BEST OF THE WEEK: Project TJers put on a show in Boise
- The New Balance Boise Indoor, a National Scholastic Athletics Foundation (NSAF) Select Meet, provided a great showcase last weekend for the Foundation’s Project Triple Jump and its athletes. As Coach Peter Pratt would put it, it was time for the hop-step-and-jumpers to “put on a show,” and that they did – with a pair of 1-2 finishes and 1-foot PR by its youngest member. In the boys’ TJ competition, KeAndre Bates (Burges, El Paso, TX senior) got out to a solid US#4 48-6.75 for the victory. Bates – 9th in the World Youth Champs TJ last summer – is the nation’s top returnee from the outdoor campaign, but this was his first-ever indoor meet. He defeated his younger Project teammate, Ja’Mari Ward (Cahokia, IL soph), who spanned 47-9 after hitting a PR US#2 49-0.75 at Arkansas the week before.
- For the girls, it was Chinne Okoronkwo (Mountlake Terrace, WA soph) putting on the best show, stretching out to 39-2.25, just three inches off her indoor PR. She won by more than a foot over Project teammate Nashedah Mumin (Mission Oak, Tulare, CA soph), who was also in her first undercover meet and went 37-10. Back in 7th, but with a nice PR of 35-4, was Arielle Mack (Burges soph) – Bates’ HS teammate who is a freshman and has been jumping less than a year. Three of the Project athletes also long-jumped, with Ward nipping Bates for 2nd on the boys’ side (both at 22-8) and Okoronkwo getting 2nd for the girls at 17-9.
Meanwhile, Keturah was in New York ...
- And speaking of putting on a show, 2,500 miles to the east, another Project TJ’er was going with her other specialty in her season runway debut on prep indoor track’s biggest stage – the NY Armory. In the mammoth New Balance Games, Keturah Orji (Mt. Olive, Flanders, NJ senior) had arguably the weekend’s top performance (by anyone not named Cain) when she flew 20-8.75 in the long jump. Not only was it a national leader by almost 10 inches, but the performance made Orji the #5 prep in history in the event with the longest leap since 2005.
- The jump was not an overall PR for the UGA-bound standout; she leapt 20-11.75 at the World Youth Champs last summer to take the silver. But Orji is far ahead of last winter, when her best was 19-9. She has not competed in the triple jump yet and, with neither horizontal event part of the indoor slate in New Jersey, opportunities are few and far between. Saturday, however, made it clear that the Project’s most accomplished athlete is in very good form.
Prep track nation, meet Symone Darius
- Coming into the New Balance Games 300 last weekend, Symone Darius was a fairly talented sophomore, known in New York as part of the New Rochelle sprint machine and as the state runnerup outdoors in the 200 last spring. She had indoor PRs of 7.22 for 55, 24.87 for 200 (2nd Hispanic Games) and 39.78 for 300 (last winter; best of 39.92 this winter). A solid sprinter with potential, for sure, but did anyone see 38.07 coming?
- Darius had a huge breakthrough that took her from US#9 this winter to US#9 ALL-TIME. And in winning, of course, she beat a stellar field that included other sub-40 talents like Emma Gallagher. Before Saturday, Darius’s best chance at national glory was probably with her 4x200 teammates, who have led the nation all winter and hit the winter’s first sub-1:40 at NB. Now she could choose between focusing on the 200, where she’s more experienced, or the 400 – where she has a 56.46 from last spring, but can probably go a lot faster now. Darius has also run 1:39 for 600 this winter, so the longer sprints are definitely in her wheelhouse.
- By the way, Darius didn't have the only great 300 at the NB Games. Anton Porter (Mt. St. Michael, Bronx, NY junior) also blazed a US#2 34.82 to beat a great group.
