At the end of 2014, the NSAF presented 10-deep rankings in each boys and girls track and field event for the 2014 season. For 2015, we've expanded our recap of 2015 to include an overall Athlete of the Year for each gender, an overall top 15 athletes (plus honorable mention) and will also follow with the top 10 rankings as we did in 2014. The series starts today with the Boys Athlete of the Year, Noah Lyles, plus the rest of the top 15 and honorable mention.
NSAF BOYS TRACK AND FIELD ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Noah Lyles, T.C. Williams HS, VA, 2016
When making a case for Noah Lyles as the 2015 Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year, you could cite the entirety of his very successful indoor and outdoor seasons, from December through August ... or you could narrow it down to those successive weekends the second half of June, when he authored those blazing 100s and 200s at NBNO and USATF Juniors.
But if you really want to get down to it, it was the sizzling 20.18 seconds of racing in the Junior 200-meter final, with pre-meet national leader Michael Norman pushing him every step of the way, that was the definitive statement for the T.C. Williams (Alexandria, Va.) junior. Norman was the consensus choice for AOY before the meet, coming in unbeaten and also sporting the US#1 in the 400 at 45.19. But Lyles, with his 20.18-20.24 victory over the Californian, completed his second straight super-high quality sprint double and turned the tables.
At NBNO in Greensboro the previous weekend, Lyles had found himself the favorite in the 100 final after then-national leader Ryan Clark false-started in the semis, and he proceeded to blast a then-PR 10.21(+1.4w) – a rather stunning 0.17 faster than his previous best. Then in the 200 final, he was challenged to the wire by Clark, but Lyles prevailed again with a 20.54 into a 1.0 headwind.
In Eugene, Lyles first took another big step in the century, with his 10.14(+2.0) taking the national lead and moving him to #5 all-time – not to mention beating Clark and collegian Christian Coleman, among others. Then in the 200, Lyles’ victory advanced him even higher on the all-time list – #3 – beating Norman and, again, Clark.
One of the biggest motivators for the fantastic performances in those two meets may have been what happened the weekend before NBNO, when Noah and his brother, Josephus, represented Team NSAF for the Caribbean Scholastic Invite – held for the historic first time in Cuba. As well as Noah would run there – PRs of 10.38 and 20.45 in the 100 and 200 – both races resulted in tough losses, with Clark ripping a then-US#1 10.18 in the century and Cuba's Reynier Mena nipping him by .03 in the furlong.
“After coming back from Cuba, I was happy that I got a new personal best in the 100 and the 200, but I was more hungry to run again than anything,” Noah remembers now. “That was my first loss of the season, and in the 100 I wasn’t even close (.20 behind). I truthfully couldn’t remember the time I had seen a gap like that in the 100. When I got back, all I could think about was running faster than the last time.”
And so he did. It’s also kind of noteworthy that until CSI (June 13), there was really nothing significant on Lyles’ outdoor resume that would have marked him for AOY consideration. Of course, his indoor season (see below) had been spectacular … and there was also the Penn Relays in late April. There, he and younger brother Josephus split 45.60 and 45.71 on their 3:12.17 qualifying race (a U.S. leader for much of the year), and 45.4 and 46.22 in the final (4th, 3:13.97).
But no really big individual outdoor marks until mid-June. Not surprisingly, though, that was by design. “As the outdoor season started, we had a meeting with the coaches and told them the goals and what teams we wanted to make,” said Noah. “When we told them the goals, we all decided that running at small track meets and staying under the radar would be the best way to make sure we didn’t exhaust our bodies from running too much. I think that my mom and coaches did a great job of this. That is the biggest reason I think we were able to run so fast this year.”
Of course you notice that Noah says “we,” always speaking of both he and Josephus (ranked #11 on this list). They are just over a year apart, age-wise, but both are seniors now this year and planning to announce their college choices and sign (either Florida or Texas A&M) on November 11. This past season, Josephus defended his NBNO 400 title while Noah was winning the 100/200 double. Then, instead of accompanying Noah to USA Juniors, he attempted to make his 2nd Team USA at the World Youth Trials, winning the 400 and getting 2nd in the 200. In the World Youth Champs, Josephus won 400 silver (US#2 45.46), then 200 bronze (US#4 20.74).
They rarely race each other in major events, but when you see the results of some of their lower key indoor meets in Virginia, for example, and notice their finishing .01 apart in a few races, you see how close their talent level really is. Josephus was injured for much of the early part of 2014, but by June he came into his own and won his first NBNO 400. Then while Noah was prepping for the Youth Olympics, Josephus became one of the youngest preps to qualify for Team USA for World Juniors and won 4x400 gold.
The two obviously push each other in training, but Noah notes other ways his brother helps him. “He is always pushing me to think bigger … whenever I think of a goal that’s too low or I don’t think I can do it, he always tells me to think bigger.”
