NCRunners Elite Holiday Invitational Preview, Part 1

Sydnei Murphy, following in her sister's footsteps, grabbed the top spot in the North Carolina rankings in her last visit to the JDL.


In today's preview, we look at the full slate of standard North Carolina indoor events (we will preview the Invitational events tomorrow).  The meet is loaded with talent from the opening gun Friday to the final finish on Saturday afternoon, with athletes from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia traveling to Winston Salem for the weekend.  This will only add to the growing reputation of the JDL Fast Track for producing top-flight competition and great performances.


Meet Page


Final Information and Schedule



Performance List



Sprints & Hurdles

Both the boys' and girls' hurdle events look like they will produce very exciting finals.  Quenee Dale (Saline MI) is the top seed in the 55 Hurdles, and also gets the award for furthest distance travelled to get to the meet.  She has a PR of 8.68 in the 60 Hurdles, which justifies her position coming into this meet.  As usual, the town of High Point is well-represented in the girls' hurdles, with Nora McKiver (T.W. Andrews) and Hunter Roberts (Southwest Guilford) near the top of the rankings.  Former North Carolinian Kaila Smith (now at Beaufort SC) returns for the second time this winter, and her PR of 8.44 should put her right in the thick of things.  Youngster Breanne Bygrave, who has a long history running the hurdles in club track competition, gives Wakefield a weapon in one of the few events that has been somewhat of a weakness for the powerhouse girls' team.  Finally, Aminah Ghaffar (Fayetteville Academy) is a tough competitor, and continues to get better in the hurdles every season.  In the boys' hurdles, Isaiah Moore (right) and Thomas Jones continue to give Cummings the top two spots, not just in this meet but in the state.  Behind those two is a four-man group that should be incredibly close: Caleb Mathis (Davie), Justin Johnson (High Point Central), Erin Jenkins (Vance), and Tanner Thompson (Olympic).

At first glance, you would think the 55 dash races were going to produce national records, but don't get too excited; it's just some poor seeding by the coaches that entered some of the athletes.  Sorting through the bogus times, however, there are several top-notch sprinters entered, and the trials will sort out the contenders from the pretenders.  Sydnei Murphy (unattached, at top of page) currently has the top time in the state of North Carolina, with her 7.16 currently ranking third in the country on the young indoor season.  Sabrina Moore (North Mecklenburg) and Paisley Simmons (TW Andrews, competing unattached) have both run under 7.25 FAT, and could have more for a battle with Murphy.  A passel of Georgia athletes are seeded very high, but it appears that only Kayla Tyson (Greenbrier GA) has good enough times to make her a finals contender (her 12.23 for the 200 is solid, but Moore and Simmons are both sub-11.90 at that distance).  Latrice Morris (Heritage VA), Ama-Selina Tchume (Southeast Raleigh), Alexandria Council (unattached), and Tyra Lea (Wakefield) should all have a good chance to make the finals.  The boys' 55 dash features the top 2 sprinters in North Carolina right now: James Drummond (Lexington, competing unattached) and William Cameron (Southern Durham).  Jeremy Harden (Greenbrier GA) is an interesting entry, as he has sub-10.90 speed in the 100; fellow Georgian Darius Watkins (Grovetown) has run an even quicker 10.76, and both have a good shot at the finals.  Chaz Hawkins (Centennial TN) is better known for his long sprint work, but could also be a finalist in this event.  Xavier Jones (Ragsdale) falls into the same category as those three out-of-state athletes, as he has his most impressive results at 200 and 400 but also has solid short-sprint times.  It will be interesting to see if he can approach his converted hand-timed 6.44 from last week's polar bear meet.  Cameron Cooper (Cedar Ridge) was the 2A 100 meter champion in the spring, but his 6.68 so far this winter will need to improve if he wants to make the finals.

