and so let us begin by taking a look at those two amazing spring seasons:
Wesley Frazier, Ravenscroft
NCRunners Fans' Choice, Best Overall Female Athlete of the Spring
It was another remarkable spring season for Wesley, which just goes to show that fans can never take special talent for granted. Even after last spring and a solid winter season, the signal that more special things were on the horizon came in late April, when she ran 4:45 at the Bojangles Apex Lions Relays, pushing herself the last half of the race without anyone close to her. She then repeated as a triple individual champion at the NCISAA 3A state meet, helping Ravenscroft to second place in the team competition in the process. In the postseason, she first broke the all-time North Carolina record in the mile/1600 with a 4:42.78 clocking in the Dream Mile at the adidas Grand Prix. She followed that with a third-place finish in her opening race at New Balance Nationals, a 16:51 5000m run that left her visibly disappointed. She rebounded the next day in tremendous fashion, running 10:13.43 for a full two miles to win the national title, giving her a career triple crown of individual distance races (she won the 5000 and mile last spring). Her best performances were arguably not her individual races, though, but rather the anchor legs she ran for the Ravenscroft DMR. First, she clocked 4:45 at the NCRunners Elite Tune-Up, literally all by herself as Ravenscroft was the only team in the race, while helping her team post an 11:59 mark to get into the seeded final at New Balance Nationals. Then, she produced what was, in my opinion, the single greatest moment of the season and perhaps the last few years: she ran 4:48 on the anchor leg at NBN only 20 minutes after having run 4:48 in the individual mile, leading her team to 4th place and All-American honors.
On a personal note, I've gotten to talk to her a few times in the last year, and gotten to see her race and interact with teammates several times in the last two months. It is apparent and obvious that she is both driven and humble, that she understands and appreciates the talent she has been given, and that she is committed to family and team. As she still has room to increase her mileage over her collegiate career (see her comments in this great News & Observer article), I think the college that successfully recruits Wesley Frazier will get a centerpiece for their team, both socially and competitively. And I also don't doubt for a minute that she will give fans of the sport some more great performances over the next year!
Craig Engels, Ronald W. Reagan
NCRunners Fans' Choice, Best Overall Male Athlete of the Spring
If you shift the strongest events of Wesley Frazier down one notch toward the middle distances, then you have the spring season that Craig Engels had. As if clocking 9:03 on the track in November then winning NCHSAA 4A titles in the 1600 and 1000 indoors wasn't enough sign that big things were in store, then his 1:52 800/3:52 1500 double running unattached in a college meet surely made things clear. He then went on to run 8:55.51 at Arcadia, ranking him 4th all-time in our state. He followed that up by winning at Apex Relays, then also winning the mile at the Penn Relays, dipping under 4:10 for the first time. He was able to grind out three wins at the 4A state meet, including a come-from-behind masterpiece in the 4x800, to help his team finish second overall. Then, Craig demonstrated his speed by pushing himself to a 1:49.89 800 at the NCRunners Elite Tune-Up, ranking second in state history. His final race of the season came in New York in the Dream Mile at the adidas Grand Prix, where he broke the all-time state record for the mile/1600, running 4:03.96.
All this from a young man that only has 2 cross country seasons under his belt! As he continues to develop his aerobic capacity at NC State, I would expect his longer races (especially the 5K) to come around even more. His natural speed should make him an outstanding 1500 runner, and I know fans of the sport look forward to watching him develop in the future. Through all his success, I have never detected a trace of arrogance in Craig; instead, he retains the very positive, energetic personality that I first noticed in him (and he still has that goofy side to him, as well). And have I ever mentioned that he has impressively bouncy hair?
Honorable Mention (Best All Around Athlete)
Alexis Perry (Jordan)
Cameron Hudson (Berry Academy)
Looking Back on the 2012 Outdoor Season: Distance
Mid-Distance (800 - 1600)
Six girls in North Carolina exceeded the MileSplit US First Team Elite standard this year, including three who went under 2:12, and all six of those made it into the state's all-time top 25 list. Megan Sullivan (Broughton), who came into high school primarily as a basketball player and still pursues that sport, made a huge leap forward this spring as she topped the 800 list, with her 2:10.69 ranking her third all-time. With two year left to go in her career, and rumblings that the sophomore might focus a little more on running over those two years, who knows what her potential is? Mid-distance star Sammy George (Millbrook, left) put up a time of 2:11.33, good for 4th all-time and narrowly edging 4A state champ Shelby Howell (New Hanover), who settled in at 9th all-time. Wesley Frazier showed her speed with a 2:13, as did Jennie Cunningham (Pinecrest) despite a sinus/septum condition that required surgery at the beginning of the summer, and Eliza Dekker (Durham Academy) represented the freshman class extremely well by breaking 2:15 for the first time.