In tracing Noah’s path to the top, you need to go back to at least 2013, his freshman year, when he finished 3rd in the World Youth Trials 200 and made the team for the WY Championships in Donetsk. Pressed into duty after Kenzo Cotton was injured, Noah made it to the semis in the WY 200, with a then-200 PR of 21.28 along the way, then earned a silver medal on the medley relay.
The development continued in 2014, with an outstanding indoor season that culminated in a soph class record 21.50 for 3rd in the NBNI 200. A month later, he won the Youth Olympic Trials 200 with his first sub-21 – 20.89 – and eventually was named to his 2nd Team USA. At NBNO, Noah (and many others) were in the shadow of senior Trentavis Friday's stellar sprinting, but when Noah’s opportunity came at the Youth Olympics in late August, he shone brighter than ever before with a 20.71 for the gold.
All of that set up 2015. Noah first excelled all winter long from the 55m to the 300m and, in a thrilling pair of duels at NBNI, was 2nd by .01 to Ryan Clark in the 60, then beat him by .02 in the 200. Noah became #2 all-time in the latter with his 20.83, faster than Friday had run indoors the previous year.
As for wrapping up this year’s AOY outdoor campaign, Noah’s USA Junior double earned him his THIRD Team USA berth. The Pan American Juniors in Edmonton was icing on the cake, even if it included a tough split decision vs. his new rival, Mena. He was first beaten by the Cuban star by .01 in the 100, despite a near-PR 10.18 (and after a windy 10.07 all-conditions PR prelim). But then Noah claimed his 2nd international title in the 200, this time beating Mena with a 20.27, also his 2nd-best mark of the year.
One can only wonder what high school, U.S. Junior or even World Junior records might be in the offing in 2015 for Noah … and/or Josephus. But before all that (and the college decision Nov. 11), there’s people to thank.
“I am very happy to have all the support that I have,” Noah said. “My coaches (T.C. Williams head coach Mike Hughes and sprint coach Rashawn Jackson) are always there to help … They are a great part of the team and have me and Josephus’s best interest at heart. My chiropractor and personal trainer are also great contributors to the team. They get our bodies in shape and fix them when we break them. But the best part is that everyone knows when to take a break, and is looking towards the future, and not just what we can do in the moment.”
2. Michael Norman, Vista Murrieta, CA, 2016, Sprints
The above-mentioned USA Jr 200 loss to Lyles should hardly be considered a blemish in Norman's season; after all, he broke his PR with a 20.24, which pushed him up to =#5 all-time. He had previously been unbeaten in finals, including the epic 20.30 200/45.19 400 double at the California state meet. That 400 was his 3rd sub-46 of the season and good for =#6 all-time. His victories also included the Arcadia and Brooks PR 400s and, in a rare foray into the 100, he even won the big adidas race in 10.36. Norman passed on the Pan Am Juniors.
3. Andrew Hunter, Loudoun Valley, VA, 2016, Distances
As outstanding as Hunter has been the past few years – including his 2015 triumphs in the NBNI 2M (US#1 8:48.22, #6 all-time), the Penn Relays mile (4:07.15) and runner-up finish (4:02.36) to Grant Fisher in the adidas Mile – he reached a new level in his final 2 meets. First, there was a US#1 8:42.51-8:43.57 2M win over Fisher at Brooks, a landmark performance that propelled him to #6 all-time. Then a week later, he sprinted to a runner-up finish in the USATF Jr 1,500, again beating Fisher and losing only to collegian Blake Haney. Hunter, too, passed on the Pan Am Juniors.
4. Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc, MI, 2015, Distances
As was the case with #2 Norman, Fisher had two late-season losses (as mentioned, to Hunter) that hardly should be seen as diminishing his star power. The 8:43.57 (#7 all-time) vs. Hunter at Brooks was an 8-second PR and the USA 1,500 was very close – it's just that Fisher had been unbeatable for so long. His 2015 successes included prep history's 7th sub-4:00 mile – a 3:59.38 (=#3 all-time) in St. Louis – the adidas Mile (4:01.73) over Hunter and a great field, a 3:42.89 1,500 (#5 all-time) at Stanford (where he now goes to school), an epic 4:00.28 1,600/8:53.41 3,200 same-afternoon double at state and the NBNI mile (4:03.54, despite a major stumble).
5. Paulo Benavides, El Paso Franklin HS, TX, 2015, Pole Vault
Speaking of the difficulty of staying unbeaten against great competition, top-level consistency is very tough in the pole vault. But Benevides was at his best when it mattered most, winning NBNO with 17-5, taking 2nd at USATF Juniors at a US#1 17-10.5 (1st prep/=#9 all-time) and winning Pan Am Jrs at 17-8.5. Those more than made up for losses at Great Southwest, Texas Relays and TX Meet of Champs. He had a very impressive 13 meets over 17 feet outdoors ... AND this came after he set a 17-11 HSR indoors, then was 2nd to previous record-setter Deakin Volz’s new 17-11.25 mark at NBNO.