Armstrong tough at home
- It’s pretty unusual to see a prep boys’ 2-mile in January where three guys run 9:10 or faster, let alone on a regulation track and at altitude!! But Elijah Armstrong, Conner Mantz and Andrew Rafla are unusual talents. Armstrong has been special for awhile; creds like a 9:04 outdoor 3,200 as a freshman and a NBNI 5,000 title as a sophomore back that up. Running in his home town, the Pocatello, ID junior – the New Balance Nationals Indoor (NBNI) 5,000 champ last winter – was a tough host to beat. In both Friday night’s deuce and the mile Saturday morning, Armstrong let his rivals do much of the work, with great finishes leading to a US#1 9:08.60 and a US#5 4:16.02.
- While Mantz (Sky View, Smithfield, UT junior) and Rafla (Timberline, Boise senior) suffered tough losses, they got great times for their efforts –with Mantz going US#2 9:09.44 and 4:18.25 and Rafla US#3 9:10.23 and 4:18.55. Mantz was 7th behind Armstrong’s 6th at Foot Locker this past December, so it wasn’t the first time. Both have 9:04 3,200 PRs, but Mantz’s came last spring at Arcadia while Armstrong’s came in the same race when he was a frosh! Rafla, a year older but who has progressed more dramatically in the last year, was 3rd at NXN NW last fall, but then missed the Finals due to injury.
Cain train keeps rollin’
- Almost a month into Mary Cain’s first competitive season as a professional and track fans are somewhat divided in how they regard her continuing accomplishments. Some see her simply as a very young professional, still having Junior status (she won turn 20 until ), while others still also view her as a high schooler and rank her as such. Also, while some create or are attracted to the hype present each time she steps on the track, others have become a little numb to it. Objectively speaking, this much is true: Cain continues to run faster than any high school student has ever run – and she’s still getting better.
- Exhibit “C” for the 2014 season was her race at the Boston Terrier Invite last Friday, as she easily defeated post-collegiate talents like Abbey D’Agostino and Jordan Hasay with a 4:24.11 – a time that missed the World Junior record by a scant .01, but smashed the American Junior record and improved her indoor mile PR from last winter’s high school record. So is THIS time a new high school record, or high school “best?” It depends on who you ask – but either way, it’s no less impressive. Following a 2:39.25 1,000 last week, a mark which holds similar distinction all-time among Junior and preps, Cain is on a roll – again.
Haraway: Latest DeMatha sprint star
- A lot of attention last weekend among prep boys’ sprints fans was paid to Anton Porter’s fast 300 at The Armory (see above) and Trentavis Friday’s blazing and very close 55 in North Carolina (see below). But perhaps the best performance in this category came from Darryl Haraway, who went short and long last weekend to a pair of victories at the Kevin Dare Invite at Penn State. On the short end, he blasted a US#2 6.82 60, shaving .02 off his PR. Then, in his first 200 of the winter, he roared to a nation-leading 21.65, knocking three-tenths off his best from last year.
- As a sophomore at the DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD) powerhouse in 2013, Haraway contested the 60 and 200 at NBNI, then the 100 and 200 at NBNO. His best finish was sixth in the indoor 200. Obviously, he has gotten better. Look for him to contend for the podium at whichever events he contests on his trips to New York and Greensboro this time around.
Fast Friday; even faster 55 field
- The 55 final at the David Oliver Classic at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem (N.C.) was probably the fastest, most competitive boys’ sprint of the year so far. It wasn’t a surprise – though impressive – to see Trentavis Friday (Cherryville, NC senior) dash a US#1 6.30. After all, he already had a nation-leading 6.70 60 on his seasonal ledger from December. But how about four guys at 6.36 or better? It was an uncommonly fast and deep battle.
- Juwan Crowder (Forest Hills, Marshville, NC junior) may have been the biggest surprise at 6.31 in 2nd. He had only run “Polar Bear” races this winter after a 2013 soph campaign where he had a wind-legal PR of 10.86, plus 10.64nwi and 10.77w (+2.2). This was his first indoor race. Quashawn Cunningham (Mallard Creek, Charlotte, NC senior) improved from 6.45 to 6.36 in third, while Daniel Estrada (Platinum Sports) in 4th also ran 6.36 – down from 6.41.
More of last week’s best ...