The long sprints are absolutely loaded with talent, especially on the girls' side, even considering that some athletes adjusted their entries to participate in Saturday's Invitational events.  Tiana Patillo (Wakefield) is the top returner in the nation in the 500, and she is also entered in the 300.  Layla White (Cary), who came on strong in the spring season as a freshman, just posted a 1:15.50 outdoors (though she will have to make twice as many turns on the indoor track).  Patillo's teammate Jemay Ward broke 1:20 on the tight curves at Liberty earlier this month.  Keep an eye out for Ghaffar, who ran 1:20.99 in a heat by herself on the 8th, and for Daniella Salas (Fayetteville Flyers), who ran 2:19 for the 800 as an 8th-grader this past summer.  Also, Jaleesa Smoot (Salisbury) has strong credentials in the 400, although she struggled a bit in her first-ever 500 three weekends ago.  Tyra Lea (Wakefield) headlines the 300, where she is currently US #8 (an impressive feat for a flat-track race).  This is the perfect distance for Ro'Daijah Faucette (Cummings), although she is currently entered in five events and will have to drop one.  Leah Fair (Gaffney SC) ran 56 for the 400 last spring, while Tyson and Morris both have PR's in the 57's.  That's a talented fast section!  Watch out for Ward, Kaila Smith, and Jasmine Dawson (West Johnston) in the second-fastest section, and there are good athletes sprinkled throughout the races that could end up in the top 10 by the end of it all.  Xavier Jones has a good chance to win both the 500 and the 300, although he will get a strong challenge from Drummond in the latter race.  James Branch (Southeast Raleigh) will be tough competition in the 500, as will Phillip Bryant (Northwest Guilford, running unattached) in both the long sprints.  It should be noted that North Carolina's top two 500 runners, Barry Harris and Josiah Elliott, are sitting out this one in order to run the Invitational 400 and 800, respectively, on Saturday.  If the Joshua Peoples entered in the 300 is the one from Howard County in Maryland, then he will be a strong contender.  After the first few top-flight sprinters, the boys' 300 is somewhat thin, although there are a few athletes capable of running in the 36's on the 200-meter oval.


Distance Races

Although the top distance runners are in the Invitational Mile on Saturday, there is still plenty of talent in the 1600 on Friday (and a few athletes might attempt both races).  For the girls, Doria Kosmala (Watauga) is running her first 1600 of the winter, but her 1000 PR two weeks ago indicates she is in very good shape.  If she can run under 5:25, she will be part of what could be a very large lead pack, including Gina Daniel (right) and Grace Sullivan (Providence), Christina Nikolaou (Olympic), and Gabby Merritt (Greensboro Day).  Amanda Elliott (Richmond Hill GA) fits right in that group if she has been preparing well.  Angela Delfino (St. Mary's) is looking to break 5:30 for the first time, although it appears she did not run cross country in the fall, casting some doubt on her preparation; on the other hand, Becca Meshaw (West Johnston) had a strong fall season, and could be poised for a PR soon.  There are several young runners in the race that will be looking to make a name for themselves, including Melanie Hussey (Marvin Ridge), who made a giant leap forward as a runner this fall.  Kenan Farmer (Walton GA) has the best PR of anyone in the boys' 1600, although he could be a scratch (to save his energy for the Invitational Mile).  Wyatt Maxey (Providence) has done his best work at the 800 and 1000 in the past, but his continued development as a 5K runner might indicate a step forward in the mile (he is also in the Invitational 800 on Saturday).  Beckett Killam (Pinecrest) will need to run at or better than his PR of 4:32 to stay in the front group; the same is true for Ben Sessions (Greenville Tech Charter SC).  There are a few athletes in the fast section of the boys' race who have been ambitiously seeded, and they will need to step up and set big PR's if they want to hang.  That means some of the best times could come from the second-fastest section (depending on the cut-off), which could include Josh Mosteller (North Lincoln) and Brandon King (Mitchell).  One of the most intriguing entries is Corey Aikens (Knightdale), who has sub-2 speed in the 800 but so far lacks the endurance base needed to really run the mile well (run cross country next fall, Corey!).

