NSAF On-Site: Virginia Tech Invitational Preview

by Steve Underwood

The great Virginia Tech Invite, arguably one of the two biggest and best prep indoor multi-state invites in the Southeast, traditionally draws strongly from Virginia (despite in-state, same-day competition), bordering states like Maryland and North Carolina, and numerous others.  All come together in Meet Director Dan Ward’s showcase each year at Rector Field House in Blacksburg, where the fast, banked track has produced many fast times, national leaders and even national records – like the 36.96 300 we saw then-Hampton VA senior Francena McCorory (a 2012 Olympian) back in 2006.

This year, however, the winter storm that hit the Southeast earlier this week will affect all meets across the region, including Tech’s.  While there has been no change in schedule, Brandon Miles reported at MileStat.com that another Virginia meet – the Atlantic Coast Invite – was condensing to a 1-day meet due to travel concerns (possible school closings continuing Friday).  It is definitely an issue whether many school systems in the Tidewater area of Virginia, as well as North Carolina, will be open Friday and whether teams can travel to competition.  Schools coming from other parts of Virginia, as well as Maryland, are not likely to be affected.

In any case, here are NINE of the top storylines, with details on possible absentees, and notes on other events:

Another Alcorta showcase
  • Since she started her fall XC campaign with a smoking 16:58 at the Monroe Parker Invite at famed Burke Lake, it seems like Caroline Alcorta (West Springfield, VA senior) has put on a show at almost every major meet she’s contested – setting records, winning by huge margins or both.  Her only loss was at Foot Locker Finals (3rd).  The excellence has continued this winter, even if the “major” meet appearances have basically been limited to the way-out-of-state Yale Invite.  Ironically, that was her only loss (3k to Claire Howlett), but she has run US#1 times at 3200 (10:32.4, since eclipsed) and 4:52.08 for 1,600 (Mary Cain ran better mile equiv. following week).
  • At Tech, Alcorta will lead her top-seeded and defending champ West Springfield squad in Friday’s girls' 4x800, where they will have a US#3 9:23.4h to their credit and a great chance to win and perhaps take over US#1.  Saturday, she will be the fave in the mile – the first “full” mile she’s run this winter.  Defending champ Katie Fortner (Cave Spring, Roanoke VA senior) will have to regain her form of a year ago to beat Alcorta, but has just started her season with a 2:59 1k last week.  At least three others could be sub-5, but Alcorta will be tough to beat.
Williams, Lyles emerge
  • Mustaqeem Williams (Forest Park VA senior) and Noah Lyles (T.C. Williams, VA soph) have had their share of huge marks this winter, but have also kept a relatively low profile.  You haven’t seen them at major meets, week in and week out.  Maybe it’s because they both know what it’s like to try and compete deep into the summer: Williams ran his best in 2013 at the USATF JOs (and also has football-related stuff to deal with) while Lyles repped Team USA at the World Youth Champs – both were in July.
  • Williams still has the US#1 long jump – a 24-6 the only time he contested it in December – and his 6.34 55 dates back then, too.  Lyles seasonal bests are still the 6.40 55 and 34.24 300 he ran back at the =PR= Holiday meet in December (though he had a 6.41 at Montgomery).  Saturday they will clash in what should be one of the weekend’s best races: the boys 300.  Interestingly, Williams’ only loss in any event was in a 300 – Grassfield VA soph Grant Holloway beat him at the Southeastern Invite.  There are a handful of other sub-35 runners in the race, too, including Jamaree Murray (Southeast Raleigh, NC senior), if he can get there.
Haraway, DeMatha look to clean up
  • Traditional power DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD) has excelled in this meet many times and this year, with powerful sprinter Darryl Haraway and good sprint relay crews, they should be looking good again.  As good as Haraway ran last weekend with that US#4 6.82 60/US#1 21.65 200 double at Kevin Dare, however, he’s no slam dunk in the 55 here.  His best still stands at 6.40 in the slightly shorter race and Marcus Taylor (Highland Springs, VA junior) is coming off a new PR 6.36 to pace the entries. 
  • Haraway is also a key cog in the 4x200, where DeMatha has a US#4 1:29.49 from its Ice Breaker win in Alabama, leading the field there.  There’s other schools to be wary of, though, including Forest Park with Williams and Ricky Morgan – with a flat-track 1:31.49 best this year and really not having shown their best yet.  DeMatha also has the best current mark in the 4x400, a US#8 3:22.84 from the Dare meet (no Haraway).  They’re defending champs, too ... but again, they should be tested more deeply than the current lists indicate.  Hopefully, Southeast Raleigh in particular (3:22.88 seasonal best) will get here to challenge them.
