Bakri Abushouk makes his indoor season debut, and his first appearance at the JDL, on Saturday in the Invitational Mile.
This preview focuses on the Invitational events that will be held on Saturday afternoon as part of the NCRunners Elite Holiday Invitational. Athletes were invited to these events from two lists: one for North Carolina athletes, and one for out-of-state competitors. Along the way, a few athletes were also accepted into the races after they showed interest by contacting us, providing they had the times to back up their participation in the event. We hope to expand these to two sections of each event next year, and to attract even more athletes from outside of North Carolina. Although we had varying degrees of success filling these events (the holiday, of course, prevented many from participating that otherwise would have), the final fields are strong in every event, and there are athletes from 8 states competing over the two days. This could be the start of a very important meet for the entire Southeast region, and we are confident that Saturday's Invitational races will be worth watching! Keep an eye out for live updates via Twitter (@NCRunners) from both days of the meet.
Invitational Girls 60 Dash
This race brings together two of the top performers from the always-strong North Carolina sprint scene, but their careers tell very different stories. Sabrina Moore (North Mecklenburg) is one of the top returning sprinters in the state, a veteran senior who has a lot of championship-level experience. Sydnei Murphy (unattached) is a young upstart, just a sophomore, who had some solid results last year but really exploded to the top of the rankings with her first race this season. They will have to fend off a cadre of sprinters from Georgia, the best of which is Kayla Tyson (Greenbrier GA). Sloan Williams and Deonica Reid (Winston-Salem Prep), along with Alexandria Council (unattached), round out the field.
Invitational Boys 60 Dash
The top three sprinters in North Carolina (using indoor times only) are in this race, and this could be the first of several battles between them this season. US #2 James Drummond (Lexington) holds a slim advantage over US #5 William Cameron (Southern Durham). Jakara King-Penn (Reagan) is currently third in the state and is US #12 right now, although he has the best 100 PR of anyone in the field. Expect Darius Watkins (Grovetown GA) to be right in the mix, and his club teammate Jeremy Harden (Greenbrier GA) is no slouch. William Buckley (East Chapel Hill) currently ranks 6th in North Carolina, while Kimani Hoffman (Knightdale) has not run an FAT 55 yet this season (he does have a 10.81 PR in the 100, though).
Invitational Girls 60 Hurdles
Quenee' Dale (Saline MI) traveled all the way from Michigan to try to win this race, and she will have a good chance to do just that. Dale has the best pedigree of anyone in the race when it comes to the 60 Hurdles. However, she does not have the best 100 Hurdles PR in the race; that belongs to Hunter Roberts (Southwest Guilford, right, lane 3). Roberts currently ranks 16th in the country in the 55 Hurdles, but she was beaten by Aliyah Riley (High Point Central, right, lane 2) earlier this season. Riley ran 8.31 in that race, good for US #7 so far this season, but her PR is 8.24. You can never count out Nora McKiver (TW Andrews), who has won the 100H and 300H at the last two NCHSAA 2A state meets. Finally, Kaila Smith (formerly of Ardrey Kell, now at Beaufort SC) continues to get better in the hurdles, and currently holds the US #21 spot in the 55 Hurdles.
Invitational Boys 60 Hurdles
Isaiah Moore (Cummings) is not only the top hurdler in the state of North Carolina; in fact, he is currently the top 55 Hurdler in the nation! The two-time state champ in the 110 hurdles would like to establish himself as a strong candidate to make the finals at New Balance Indoor Nationals, and a fast 60 Hurdles would be a big step. Teammate Thomas Jones II won the NC 2A state championship in the 300 Hurdles, and his 55H time from this season puts him at US #5 right now. Caleb Mathis (Davie) currently ranks 14th in the nation with his time of 7.71. Erin Jenkins (ZB Vance), best known for his work in the longer hurdle races (he is the NC 4A state champ in the 300H), came on strong in the 110's at the end of the spring. A false start in his first indoor race this winter prevented him from showing his current form in the high hurdles, but he will have a chance to make up for that on Saturday. His teammate, Jerome Beatty, is less experienced but perhaps a bit more explosive, and is capable of producing a breakthrough race here. Xavier Carter (West Johnston) has run his best hurdle races outdoors, and will need to run well to back up his Polar Bear time.
Invitational Girls 400 Dash
This race contains one of the biggest stars of the meet, Deja Parrish (American Heritage FL, left). Parrish is the #3 returner in the country in this event, with a PR of 53.20, and she was second in both the Florida state meet and the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational. Although her PR is a full 2 seconds faster than anyone else in the race, Florida has no indoor season, and she might not be in top fitness. If not, Layla White (Cary) could be the chief competition, as she has a PR of 55.57 and is the top North Carolina returner. Jocelyn Culbreath (Reagan) and Ro'Daijah Faucette (Cummings) have both run in the 56's, and Tanazia Owens (Harding University) has a PR of 57.60. That means all 5 competitors have run under 58 seconds, which should make for a great race. It should be noted that Culbreath currently ranks 6th in the country in the 500 with her 1:18.06, while White ran 1:15.5 outdoors two weeks ago.
Invitational Boys 400 Dash
Two of North Carolina's best top the list in this event. Kwame Donyinah (Myers Park) is the 7th-best returning 400 runner in the country (and tops in NC) with his PR of 47.27. Barry Harris (Southern Guilford) surprisingly does not have a great 400 PR--but he is currently US #2 in the 500 (1:04.69) and US #11 in the 300 (35.52). This could be Harris' chance to put up a low-48 that would springboard him to big times outdoors. They will be joined by Chaz Hawkins (Centennial TN), who has a best time of 48.68 and finished fourth in the AAU Junior Olympic Nationals in the Decathlon. Three of the Raleigh area's best long sprinters round out the field: Jamaree Murray (Southeast Raleigh, running unattached), and teammates Marquavious Johnson and Henry Kiedy of Knightdale. I don't have to tell any NC track fans about the continuing rivalry between those two schools, which should bring an extra touch of pride to the event.