The girls' 1000 entry list is topped by Dejah Jones (Wakefield); some may remember that she was a middle-school phenom in the 800, running under 2:15 before her high school career even started.  She seemed to disappear for a while before emerging to run some good times last year, but it looks like she has been working hard to get back to an elite level.  Gina Daniel (Providence) may be the only girl in the race that has the pedigree to give Jones a run for her money.  Hana Ratcliffe (Durham School of the Arts) and Nikolaou could also hang, but both are entered in Invitational races later the same day, and might want to save their legs.  In the boys' 1000, Farmer and Maxey could be on their second battle of the weekend, although that might not materialize as they both face the same choice as Ratcliffe and Nikolaou.  Steve Stowe (North Forsyth, left) is looking to return to the sub-2:40 form he showed last winter, and there are a number of guys that want to go with him: Justin Lane and Abel Tecle (Cary), Carter Owens (Wakefield), and Andrew Fea (North Lincoln).

Friday offers two options for long-distance types.  The challenge of running an indoor 5000 was only taken up by four brave boys, although three of them have PR's within 15 seconds of each other, which makes for a perfect race.  In the 3200, Bianca Bishop (Providence) had a great cross country season, and she should be poised for PR's this winter and spring.  Madison Harman (Watauga) has the fastest PR in the field, while Merritt will be looking to build on the huge leap forward that she made during cross country.  Emily Williams (Sullivan Central TN, right) doesn't have a lot of great times on her profile (although her history shows flashes of great potential, but she ran 3:07 and 5:17 for the two weeks ago and now could be in shape for sub-11:30.  Arden Vesie (Corinth Holders) hasn't been pushed in her competition outdoors so far this winter, and though she struggled in the second half of cross country season she is capable of far more than the 11:57 at which she is seeded.  This is Becca Meshaw's best event on the track, and she should be able to hang with the lead pack.  On the boys' side, Jake Betancourt (West Johnston) ran 9:35 in November at the Reagan Two-Mile, which makes him the favorite.  The rest of the contenders have run either just under 10 minutes, or are very close to breaking 10.  Ryan Shannon (North Lincoln) has a PR of 9:50 and was on track for a great fall season before a hip injury sidetracked him; if he is fully recovered, he could challenge for the win in this race.  Jared Buddington (Cedar Ridge) is underrated; he ran 10:00 in the spring coming off a 17:15 cross country season, and he could be ready for big track times after dropping to 16:28 this fall.  Chris Kelly (Pinecrest) has a PR of 9:59, which means he will have to PR to stay in the top four in this race, but he emerged as the team's clear #1 toward the end of cross country and that could be a sign of things to come.  Another runner with a sub-10 PR is Chris Boyle (North Lincoln), and it will be interesting to see if he and his teammates can build on the big improvement they had during the fall season.  Brandon King (Mitchell) is a guy that fall in the "barely plus-10" category that has shown enough in the past to think that he can break through soon.


Field Events

Bre'anna Warren (Western Guilford) already has one big victory at the JDL this season, and as the big favorite in the girls' shot put she is looking to build on her US #4 mark of 42' 4".  In the boys' shot, defending North Carolina 4A state champion Jon Beyle (East Chapel Hill, left) sits at US #8 so far this season.  He will be seriously challenged by Nikolas Huffman (Virginia HS, VA), whose PR of 58' 8.5" makes him the top seed.  That mark would be the national leader right now, but is he in shape to throw that far this weekend?  Don't count out Jalen Peterkin (Southern Durham), who had Beyle beaten until the sixth throw at the 4A outdoor state meet.  

North Carolina has not had a girl jump over 18 feet yet this season, but that could change this weekend: Courtney Crawford (McMichael) and Dejah Hayes (Western Guilford) both have produced several 18-foot jumps in their careers.  Two relative newcomers in this event--Sabrina Moore (North Mecklenburg) and Lauren White (Leesville Road) have also crossed the 18-foot mark in the past, and Moore in particular has the speed that can make her dangerous in the long jump.  Ro'Daijah Faucette (Cummings) has been a bit dinged up recently, but if she is healthy look for her to find her rhythm in the triple jump on the JDL's great runways.  Even if she does, that might not be enough to beat Hayes, who is the only returning 38-foot jumper in North Carolina.  In the girls' high jump, Margaret Edwards (Ravenscroft) made her indoor debut a few weekends ago, and she will be looking to approach her PR of 5' 5".  Libby Florence (Cedar Ridge) has already cleared 5' 4" (and beat Edwards during that competition); Gustell Preston (Mount Tabor) has jumped 5' 4" twice this winter, both times at the JDL, and that experience could put her in the driver's seat this weekend.