Collins’ double bid
  • Shania Collins (Huntingtown, MD senior) is one of the nation’s girls’ sprint revelations this winter, going for 7.27 for 55 and 41.05 for 300 to US#2 6.95 and #3 39.12 this winter.  She is the favorite in both events based on 2014 times and her task only gets easier if certain competitors are missing due to travel issues – such as defending champ Carolyn Brown (Phoebus, VA junior), who has run 7.00 this winter.  In the 300, Collins will have to watch for Maryland rivals Simone Glenn (Bullis, Potomac MD senior) and Toni Brown (Milford Mill MD senior).  Collins beat them both at the Montgomery Invite, the flat track where she run her PR.  But both are dangerous, with Glenn coming off a fast 200 runner-up finish at the Kevin Dare PA meet (24.46 on banked track).
A 500 with potential
  • If all the key players are hitting on all cylinders, the boys’ 500 could be pretty special here.  US#1 Marcelle Preston (Largo, Upper Marlboro, MD senior) will be in the house, currently at 1:04.83 (flat track) after 3rd here last year at 1:06.11.  Ricky Morgan (Forest Park, Woodbridge VA senior) has run 1:06.18 this year.  But in 2013 he had a 1:04.30 best.  Eric Ways (Woodberry Forest, VA senior) has a 1:05.81 from last year and nothing this year.  But at the Kevin Dare last weekend, he beat Morgan in a 400, 48.82 to 48.97.  Ergo, you COULD have three guys at 1:04 or better, and the best 500 in the country this year – if everyone’s on.
Shot showdown
  • The best field event battle in the meet, boys or girls, should be in the boys’ shot put.  Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, MD junior) Rashad Manning has a new US#5 61-4.75 best and Matthew Zajac (E.C. Glass, Lynchburg, VA senior) has recently rocketed up to US#10 59-9.5 himself.  Not much else to say about this one, except both are on sharp improvement curves, are the best in their respective states and that Manning is the top junior in the country right now.
Blacksburg depth
  • We already mentioned that Friday night could see a national leader in the girls’ 4x800 (West Springfield, VA), but it could also see the same in the boys’ 4x800 with Blacksburg VACoach James DeMarco has put together his guys for this event just once this winter, with an 8:08.47 a month ago.  If everyone is healthy, his guys have the talent to drop at least a 7:55 – led by versatile Kenneth Hagen (Saturday’s mile co-favorite, see below).  Blacksburg also done well in the Virginia Tech 4x8 on numerous occasions so don’t be surprised if Friday is one of them.
Questionable girls’ short relays
  • The girls’ 4x200 and 4x400, looking to have been very strong, may take a hit from the weather if North Carolina teams can’t travel.  In the shorter race, US#5 Parkland NC – with a 1:41.80 on a flat track – would have been the favorite with defending champs Wakefield (revving up with athletes returning from injury) a key team to watch.  Now Maryland teams might clean up, like Simone Glenn’s Bullis squad – with Riverdale Baptist and Toni Brown’s Milford Mill giving chase.  Same thing in the 4x400, where Parkland has a US#2 3:54.59 and Wakefield is defending champ at 3:50.62.  Perhaps instead, it will be the Maryland squads and Dunbar, DC.
Sub-8s in 55H
  • The girls 55H should have been one of the highlights of the meet, with 7.97-second co-national leaders Chantel Ray (Hampton, VA senior) and Jacklyn Howell (Southeast Raleigh, NC senior) potentially clashing.  But both are listed on performance lists of other meets and both, in any case, may not be able to travel to Blacksburg.  Ditto for defending champ Breanne Bygrave (Wakefield, NC soph), who just got her season going last weekend at the David Oliver meet and is not in top form.  With none of those in the race, it will be hard to handicap.
More Notes

GIRLS RUNNING:  The 500 will be a test to see who can regain their 2013 form.  Kendell Wiles (Blacksburg VA senior) was 3rd in a very fast race last year at 1:14.40, but has only run 1:19.09 this year.  London Freeland (Dunbar, DC senior) was 2nd in the World Youth Trials 400H last spring and ran 1:15.53 last year.  To date, her best is 1:16.43 (on a flat track) ... Ellison Grove (Battlefield, Haymarket VA senior) is the clear 1k favorite, with her December 2:56.13 still holding up at US#4.  It will be interesting to see if some newbies to the event, like 4:57 1,600 runner Clare Severe (Walt Whitman, Bethesda, MD soph), can put together sub-3:00s ... A large handful of girls are in the 11:00-11:10 range in the 3,200; Erin Saunders (Jefferson Forest, VA junior) just ran 11:00.55 for 3,200 last weekend and Emily Mulhern (Urbana, Ijamsville, MD junior) has an 11:02.13 full 2M from last winter’s NBNI Emerging Elite race.

