You might need to leave the stadium to witness the most dominant athlete in the 4A meet, but it will be worth it. Trust me.
NCHSAA 4A Girls Preview
Sprints & Hurdles
Jacklyn Howell (Southeast Raleigh) has been on fire in the hurdles ever since her breakout last summer, and she has the potential to dominate both races. Ebony Williams (Parkland) looks like the challenger with the best chance for an upset, as she has the second spot in both events (although there are three other sub-45 girls in the 300 Hurdles that could threaten with strong races). Williams has run low-43's, though, putting her right in the mix, and Shellbi Chapman's 44.00 makes the Sanderson sophomore a contender, as well.
Charminique Hackney (Cary) has been showing flashes of national-caliber talent ever since the beginning of the winter season, but consistency has been eluisive for her. That seems to be changing now, though, as she has run 11.72, 11.84, and 11.83 in her last three attempts at the 100, and she will be very tough to beat in that event (especially given Tamara Clark's false start at her regional). Ama-Selina Tchume (Wakefield) and Katlin Sherman (Parkland) are the main opposition, although Sydnei Murphy (Apex) is not far behind. Sherman posted an eye-popping 200 time last weekend, fast enough to vault her from outside the national top 100 all the way to US #9. She will need to repeat her sub-24 feat to win this weekend, and that would also help her shake off concerns that the regional time was wind-aided. You can see evidence of that in the seeding - the four girls from that Midwest 4A race are all in the fast section Saturday. Layla White (Cary) will have something for Sherman when race time comes, though; furthermore, Clark and Tchume should be hunting for podium finishes.
The 400 is one of the most pivotal and intriguing races of the day, both in terms of the sheer talent in the race and also for its effect on team scores. White is certainly the favorite, and she may not even have to show her full ability to win, as she cruised to the top seed (a full second ahead of anyone else in the state) at her regional. Behind her, though, things could get hot. Parkland teammates McKinley McNeill and Erin Morrison are seeded 2nd and 3rd, which makes them a target for the teams that are chasing them. Tia Robinson (Wakefield) and Jasmin Allen (Southeast Raleigh) both ran low-56 times last weekend - the 2-5 seeds are separated by only 0.25 - and if the Mustangs falter at all it could cost them serious points.
Although North Carolina is loaded with milers right now, few of the truly elite ones are in 4A. That makes the 1600 a bit more wide-open than it has been in the past, and that makes for an exciting race. Blair Ramsey (Grimsley) has the best resume coming into the race, as the only girl that has run under 5 minutes. Grace Sullivan (Providence) and Vanessa Bateson (Mount Tabor) may be the next two to break through that barrier. And prior to the regionals, who would have thought that Taylor Delaney (South View) would be seeded third in this race? That just goes to show that just about anything can still happen in this field. Bianca Bishop (Providence) headlines the 3200 field, but you would have to be foolish to count out Kayla Montgomery (Mount Tabor), who was able to cruise a bit in her regional. The same is true of Rebekah Greengrass (Panther Creek); all three of those runners have been under 11 this season.
In contrast to the 1600. the 800 looks a lot more settled: Lakeisha Warner (Cary) enters as the top seed and slight favorite; aside from her, only Casey Greenwalt (T.C. Roberson) has run under 2:16. Warner has an all-time PR of 2:11, so she might have more in the tank than she has shown so far. An interesting question: will Greenwalt run the 1600 even though it might fatigue her for her stronger event, the 800? Stepping off in the earlier race would hurt TCR's chances of finishing second in the team scoring.
With 8 girls that have thrown farther than 40 feet, the shot put should be incredibly competitive. Alycia Springs (Mallard Creek) enters as the favorite and the only girl over 45 feet, but Mohogany Baker (Phillip O. Berry) and Mookie Chavis (Northern Durham) are both in the 44's. By contrast, Bryanna Hames is a heavy favorite in the discus - Springs and Baker have PR's in the 137-foot range, and Hames has thrown farther than that in every competition this spring except one. Her season best of 159' 5" is US #7 and NC #3 All-Time. Another strong favorite: Sydnei Murphy (Apex) in both the long and triple jump. Her mark in the triple from her regional was her worst since March, and she still has the top seed coming into the meet! If she goes over 40 feet again, that may too high a bar for the rest of the field to reach. There are three girls with 38-foot bests who will try to capitalize if Murphy is not at her best: Ila Mumford (Parkland), Lekesha Ejindu (Dudley), and Yasmine Artis (New Bern). In the long jump, Mumford has also been in the upper 18-foot range, while Jenele Terry (Page) and K'Lynn Beal (Broughton) have also gone beyond 18. However, this could become a two-girl competition between Murphy and Imari McLean (Hillside), who have identical season-bests of 19' 8".