- Between the aforementioned NB Games 300, David Oliver meet 55 and Darryl Haraway’s 60/200 double, most of the best boys’ sprinting for the week has been covered. But there was some other good stuff worth mentioning. In the longest sprint, the 600, the NB Games field was also strong and deep, with Christian Kildal-Brandt (Mendham, NJ junior) edging Luke Germanakos (Lynbrook, NY senior) in US#2-3 times of 1:20.50 and 1:20.60 – and with Jeffrey Wiseman (Council Rock South, Holland, PA senior) a strong 3rd with 1:21.07. Nine have now broken 1:22 in the event. In the 500, Marquavious Johnson (Knightdale, NC senior) won the Oliver meet with a best-of-week 1:05.87, becoming the six under 1:06 this winter.
- In the 300, sprint-jump force Andrew Bolze (Hingham, MA senior) also captured the MSTCA Elite Meet with a meet record 34.19, good for US#5. Twenty-two athletes have now broken 35 in the super season for this event. And at 55, Marcus Taylor (Highland Springs, VA senior) joined the four-man logjam at US#5 6.36 with his victory at the St. Christopher’s Invite (Richmond, VA).
- Symone Darius, with her above-mentioned 300 in New York, was the story of the week. Meanwhile, the NB Boise meet promised a good girls’ 60 showdown, with new US#1 (7.35) and #3 (7.46) performers present in Seattle Speed’s Hannah Cunliffe (Federal Way, WA senior) and Speed Denver’s Chyna Ries. While she didn’t quite PR, Cunliffe triumphed in 7.44 and though Ries was just 4th, there were fresh sub-7.6 performances by CATC’s Destiny Smith-Barnett (Skyline, Oakland, CA junior) 7.51 and Cunliffe’s new club teammate Ngozi Musa 7.58 (Holy Names, Seattle, WA junior). Beyond the West, Caitland Smith (Pelham, AL senior) made it five girls under 7.50 this winter with her 7.49 at the Last Chance Invite (Crossplex, Birmingham, AL).
- The Boise 200 was also hot, with super frosh Lauren Rain Williams (Long Beach Poly, CA frosh) making her debut as a prep with a 24.38 200 victory – a national leader! Behind her, Smith-Barnett was a strong 2nd at US#6 24.58. A tight, fast 200 also came at the Kevin Dare meet, as Katelyn Jackson (Cheltenham, Wyncote, PA senior) nipped Simone Glenn (Bullis, Potomac, MD senior) US#2 24.43 to #4 24.46.
- In the 400, while they ran “only” US#5 56.31 and #6 56.47, you had to take notice of the victories by Olivia Baker (Columbia, Maplewood, NJ senior) and Sydney McLaughlin (Union Catholic, Scotch Plains, NJ freshman) at their respective Essex and Union County championship meets at the Jersey City Armory. Unpressed on a slow track, you know these stars – Baker a World Youth medalist and many-time national champ, and McLaughlin a stunning US#1 300 from last month – are going to be forces at NBNI in March.
- Finally, the versatile Maddy Berkson (Classical, Providence, RI senior) added another impressive win to her resume: a US#1 1:32.96 at the NB Games – basically matching her PR from last winter, when she would go on to 2nd in the NBNI 800.
BOYS and GIRLS HURDLES
- The prep hurdles action was hottest over the girls’ 55 barriers, where the number under 8:10 tripled from two to six and Jacklyn Howell (Southeast Raleigh, NC senior) moved into a tie for the national lead with Chantel Ray. Howell blasted a 7.97 PR at the Oliver meet, winning a quality race over Anna Cockrell (Providence Day, Charlotte soph) US#4 8.04 PR. Cockrell was 4th in the NBNI Emerging Elite 60H as an 8th-grader in 2012, then false-started in her semi of the seeded 60H last year. She just started racing last week for the winter. Also, Ashley Wiggins (New Rochelle, NY senior) ripped an 8.03 to dominate the NB Games.
