The annual invitational, held at Wallace Wade Stadium on Duke University's campus, draws the top summer talent from the region.
The Russell E. Blunt East Coast Invitational is definitely the biggest invitational of the summer season, and it draws enough talent to compare favorably to the state and regional championships in either AAU or USATF. Names after the legendary Durham Hillside coach, who began at the high school in 1955 after coaching at his alma mater, St. Augustine's College. Dr. Blunt coached all the way up until his retirement, and held the honor of being the oldest active high school coach in the country; he also was the oldest to win a team state championship, in 1997 at the age of 88 (one of 10 team titles Hillside earned under his direction). The meet named in his honor has grown into one of the biggest and most competitive events in the Atlantic Coast region, drawing teams from as far away as Florida, Ohio, and Delaware, as well as a regular contingent that comes over from Bermuda specifically for this meet. Competition will be governed by USATF rules, and athletes will participate in the standard age groups.
The seed times in the sprints don't seem to match up well with reality here, so that makes it hard to predict who will shine. Jessica Morris (Durham Striders) and Amodia Crosby (Next Level) should be in the finals for the 100. Jaelan Leonard (Norfolk Real Deal) lives up to her club's name in the 200 and especially the 400, and Azaire Smith (Bermuda Pacers) made the finals in both of those events last year as a youngster in the 13-14 age group. The Pacers have done very well in the girls' distance races recently, and you can expect that to continue with Quaashie Douglas (800) and Zakiyyah Showers (1500/3000). On the other hand, the 100 Hurdles should be an impressive competition, as the top four middle-school-aged girls in North Carolina are all in there; Shellbi Champman, Breanne Bygrave, Cha'Mia Rothwell, and Kayla Moore will be looking for a sweep for our state in the finals. Chapman and Rothwell are also in the 200 Hurdles, along with Talia Centron (Wilmington DE). As most coaches know, hurdlers often make great field event athletes, so look for Moore (LJ/TJ) and Rothwell (HJ) there as well. The Durham Striders could sweep the 4x100 (where they have run 48.31) and 4x400, although they will have more competition in the second race. The throws will be another in a long line of showdowns between NC rising stars Khayla Dawson (Charlotte Flights) and Alycia Springs (Carolina Storm); see this week's article on upcoming athletes for more on those two.
To be honest, the sprint line-ups in this age group are pretty weak. Josephus Lyles (University City Niners), the state leader for middle-schoolers in the 400, will step down to the 100 to see what he can do there. Not to worry, though, as #2 Jalen Hill (Charlotte Flights) will take the opportunity to show he can hold down the 400; William Wicks (Fayetteville Flyers), the state leader in the 800, will also step down to see if he can pull out a win in the 400. Alex Crook (YMCA Track Club) is the top North Carolina athlete in both the 800 and the 1500, but he will have his hands full with Michaiah Robinson (Bermuda Flyers) and David Hall (Wilmington DE). Brent Carroll (Unattached), whose sister was a top-flight hurdler, is the #1 seed in both the 100 and 200 hurdles this weekend, and it looks like he hasa a chance to dominate. The relays in this division are also pretty thin, although the Carolina Elite has a strong 4x100. The throws will once again pair teammates Chetney Taylor and Ricardo Smith (Carolina Storm), with the former topping the list in the shot put and the latter leading the discus entries. I have a feeling we're going to see a lot of those two in high school competition over the next four years! Junpai Dowdy (Stallion/Dynamic Speed) is the only North Carolina athlete seeded at the top of any jump, in this case the triple; Central VA athletes Chance Callahan and Christian Brown are the favorites in the high jump and long jump, respectively.
Young NC stars Myshale Spigner, Jaleesa Smoot, Deonica Reid, and Jocelyn Culbreath will take on strong sprinters from South Carolina (India Brown and Chelsea Johnson) and Ohio (Naja Greer) in their quest to rule the sprints. Reagan's Culbreath, who has had a great summer, and Salisbury's Smoot have the best chance at winning in the 400, while Parkland's Spigner and Winston-Salem Prep's Reid should be in the hunt for a 200 title. They may have to bow to superior talent in the 100, though. Once again, the Bermuda Pacers bring strong mid-distance talent, with last year's youth 1500 champion, Fahemma Scraders, having moved up. Nichelle Scott (L. C. Bird VA) will have a good chance in the 800, while Lily Klein (Dulaney MD) could take the double win in the 1500 and 3000. Ebony Williams (Piedmont AC/Parkland) leads the list in both hurdle races, and her seed times are well within her ability to run; watch out for Lydia Laws in the 400 Hurdles, as she could make it a real battle. JumpStart Athletics (SC) has the firepower to back up their 47.5 seed in the 4x100, while the 4x400 looks like a wide-open race that anyone could take. Elizabeth Olesen (Hickory Ridge) and Lindsay Bren (Swansboro) should dominate the high jump and pole vault, respectively, and the same could be true of Courtney Crawford (McMichael) in the long jump. The triple jump looks interesting, although Tamilia Wright-Bigelow (Williams) has the talent to win solidly. Dudley's Imani Abraham is the incoming leader in the shot put and is seeded second in the discus, which is led by favorite Bryanna Hames (Myers Park). State leader Courtney Taybron (Wilson Track Club) should control the javelin easily.