There may not be a more competitive event in this meet than the girls' high jump. No 4A girl has jumped higher than 5' 4" this season, a mark that 6 girls have achieved (but only two last weekend). Jocelyn Culbreath (Reagan) has an all-time best of 5' 8" but hasn't jumped that high in a long time; in truth, this one is entirely up for grabs. The opposite is true in the pole vault, where Anna Eaton (Apex) is the favorite with her 12' 6" season best. Alison Seramur (Watauga) is the only competitor whose past performances make her a potential threat as long as Eaton jumps reasonably well; the other top challenger, Zoe Early (Green Hope), was unable to advance to the state meet.
Relays and Team Competition
T. C. Roberson has the top seed in the 4x800, while Cary has the best time on the season - but the Imps might not be able to commit Layla White to this relay, and if so that would explain their regional result. Myers Park and Lake Norman were pulled along to quick times by chasing TCR last weekend, but were not able to truly threaten the Rams, so any new challenge will have to come out of the Mideast. Parkland has been dominating the sprint relays all year, and holds the top seed in the 4x100 and 4x200 after not being seriously pushed in their regional. An interesting side note there: the Mustangs have run 47.00 twice, each of the last two years, but have never broken 47. Saturday is about grinding out a team win for Parkland, though, so the faster times might have to wait for outdoor nationals. Cary has a very strong 4x200, while Wakefield is the only other squad to break 48 in the 4x100. Don't be thrown off by Parkland's 4x400 time, either - they dropped and recovered the baton and still won their regional. They're still capable of sub-3:50, though, as is Cary (the Imps have actually run 3:49 this season), so expect those two to be right in the mix with top seed Wakefield.
Parkland is a heavy favorite for the overall team title, and it would take some serious upsets to prevent that. There should be an excellent battle for second place, though, with Cary, Wakefield, and T. C. Roberson all bringing some serious firepower to the table. Apex and Southeast Raleigh are not far behind those three, either, and could factor into the team standings with strong performances.
NCHSAA 4A Boys Preview
Sprints & Hurdles
The top 4 seeds in this race all come from the Mideast Regional, and all four of those guys had significant improvement in that race. Nyheim Hines (Garner) and Therius Styles (Broughton) are both well-known to track fans, but have you heard of Raul Oquendo (Millbrook) or Tyri Beard (Wake Forest)? Probably not, because their previous bests were 10.98 and 11.07 before last weekend. Even Styles had a best of 10.90 prior to that race! All of that raises the suggestion of wind-aided times, but without a wind gauge at the meet we can't know for sure. With guys like Travis Newton (Richmond Senior), Brandon McRae (Hoke), Jakara King-Penn (Reagan), and Quashawn Cunningham (Mallard Creek) in the race, those Mideast guys will have to run just as well as last weekend to prove that it was no fluke.
The 400 will be a familiar affair, with Jamaree Murray (Southeast Raleigh) racing Marquavious Johnson (Knightdale). That's also a tale of two completely different seasons - Murray has looked strong all spring, while Johnson hasn't raced much at all (along with his teammates, the spring was uncharacteristically quiet). Still, as long as both are health, you know this race and this meet will bring out the best in both guys. Murray also has the top seed in the 200, where he will face another Mideast-heavy line-up: Styles has the second seed, followed by Johnson and Hines. Watch out for Newton in this race; he ran 21.40 earlier in the season.
Emmanuel Jackson (Sanderson) and Marcus Krah (Hillside) enter the meet as essentially co-favorites, with regional times that are only 0.04 apart. Behind them it could be a free-for-all among the contenders for third, with at least 6 that are capable of getting on the podium.