- Over 60H, national leader Dior Hall ran her 4th sub-8.50 of the year, but the most notable performance came from Ciara Leonard (Cheltenham, PA senior) – who lowered her PR from 8.75 to a US#3 8.57 in winning the Kevin Dare meet. The best boys’ 60H marks of the week were 8.08 by Step UR Game’s Connor Bracken (Lake Oswego, OR senior) in the prelim of the NB Boise race he eventually won, and 8.09 by Steele Wasik (St. Edward, Lakewood, OH senior) – the star multi-eventer who continues to sharpen for the NBNI pentathlon. In boys’ 55H action, Jay Hebert (Ticonderoga, NY senior) – a 7.31 performer in 2013 who was 8th in the NBNI 60H – lowered his season best to 7.45 in taking the NB Games, and Jordan Samuels (Boston College HS, MA senior) improved to a US#6 7.50 at the MSTCA Elite meet.
- Beyond the races at NB Boise, the best distance mark of the weekend was a 1:52.90 800 by Ricky Faure (Rock Springs, WY senior) at the Utah Distance Challenge – though it did come on the huge, oversized 442-meter Olympic Ice Oval (Kearns). On the regulation oval at the Dare meet, Joe Logue (Pennridge, Perkasie, PA senior) won a great battle over William Cather (State College, PA senior), 1:53.67 to 1:54.05 – the country’s next best times. Logue nipped the PR he ran last year before NBNI (where he was 4th in Section 2), while Cather crushed his previous best by more than two seconds.
- Moving up to a kilometer, the prolific Gabe Montague (Newton North, MA senior) ran an impressive mid-week US#2 2:28.70 in a Bay State (Mass.) conference meet at the Reg. Coming back at the MSTCA Elite meet three days later, he won the mile with his 3rd sub-4:20 of the winter (4:18.60), but was beaten in the deuce by a surprising US#4 9:11.77 PR effort by Paul Hogan (Burlington, MA senior). The MSTCA Elite kilo, by the way, went to Everest Crawford (Gloucester, MA junior) who stunned out of a slower section with a US#5 2:29.53.
- Two other notable distance performances were the 9:16.04 and 9:16.06 turned in by Christian Brothers Academy (CBA, Lincroft, NJ) teammates Blaise Ferro (soph) and Tom Rooney (senior) to go 1-2 in the Shore Conference NJ meet (Bennett Complex, Toms River) 3,200. The US#1 in the mile remains Austen Dalquist (Keller, TX senior), who clocked 4:12.46 at Arkansas. Despite some big races on tap last weekend, such as the NB Games mile, there were no revisions in the top 10 besides Elijah Armstrong (see above). Louis Colson (Edison, Alexandria, VA senior), by the way, won that NB Games race in 4:18.49.
- New leaders emerged in the longest races last weekend, as Hannah Debalsi (Staples, Westport, CT soph) won the FCIAC Western Division champs 3,200 on the little 160m Staples track in a state record 10:26.76, and Abby McNulty (Bishop Feehan, Attleboro, MA senior) took the MSTCA Elite 2M in 10:38.38. For Debalsi, it’s about 30 seconds faster than she was running this time in 2013, when she’d go on to hit 10:39 for the deuce at NBNI, then 10:10.26 for 3200 (New England champ) and 10:16.20 for 2M (3rd NBNO) outdoors, and finally to get 2nd at Foot Locker Finals. She’d certainly have a good chance to win either the 2M or 5,000 at NBNI.
- At that FCIAC meet, Debalsi beat 3k US#1 and rival Claire Howlett (Westhill, Stamford, CT senior) – though Howlett also won the 1,000 there in 2:59.32. Speaking of the 1,000 and the previously mentioned MSTCA meet, Karina Shepard (Dracut, MA senior) improved her PR to a US#3 2:51.27 – the best on a regulation track by anyone not named Mary Cain and finishing ahead of a PR US#3 2:54.40 by Maya Halprin-Adams (Cambridge Rindge and Latin, MA junior). Shepard, with her 2:10.68 from the Hispanic Games, also trails only Cain on the 800 list – a list that welcomed as its top new entry last week a 2:12.98 PR by Veronica Lyle (Hewitt-Trussville, AL) at the Crossplex Last Chance.