Nyheim Hines (Leesville Road) gets another chance to add to his resume as one of North Carolina's future sprint stars, as he is the only entry in the 100 with a legit sub-11 time. Jamaree Murray leads a group of 200 runners that have not broken the 23-second barrier (although several are seeded as though they have). Eric Ways (Durham Striders) is definitely the class of the field in the 400, while Vincent Crisp (Charlotte Heat) has the best chance to defeat Tyson Robinson (Western Branch VA) to take home the 800 title. Crisp is also the top seed in the 1500, although Parker Lee (Fuquay Varina) could challenge him; Miles Cabean (Reagan) has the talent to run away with the 3000 in a step up from his normal racing distances. Isaiah Moore (Cummings) will dominate the 110 hurdles in his last year at the intermediate level, but Markus Krah (Durham Striders) is worth watching as a rising 9th-grader competing against high schoolers (in his first season at the full hurdle height, too). Michael Everett (Middleburg FL) looks like the best 400 hurdler in the field. The 4x100 should be a great race, with 6 teams seeded between 43 and 44 seconds; the 4x400 might not be quite as competitive. Moore, the leading entry in the hurdles, will go for yet another triple win by competing in the high jump and long jump; he will have to beat Noah Lyles (University City Niners) in the first event, and Lyles has cleared 6' 7.5" this summer. Justin Donawa (Bermuda Pacers) leads the list by a wide margin in the triple jump. In the throws, Myquan Stout (Carson) is already the top rising junior in the state, and he isn't far from being the top returner overall. He probably won't be challenged in the shot put, but will have a hard time in the discus with Christian Buckley (Poca WV), who has thrown 157' this year.
A trio of North Carolina sprint stars should duke it out for the 100 title, as Sabrina Moore (North Meck), Jasmine Dawson (West Johnston), and Nishedra Brown (West Craven) are all legit. In the 200, though, there is a bigger field of contenders, including Paisley Simmons (TW Andrews); Virginians Paris Cotman (Meadowbrook) and Taranisha Taylor (Western Branch) are both strong. The 400 presents an interesting mix: Aalayah Faulcon (Southern Durham) is the favorite, with Cotman, Rising star Layla White (Cary), and also Briana Haith (Granville Central), whose last two spring seasons were ruined by injuries. Daisia Robinson (Ragsdale) will take on Rachel Fox (Bermuda Pacers) in the 800, while the longer distances will apparently be solo competitions (as will be the case for the pole vault, as well). In the 100 hurdles, Mollie Williams (Clayton) will face off against a familiar group, as 7 of the top 8 seeds are from North Carolina. Robinson will be debuting in the 400 hurdles, where she will have her hands full with Kaila Smith (Charlotte Heat), coming off a PR last weekend in this event. The true favorite, though, should be Tametris Morrison, who has broken 1 minute and ranks 7th nationally. Newly-formed Club Chaos will battle a veteran High Point Panthers squad in the 4x100, while the Durham Striders have an absolutely dominant 4x400 squad. Brianna Hayes (Matoaca VA) is the one out-of-state athlete who looks like a lock to win, as her PR of 5' 9" in the high jump leads the field by four inches. The long jump should be very competitive, with Tiffani Lewis (Millbrook) set to square off against a trio of Charlotte Flights jumpers; don't be surprised if speedster Moore breaks loose with a big jump. Destinie Sykes (Ashbrook) is the favorite in the triple, while Breanna Warren (Western Guilford) will try to continue her dominance in the throws.
Do these two names sound familiar? Cameron Hudson (Berry Academy) and Harvey McSwain II (Crest) will go head to head yet again in the 100, and McSwain is also running the 200. David Winters (Suitland MD) is a legitimate stud and could walk away with the 200 title. Hudson will also run the 400, where he will face Berry Academy teammate Larry Gibson, as both try to break 48 for the first time; Taivon Jacobs (Suitland MD) will be right there with them. Christopher Tate (Riverdale Baptist MD), however, has actually broken 48 before, and that makes him a slight favorite. Gibson will also try his hand at the 800, and I predict he will not run the 1:50 that his coach seeded him with, although he could win the race if he holds off Henry Kiedy (Knightdale). If Juma Mouchette (Bermuda Pacers) is anywhere close to his seed times, he should win the 1500 and 3000 (although Northside's Walter Bugler will have a shot in the shorter race). Matthew Foster (Jordan) should run away with the 110 hurdles despite the ridiculous seeding of the other athletes in that race, while Erin Jenkins (Vance) will have a real battle on his hands with Cam Viney (Elkins WV) in the 400 hurdles. The 4x100 should again be a strong race, at least up front, with the Sandhills Track Club squaring off against two Maryland teams. If Track Express wins that race, they could easily sweep all three relays. If Spencer Walden (Union Pines) jumps well, he will win the high jump; likewise for Jeffrey Linta (Myrtle Beach SC) in the pole vault. Frank Quarles (Douglas Byrd) has a great shot to win the long jump, unless Christopher Crawford (Western Branch VA) actually jumps 20.5 inches beyond his current PR, as he is seeded. Kwaneal Hairston (GW Danville VA) should dominate in the triple jump, as he seeks to get that extra inch that he needs to break the 49-foot mark. Jalen Peterkin (Southern Durham) has the best PR in the shot put by about six feet, while Mateius Brown (Western Harnett) and Matthew Carlson should have a great duel in the discus throw (Carlson graduated from Pinecrest in 2011, but is still young enough to compete here).