This is Ian Milder's show, and everyone else is just performing in it. The Mount Tabor senior is a machine - he has run in more high-level races than any distance runner probably should during the regular season, but he is still chugging along. He ran the regional races to win, holding back as long as he could, and will probably do the same Saturday - but it would be great to see him cut loose for one last big 1600 or 3200. Teammate Kenny Kneisel will have a serious battle on his hands, though, with runners like Mihret Coulter (Apex) and John Dalton Rohr (Broughton) sitting just outside of him on the starting line. Keep an eye on Wyatt Maxey (Providence), who took advantage of a slower pace in the West Regional, but has been 4:20 this season; he didn't advance in the 800 this year, and so he can pour all of his energy into the mile.
No event in this meet can match the sheer competitiveness of the 800, where the top 11 guys are under 1:58, including the 3-10 seeds that are only 0.55 seconds apart. Dakota Schaub (Pine Forest) has the top seed, but Ryan Hastings (Porter Ridge) has gone 1:53 this season, the fastest of anyone in the race. William Roberson (Broughton) has to be the best bet for upsetting Milder when the 3200 comes around; after all, they are the only two sub-9 runners in the state this year. Patrick Sheehan (Lake Norman), Asher Smith-Rose (Broughton), and Coulter have all run under 9:20.
Much like the girls 1600, the truly elite boys throwers are not in 4A this year. That doesn't take away from the competition, however; in fact, it indicates that the show might be even more exciting on Saturday. Derrick Freeland (Mallard Creek) had the best throw last weekend, earning the top seed, but there are 6 guys that went over 50 feet. That includes Ryan Davis (Pine Forest), the season leader among 4A throwers, and Elijah Mallory (Wakefield), both of whom have thrown over 55 feet. Davis also has the best discus mark of the season at 175 feet, but he enters as the second seed after struggling a bit at his regional. Jason Lockamy (Apex) could really help his team's pursuit of the championship with a good throw or two; he and Iyin Battle (East Chapel Hill) have crossed the 160-foot barrier in the past. Speaking of Apex's title hopes, nobody has a single-event concentration of talent like the Cougars do in the pole vault. The top 3 seeds are teammates: all three Apex vaulters (Michael Utecht, Joe DeVries, and Drew Pedersen) have cleared 15 feet this spring, while Kevin Schmidt (Cary), Joseph Popek (Ragsdale), and Sage Murphy (Ardrey Kell) have topped out at 14' 6". Wanna bet on the winner? Go with DeVries, who always seems to rise to the occasion a major championship meets.
If you only look at the performance list for Saturday's meet. the jumps look like they're in complete chaos - no clear favorites in two of the three events, and lots of different names without much in the way of two-event athletes. That's a little deceptive, though: if you check the rankings, things clarify quite a bit. Darryl Shaw (Jack Britt) should share the top seed in the long jump, but he failed to advance to the regional in that event, as did Tevin Quick (Ragsdale). That leaves Jordan Santana (North Davidson) and Marcus Krah (Hillside) as the only 23-footers in the field. Kory Jones (Hoke) has jumped 22' 10", and he is also the top seed in the high jump, but several jumpers have matched his 6' 6" qualifying jump over the course of the season. Jamie Brown (Knightdale) has already proven that he can jump his best at the state meet, given his indoor performance, and Quick, Lamar Nobles (Holly Springs), and Quindarius Cunningham (North Davidson) could also contend. Kimani Hoffman (Knightdale) has been very quiet this spring, and he lurks in 6th on the long jump list, but he is the top seed in the triple jump. He is the only competitor that can claim to have broken 48 feet, although Krah and Shaw have gone 47 before. Jones could outscore everyone in the field events without winning anything, as he is seeded well in all three jumps.
Relays and Team Competition
The track events will kick off with a bang, as the 4x800 is going to be absolutely nuts. 5 teams ran between 7:56 and 8:00 last weekend, not to mention the 8:00 team; if you include season bests, that brings another 8:00 to the table, making 7 legitimate contenders. Green Hope has been on top of the rankings for most of the season, and they won the indoor title, but Pine Forest is running very well right now. Lake Norman ran their 7:58 a while ago, and might have improved since then without needed to show that in competition. Mount Tabor has Ian Milder on the anchor, which makes you think they will have a serious chance to win - would you rule that guy out of anything right now? Don't forget about Knightdale, either.
Apex has already outscored Knightdale at their regional, and they will have to do so again to win a state title. The two grade out almost dead even based on either regional seeds or season bests. Southeast Raleigh appears to be the only other team with a chance to earn one of the two team trophies by the end of the day, but don't sleep on Mallard Creek, as Quashawn Cunningham might run better than he is seeded.