- Another good long distance battle came at the Oliver meet 3,200, where Malia Ellington (Davidson, NC junior) outran Ryen Frazier (Ravenscroft, Raleigh, NC junior), 10:38.74 to 10:40.64, ranking US#4-5 when 3,200 and 2M times are converted. Previous leader Caroline Alcorta (West Springfield, VA senior) had a 10:39.54 3,200 in her conference meet – but that came after a 4:52.08 1,600 that is 2nd only to Cain on the 1,600/mile list. The week’s best 3k effort was a solo US#3 9:45.77 by Foot Locker champ Tessa Barrett (Arlington Heights, Clarks Summit, PA senior).
- Seven-foot high jumpers were few and far-between indoors last winter, with only Logan Brittain clearing that barrier before NBNI (in mid-February). There were none in January of 2013, but this year there are three so far. Robert Atwater (Lincoln Park, MI senior), with his 7-0 at the MITS meet at Michigan State last week, joined previous high flyers Steven Dunbar (7-1 at a VA conference meet on 1/9) and Ty Anderson (7-0 at the Carl Lewis Invite 1/18). Eight, in fact, have now done 6-10 or better.
- Ahead of above-mentioned Project TJ’ers Ward and Bates in the Boise long jump was Step UR Game’s Harrison Schrage – a soph from Grant, OR who bears some serious watching. As a frosh last spring/summer, he won the Oregon 6A title and was 2nd at the USATF JOs (15-16s). Saturday, he had a US#4 23-6.75. With Marquis Barnes’ (Carrollton, GA senior) 23-footer at Clemson, there are now nine 23-footers for the season.
- In the TJ, no one else joined the 5-man, 48-foot club last weekend besides KeAndre Bates. Next best effort: A monster US#6 PR 47-11.5 by Jared Lovelace (Archbishop Molloy, Jamaica NY junior) at his CHSAA section meet at The Armory Sunday. And in the PV, the action was relatively tame after the flood of excellence from Reno the week before; there were no new additions to the 13-man, 16-foot club.
- The biggest story in the horizontal jumps was the above-mentioned long jump explosion by Orji in New York. In Boise, in addition to the Project TJ excellence, there was – as was the case with the boys – a great performance at the top of the LJ. While Speed Denver’s US#2 Chyna Ries (Denver East, CO senior) couldn’t quite beat her PR, she extended her supreme consistency this winter – the 19-11.5 winner was her 3rd meet over 19-10 already. A 19-5 effort was part of a fine triple (also 7.03 55/25.09 200) by US#3 (19-11 PR) Kate Hall (Lake Region, Naples, ME senior) in a multi-team meet in Maine.
- In the other jumps, the action was relative tame. Only Boise winner Chinne Okoronkwo (see top of story) was over 39 feet in the TJ, and there were no new 13-foot pole vaulters or high jumps at 5-8 or better. In the PV, though, a good battle in Boise saw nice PRs at 12-5.5 for Laura Taylor (Tualatin, OR senior) and Makayla Linebarger (Sparks, NV frosh). For Linebarger, the vault improved her best from the USATF Youth mark of 12-3.75 she set last summer and moved her within an inch and a half of the frosh class HSR of 12-7 that has stood since 1999. However, Carson Dingler (First Presbyterian Day, Macon, GA) is another 9th-grader chasing the mark with a seasonal best of 12-6 so far.
BOYS and GIRLS THROWS
- The last time 52-footer and World Youth bronze medalist Ashlie Blake (Liberty, Las Vegas, NV senior) competed indoors was at Simplot when she was a freshman at Centennial. She’s come a long way since then and when she opened 2014 at Boise, she hit a US#2 48-8.25. Not bad for a girl that often peaks well into the summer. Fans eagerly awaited new HSR-holder Raven Saunders’ (Burke, Charleston, SC senior) first meet after her 53-8.25 at the JDL: The Clemson Youth meet in SC. She won, but had to settle with a 46-3.25 – the second best meet of her career, but seven feet off her best.
