Distance relays and girls sprints/hurdles will be in the spotlight at the first big invitational of the outdoor season.
In only its second year of existence, the Weddington Track & Field Invitational has become the biggest meet of the opening weekend of invitationals in North Carolina. With over 1000 athletes entered (although ongoing weather conditions in some parts of the state could thin that out somewhat), combined with the warmest weather of the season so far, there should be some great performances for the early-season rankings coming out next week.
Sprints & Hurdles
Juwan Crowder (Forest Hills) should dominate the 100, if he is healthy, although there could be a very good battle for second. Brent Carroll (Phillip O. Berry) is the top hurdler, especially in the 110's; he could be pushed by Isaac Johnson (Providence Day) and Jason Pierre (Sun Valley) in the 300. Ryan Hastings (Porter Ridge) is one of the better returning 400 runners in the state, and it will be interesting to see what Nick Linder (Providence Day) can do in that event.
On the girls' side, there should be some very competitive race. Julice Crowder (Monroe), Maya Grier (Phillip O. Berry), and Courtney Blandin (Weddington) are all strong 100 runners, which might set them up for the most exciting individual race of the day. Anna Cockrell (Providence Day) is one of the state's best in the 100 Hurdles and is capable of dominating, even with Reneazia Collins (Monroe) in the race. Sydney Jenkins (Phillip O. Berry) is the top seed in the 300 Hurdles, while teammate Tatiana Mills (Berry) will have her hands full in the 400 with Cuthbertson's Nikolete Hurrinus.
Providence Day has the dominant top seed in both the boys' and girls' 1600 in Ben Huffman and Emma Brown. The same goes for Ryan Hobbs (Weddington) and Sydney Foreman (Ardrey Kell) in the 3200, although Hobbs could get some competition from Jason Port (Ardrey Kell) and Alex Cornwell (Hickory Ridge). Foreman will be making her annual transition from swimming to track, and it will be very informative to see where the Notre Dame-bound distnace star is in terms of fitness.
Most of these events lack superstars, but that just means there could be more competition for the medals. Boys' top seeds include Cameron Butler (Robinson) in the high jump and Sage Murphy (Ardrey Kell) in the pole vault, who leads his nearest competitor by over two feet using last year's performances. David Watkins (Richmond Senior) has the potential to dominate the shot put as he continues pursuit of the 50-foot mark that he narrowly missed last spring. The boys' long jump, triple jump, and discus throw appear to be wide open, and all three could be very entertaining to watch.
Elizabeth Olesen (Hickory Ridge) is the state's top returning high jumper, and if she jumps well she should be able to handle this field (although Ardrey Kell's Sydney Blue is a good jumper, as well). Mariel Finger (North Gaston) established herself as one of the best vaulters in North Carolina this winter, and she should get a push from Lainey Hunnicutt (South Mecklenburg) and Liz Wood (Cuthbertson). Both the throws, as well as the long jump and triple jump, lack clear favorites based on the seed marks.
One of the interesting things about the start of the outdoor season in our state is the large number of early invitationals that run the distance medley relay. It makes for a neat way to compare the early fitness and depth of teams from around the state, and there are some strong squads in this meet. Providence Day will square off against Weddington and Jay M. Robinson in both the girls and boys DMR here, while the Providence boys and Ardrey Kell girls have opted for the 4x800 instead.
In the spring relays, Richmond Senior clearly has great confidence in their squads - the boys' 4x100 is seeded at 42.0, which would have been 4th-fastest in the state last year, while the girls' 4x100 will have to get past a very strong Phillip O. Berry team. Expect Berry's girls to also take the 4x400, arguably their strongest relay, and look for Providence Day and Richmond to battle in the boys' 4x400. The meet also features an 800 sprint medley relay (100-100-200-400), which is really difficult to predict this early in the season, but fun to watch.