GIRLS FIELD:   The pole vault should be a good battle between Virginia’s finest – Hannah Meador (Fluvanna County, Palmyra, senior) at 12-3 – and Maryland’s best: Jackie McNulty (Oakdale, Ijamsville, junior).  Meador was the top non-senior last year here in 4th while McNulty was 7th as her now-graduated teammate Emma King set the meet record at 12-6 ... The high jump field includes defending champ Brianna Hayes (Matoaca, Chesterfield, VA senior), who had a 5-10 PR last winter, but has not surpassed 5-4 this season.  So the favorite’s role falls to Nicie Grier-Spratley (Edison, Alexandria, VA junior), who three weeks ago got over 5-8 for the first time ... There could be half a dozen 18-footers in the long jumpTaylor Woods (Riverdale Baptist MD soph) is the current best at 18-5.5 ... Javonne Antoine (Elizabeth Seton, Bladensburg MD senior), one of the nation’s four 40-foot TJ’ers so far this winter and has two feet on the field.  She was 2nd for Team NSAF at the Caribbean Scholastic last June ... In the shot, Claudia Ababio (Clarksburg, senior) has been ruling Maryland this winter with a 43-5.5 best.  Galissa Cause (Battlefield, VA senior), who is at 41-9.5 this winter but threw 44-4.75 last summer, could give her a good fight.

BOYS RUNNING:  Derek Holdsworth (Lafayette, Williamsburg, VA senior) ran a stunning 2:29.62 1k in December, but has done almost nothing to back it up since.  The top of that field for that race is otherwise filled with 2:32-2:36 performers, so whether it goes really fast is probably up to him ... The mile is a tight group of 4:15-20 types.  The guys who look the most ready are probably Matthew Novak (Deep Run, Glen Allen, VA junior) who ran 4:18.90 to win the St. Christopher’s 1,600 last weekend, and Kenneth Hagen (Blacksburg, VA senior) whose 4:19.90 1,600 won the Liberty Flames meet two weeks earlier.  Hagen has shown great range, with a 1:05.77 500 to his credit, too, as he tripled the 500, 1k and 1,600 at Liberty.  Watch for Ryan Thomas (Albemarle, Charlottesville, VA senior), however. Though he’s run just 4:25 for 1,600 so far this winter, he has a 4:13 outdoor mile PR from his soph year in 2012, was the 2013 champ here in the 1,000, and has recently run 2:32 in the 1k.

In the 3,200, the guys to beat should be Jason Menzies (Lafayette, Wiliamsburg, VA senior, with a 9:16 best from last spring, and Chase Weaverling (Poolesville, MD senior), who hit 8:36.97 in the Penn 3k last spring ... Charles Graham (Phoebus, Hampton, VA senior) with a US#3 7.38 best is the top 55H runner in the entries, but he not only might have travel issues but he’s also listed in another meet’s entries.  So your favorites might be Maryland hurdlers Devon Hairston (JFK, Silver Springs MD senior) with a 7.50 best and Kordell Williams (DeMatha senior) at 7.59.

BOYS FIELD:   The high jump should be good, with at least four guys with 6-7 or better talent.  John Seals (West Springfield VA senior) has soared a US#5 6-10 this winter and has been consistent.  6-8 jumpers John Hightower (Riverdale Baptist, Upper Marlboro, MD senior) and Cameron Holden (Liberty Christian, Lynchburg, VA senior) follow ... Joseph Seo (Woodberry Forest, VA senior) with a fresh PR of 15-4 is the dominant (only 15-footer) entry in the pole vault ... With Mustaqeem Williams only running the 300 and skipping the long jump – where he is US#1 – the latter event will likely be a battle between Virginia’s #2-3-4 jumpers (assuming they can travel): Requan Harley (E.C. Glass, Lynchburg, senior) at 22-9, Holden at 22-6.25 and Darius Banks (Denbigh, Newport News, senior) at 22-6 – with Banks actually having a 22-9 PR from back in 2012 ... Marcellus Fletcher (William Byrd, Vinton, VA junior), with a fresh indoor PR of 47-4.25, leads a group of four with 46-foot talent or better in the triple jump.  Fletcher actually went 48-4.25 last spring, too.  Noah Tyson (Asheville, NC junior) with a 46-7.5 best from last spring, is probably the most likely challenger.

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