- More consistent was US#3 Lena Giger (Highland, IL senior), the other World Youth finalist putter for Team USA last summer, who had her 2nd 48-footer of the winter at the second Big River series meet at U. of Missouri (48-2.75). In the boys’ shot, Kord Ferguson (Ottawa, KS senior) became the 7th 60-footer (and 61-footer) of the winter with his 61-0 at the Jayhawk Open at KU. Meanwhile, at the Rock N’ Roll Throwoff in Lancaster, NY, US#3 Devon Patterson (Williamsville South, NY senior) improved his best to 62-7.5.
- In the weight, US#1 Throw 1 Deep’s Daniel Haugh (St. Pius X, Atlanta, GA senior) and Adam Kelly (Barrington, RI junior) continued to win on their way to a hoped-for eventual showdown, neither improving their bests, but winning at Rock N’ Roll (72-9) and Metro Division RI champs (75-4.5), respectively. At the latter, Thomas Olusegun Vadis (Classical, Providence RI senior) rose to US#5 with a 67-11.75 in 2nd. Two Throw 1 Deep girls won major weight throws last weekend, too, with outdoor leader Nyla Woods (Grady, Atlanta, GA senior) taking the RNR at US#8 51-2.5 and US#1 indoors Kelli Thomas (Luella, Locust Grove, GA senior) winning at Clemson with 56-1.75.
- Not surprisingly, many of the week’s best relay marks came at the NB Games, with the best of those being a blistering 3:28.48 by Warwick Valley, NY. The school brought back all four of the athletes who took 2nd in the NBNO SMR last June (3:27.11) and they now have the national lead by almost five seconds. Six teams broke 3:37 in the race, including Mt. Vernon, NY US#3 3:33.73 in 2nd and Boys & Girls NY US#5 3:34.30 in 3rd. The distance medley wasn’t quite as strong, but Arlington, NY beat national leader Collegiate, NY by eight seconds with a US#5 10:21.48.
- In the 4x2 and 4x4, Cheltenham, PA continued to show it will be a national championship force with a NB Games sweep. They were already US#2 in the 4x200, but improved to 1:28.87, just .16 behind defending NBNI champ Union Catholic, NJ on the list. In the longer race, though, they hadn’t unleashed a serious, big-meet effort until last Saturday – and they hit US#2 with a 3:21.22, as well. In the 4x2, the PA rival Delaware Valley Charter was close behind at US#3 1:29.19.
- In the 4x800, the previous week saw the season’s first four sub-8:00 efforts at the Millrose Trials meet; last weekend, three more joined them. State College PA won the Kevin Dare meet with a US#3 7:57.49, while the NB Games saw Cardinal O’Hara, PA outrun Warwick Valley, 7:58.76 to 7:59.95.
- New Rochelle, NY, with a roster than includes 300 US#1 Symone Darius and 55H US#3 Ashley Wiggins, continued to look like the season’s speed queens by becoming the first under 1:40 for the 4x200 in 2013-14 at the NB Games – clocking 1:39.49. Fifth at NBNI last winter, they have been the dominant 4x2 crew all winter with big wins at Bishop Loughlin and the Hispanic Games. Medgar Evers, NY and Uniondale, NY were a strong 2-3 with US#4 1:41.72 and #6 1:42.17. A great battle at Kevin Dare, with Cheltenham US#2 1:41.56 nipping Elizabeth Seton, MD US#3 1:41.60, brought the number of sub-1:42s this winter to five.
- The other new national leader last weekend came in the sprint med, where the NB Games also had an outstanding girls champ: Garden City, NY – the nation’s #2 team in the 4x8 last winter – took it with a US#1 4:07.78. In the 4x400, everyone’s chasing Columbia, NJ after their 3:48.06 at the Millrose Trials. Cary, NC was the top mover this week, improving to a US#5 3:56.71 at the David Oliver meet. The 4x800 saw three teams go under 9:30 at the NB Games, led by a US#2 9:21.71 from Benjamin Cardozo, NY.