In the boys' jumps, Isaiah Williams (Cummings) is the only guy in the field to have jumped 23 feet so far this winter, but Frank Quarles (Douglas Byrd, competing for Fayetteville Flyers) has a ton of experience and a PR of 23' 11" on his resume.  Behind them, the field is entirely in the 21-foot range (although Knightdale's Kimani Hoffman jumped 22' 10" last year).  North Carolina hasa an amazing tradition in boys' triple jump, but our state has been stuggling through some down years in that event, and it is a real weak spot in our state right now.  Hoffman is the best in this field, with a PR of just under 45 feet; nobody else in the event has broken through the 44-foot barrier.  Boys' high jump, however, has some real strength at the top, and should produce an exciting competition this weekend.  Myles Lazarou (Northern Guilford, competing unattached) has soared over 6' 6" already this young season, tying him at US #5,  while Caleb Conwell (Wakefield) is right behind with his 6' 5" jump.  Darion Elmore (Gaffney SC) has a PR of 6' 4", and if he has been training that would put him right in the mix.

Kristen Lee (Wakefield, right) began the winter with a strong performance, clearing 12' 0" at Liberty to rank second in the country right now.  Her biggest competition will come from Brooke Shelton (Ledford, competing unattached), who looked great through 11 feet in her first competition before losing rhythm at 11' 6".  If she can sort out her big pole for this meet, she will be up there.  Morgan Allen (Byrnes SC) has a PR of 12', which would make her a serious contender here depending on her level of preparation for this meet.  Megan Comstock (Cardinal Gibbons) and Tess Rogers (North Stokes) have both cleared higher than 11 feet in their careers, which could give us five strong jumpers to watch on the last four heights of the competition.  The boys' vault is going to be a North Carolina affair, with the top returner in the state, Ethan Smith of Cedar Ridge, holding the top seed.  He has cleared 14' 6" this winter, while Thor Smith (Northern Guilford) was over 14' at the same meet.  Jose San Miguel (Cardinal Gibbons) has a PR of 14' 3.5", while Ian West (Fike) has cleared 14' 1" outdoors this winter and 14' 6" last spring.  That should make for an exciting competition, coming down to the vaulter that can find the best jumps at the final heights.



It's clear that the holiday break has taken its toll on the number of athletes available to the teams participating in this meet, because the number of relay entries is pretty small overall.  There is quality, though, and a few of the relays should provide great races.  Wakefield's girls will be the top seed in all three relays, although in the 4x800 they will have to run by themselves if they want to put up a big time.  In the 4x200 and the 4x400, of course, Wakefield has national-caliber talent, even with the graduation of two key sprinters from last year's squad.  The Velocity Striders (GA) club team has brought a load of sprinters, and they will try to take both 4x200's.  Knightdale's boys are not quite as dominant as Wakefield's girls have been, but they still have great depth and work ethic and they have a very good chance to take both sprint relays.  The boys' 4x800 could be interesting; Cary's boys have big plans for that relay this year, and they have the talent to pull away (4 guys in the top 10 of the state rankings in the 1000 right now).  Pinecrest will try to push them, but behind those two teams the times drop off sharply.  Other relay contenders include Mount Tabor's girls 4x200, Wakefield's boys 4x200, Dudley and Marvin Ridge in the girls 4x400, and two more club teams: Platinum Sports (Greensboro) in the boys' 4x200 and 4x400, and Peak Performance (SC) in the boys' 4x400.  Southeast Raleigh's girls are missing at least one key leg from their 4x400, but they have enough depth to still put together a strong team.