Invitational Girls 800 Run
This is an all-North Carolina affair, but it just so happens that our state is deep in mid-distance runners right now, so that's just fine. Jennie Cunningham (Pinecrest) is eager to get back on the track after a frustrating summer and fall, and all indications are that she is returning to the form that won her the 4A Indoor 1000 title last winter. She has a PR of 2:13.99, almost 3 seconds faster than anyone else in the race. The closest girl is Gina Daniel (Providence), who ran 2:16.50 last spring and has made impressive gains during cross country, leading to signs that she is in better track shape than ever. Kaylie Loyd (Southeast Raleigh) was impressive in the early part of the winter season last year before health issues derailed her whole track season; she seems to be back on pace for big times, and this could be a step toward achieving those goals that still remain from a disappointing 2012. Behind those three, it looks like there will be a 5-girl second group: Anna McElrath (Independence), Mason Kepley (High Point Central), Hana Ratcliffe (Durham School of the Arts), Christina Nikolaou (Olympic), and Abby Adams (St. David's) all have similar resumes and should push each other well.
Invitational Boys 800 Run
This event is absolutely loaded with both talent and numbers, and it could be the race that is most dominated by out-of-state runners. Nate Gordon (Spartanburg SC, right, leading) is the headliner, as his 1:52.48 PR puts him in the top 25 returners in the country (and beats anyone else in this field by almost 4 seconds). He is joined by two other strong runners from the Palmetto State: Erik Wendt (Lexington SC) and Chad Fennell (Northwestern SC), both of whom have PR's in the 1:56 range. Josiah Elliott (Parkland) is North Carolina's best hope to defend its turf, as his 800 best is 1:57.46. Elliott currently ranks 1st in the country in the 500 (1:04.53) and 24th in the 1000. Wyatt Maxey (Providence) ran 2:35.78 for the 1000 last winter and has improved through the fall season, and that could put him at the front of the large group of 1:59 - 2:00 runners in the second group. Bryan Brackney (Watauga) may be in good enough shape to bridge the gap between the groups along with Maxey. Steve Stowe (North Forsyth), Corey Aikens (Knightdale), Ariel Shores (Southeast Guilford), George Corbin (Nash Central), Jon Knight (Northern Guilford), and Dustin Sneed (RJ Reynolds) will all be looking to make a name for themselves and move into the conversation about the elite mid-distance runners in North Carolina.
Invitational Girls Mile Run
This race shows signs of breaking down into several pairs of runners that are equally matched, and that could make for entertaining viewing. Wesley Frazier (Ravenscroft,below) and Stefanie Kurgatt (Maclay School FL) are national-caliber elites that should break 5 minutes, with Frazier having the 3rd-best returning time in the country at 4:42.78. Of course, this is not the time for her to be in peak fitness, although word has it that she is excited to try out the JDL track for the first time. Kurgatt has a PR of 4:49.62, and her resume includes two Florida state titles and two wins at the Caribbean Scholatic Invitational, so she is no stranger to big races and good competition. The second pair, Malia Ellington and Ryen Frazier, will most likely be in the 5:05 range. Ellington, from Community School of Davidson, ran 4:56 last spring, while the younger Frazier has a PR of 5:04 (which she ran in the winter last year). Carmen Hilliard (South Brunswick) and Chandler Borton (RJ Reynolds) seem very evenly-matched. Their PR's are within 2 seconds of each other, and both have made significant gains since last spring (based on cross country results). Hilliard currently leads North Carolina in the 1000, and she has superior closing speed, but Borton has better times in the longer races and could hold on if the pace is fast early. Finally, Emily Williams (Sullivan Central TN) and Bianca Bishop (Providence) will try to hold onto the previous two, but could end up in their own duel. Williams ran 5:17 a few weekends ago, a breakthrough race for her, while Bishop had a great fall season and could be ready for her own emergence on the track.
Invitational Boys Mile Run
North Carolina's best male distance runner, Bakri Abushouk of Cary, will be running his first race at the JDL facility. Last winter, he only raced outdoors before going to the indoor state meet, but in the spring he produced a PR of 4:16, the best in this field. Kenan Farmer (Walton GA) ran 4:20 during the 2012 outdoor season, and he has a 3200 PR of 9:19 that indicates he is more of an endurance-based miler. Farmer's best strategy might be to push the pace early, but Abushouk is coming off of a 15:03 cross country season in which he earned the 4A state championship. The big question of this race: can anybody from the second group successfully hang with those first two? Collin Loy (Southern Alamance) has posted a 4:25 already this winter, a huge PR for him, while Clayton Wilson (Greensboro Day) ran 4:24 last spring. John Dalton Rohr (Broughton) made big strides as a 5K runner this fall, and that bodes well for a runner that seems to be better on the track (a 4:22 PR for 1600). Teammates Dalton Nickel and Ian Milder of Mount Tabor finished 2nd and 4th, respectively, in the NC 4A cross country championships; that indicates tremendous improvement from last year, and they should be able to stay with the second group despite having slower mile times from 2012. Bret Freed (Spartanburg SC) may be a little better at the 800 than the mile, but his 4:29 PR is still very good, and his 1:58 speed could be an asset at the end of the race.