In the 1600, eight girls ran 5:00.00 or faster, earning First Team Elite status, and all eight of them either entered or moved up in the all-time top 25. As mentioned above, Frazier was the top of the list, both this season and all-time, and she will have another year to go after her 4:41.14 mark (converted from full mile). George certainly should not be overlooked, as she leaves for NC State with the 4th-fastest mark in state history at 4:46.44 (and another 4A state championship to go with it). Dekker was joined by fellow freshman Malia Eliington (Community School of Davidson) in runing 4:56; this year's surprise distance star, Ashley Brubaker (Reagan), was right behind with her 4:57. Darby Middlebrook (Watauga) and Kaitlyn Kramer (Ardrey Kell) both ran faster than 5 minutes, while South Mecklenburg's Madelin Talbert hit the mark exactly.
Behind Craig Engel's state-leading time in the 800, four other boys bested the First Team Elite mark. Richard Miller (Millbrook, right) was second at 1:52.48 (21st all-time), followed by a trio of returning runners in the 1:54's: John Crossley (West Carteret), Christian White (Ardrey Kell), and Chris Reeder (Chapel Hill). The boys' 1600 also had five below the FIrst Team Elite standard, including Engel's all-time state record. Thomas Graham (Cary Academy) would easily have been the top distance runner and possibly top athlete overall in most years, having run 4:15.61 to rank second on this season's list (more on him in the long distance segment). Bakri Abushouk (Cary) is the lone returner to have run under 4:17, where he was joined by seniors Jacob Sears (Panther Creek) and Miller.
Long Distance (3200 - 10000)
As it has for the past few years, the Raleigh Relays produced most of the top 3200 times in the state. Of the 8 girls who met the MileSplit US First Team Elite standard, only Wesley Frazier ran her best time elsewhere: her first-place effort at NBN that resulted in a converted time of 10:09.87. George ran the #2 time in the state, while the top returners will be sophomores Sydney Foreman (Ardrey Kell) and Sullivan, with times of 10:43 and 10:46, respectively. In fact, only George and Kramer (10:40) were seniors among the top eight, which means we might have the best season yet to come. Anna McBride (Davie) defended her 4A 3200 title, while Dekker and Middlebrook rounded out the list of elite girls. Thomas Graham (below) topped the 3200 rankings for the boys with his 8:53.45 (converted from his second-place performance in the two-mile at NBN), leading a total of six boys, all seniors, under the First Team Elite mark of 9:20.0. Engels ended up with the #2 spot, while 4A state champion Sam Roberson (Broughton) topped out at 9:08.58. Sears had a great season overall, making it into the top 5 in the state in both the 1600 and 3200, while Mitch McLeod (Chapel Hill) and Stephen Mulherin (NCSSM) round out the list of elite boys. The top returners in the boys' 3200 will be Trevor Sleight (Carolina Day) and Colin Godwin (Cary Academy), and if this year is any lesson for us, you can't discount their chances of achieving something special next year.
In addition to the 3200, a handful of North Carolina runners tackled even longer distances. Fraziers dominated the 5000 list for the girls, with Wesley at 16:52 and Ryen coming in at 17:53.80 (Ryen also clocked in at 3:39 for a solo 1200 leg on the Ravenscroft DMR). Although there is no MileSplit Elite standard in this event (and no statewide all-time list, either), the sisters ranked 4th and 15th nationally. Graham tops the list in the boys 5000, establishing that he is the best long distance runner in the state, and his time of 14:11.23 actually led the nation this spring, even withstanding the performances at NBN (where Thomas chose to focus on the mile and two-mile). Sleight and James McAlister II both ran 15:06, and McAlister also clocked 31:24 for 10000 meters, ranking second in the country at that distance.