6. Norman Grimes, Canyon HS, TX, 2016, Hurdles/Sprints
Grimes had never run a 400H race before mid-June, when he dug deep for a 50.80 triumph at the Cuba CSI meet (though he was already US#1 at 300H with his 36.10 Texas Relays winner). But his amazing summer had just begun: He was a strong 3rd at NBNO behind Raj Benjamin, then proceeded to make Team USA for both World Youths and Pan Am Jrs. The peak came in Cali, an overpowering 49.11 triumph (33") that came within .10 of the World Youth record ... and the encore was a US#2 50.10 (36"/#13 all-time) victory in Edmonton over collegian Kenny Selmon and Jamaican Marvin Williams.
7. Donovan Brazier, Kenowa Hills HS, MI, 2015, 800m
Brazier, the 2014 NBNO 800 champ, declined a title defense opportunity but went to the Brooks meet and powered to a US#1 1:47.55, crushing a good field moving to #4 all-time. Unfortunately, his attempt at Juniors to make his first Team USA ended with a DQ in a congested qualifying-round finish. Still, Brazier broke 1:49 three other times, including a 1:48.07 at his regional meet, and showed 47.96 400/4:07.15 1,600 range. He’s now a frosh at Texas A&M.
8. Matt Katnik, St. John’s Bosco HS, CA, 2015, Shot Put/Discus
Sorting out the shot putters was hard, given excellence displayed by different athletes with Junior, HS and Youth implements in different meets. But Katnik’s long, dominant spring with the 12-lb. ball puts him highest on this list. Now a USC frosh, Katnik came into 2015 as a 65-footer, but concluded the campaign with six meets at 70-11.5 or better, topped out by a US#1 72-3 (#10 all-time) and a 72-0 state title win. His major victories included Arcadia and Mt. SAC. The only disappointment came at USA Juniors, where he was 4th with the heavier 6k ball at 65-11.75 – 2nd prep behind Willie Morrison.
9. Carlton Orange, Memphis U. HS, TN, 2015, 800m
Orange’s season was sort of the flipside of Brazier’s in the 800. He was a consistent 1:50-51 performer all spring, with some strong big-meet performances, but he took a distant 2nd (1:50.74) behind Brazier at Brooks. But in the USA Junior 800 final, he finally had the breakthrough predicted for him for years with a victorious, jaw-dropping US#2 1:47.67 (#5 all-time). There was considerable curiosity as to whether he could do it again at Pan Am Juniors, but Orange came through with flying colors and a 1:48.06 triumph. He’s now an Arkansas frosh.
10. Rai Benjamin, Mt. Vernon HS, NY, 2015, 400H/Sprints
Though he shut it down after NBNO, Benjamin was “the man” at 400H through that point, highlighted by a sterling US#1 49.97 winner in Greensboro (#8 all-time) over a great field. He also had a Penn Relays runner-up finish and a 50.45 to his credit, and sprint bests of 10.66, 21.05 and 46.19 (2nd at CARIFTA). All of this followed a long, breathtaking indoor campaign that saw the current UCLA frosh nearly break the 300 HSR (US#1 33.17), and at NBNI win a crazy 400 final at 46.61 (US#1 46.59 in prelims) and then take 3rd (US#3 21.09) in a blazing 200 the same afternoon.
11. Josephus Lyles, T.C. Williams HS, VA, 2016, 200/400
Watching this younger of the Lyles, particularly in a few races where .01 separated he and Noah, informs you that Josephus has what it takes to top this Top 15 list himself. Although he has great range from 55- to 500-meters, Joe mostly stuck to the 400 and really started surging with a 46.60 CSI Cuba win. After bouncing back from illness, he defended his NBNI title with his first sub-46 (45.99), then qualified for the U.S. World Youth team in both the 200 and 400. In peak form in Cali, he took silver in the 400 (US#2 45.46/#15 all-time) and bronze in the 200 (US#4 20.74).
12. Matthew Maton, Summit HS, OR, 2015, Distances
Maton decided to forego competing for Summit HS, choosing to compete in college/open meets after a 4:03.23 mile in 2014. The heart of his season was compromised by injury, but his achievements before and after were considerable. In mid-April, he ran US#1 3:42.54 in the 1,500 (#3 all-time), then 3 weeks later became prep history’s 6th sub-4:00 miler at 3:59.38 (also #3 all-time, later equaled by Fisher). Post-injury, he moved up to the 5,000, winning a kicker’s race at USA Juniors, then PR’d at US#1 14:20.58 for the Pan Am Junior title. He stayed home for college, now at U of O.
13. Ryan Clark, Banneker HS, GA, 2015, Sprints
Few elites had more high-quality marks and a longer season (December to August) than Clark. A WYC 400 medalist in 2013, he revealed improved short sprint chops when he hit 6.25 for 55m in January and rode that to a NBNI 60m title (US#1 6.65) – and was just .02 short of making it a double in the 200 (20.85, #3 all-time). Outdoors, he held the U.S. 100 lead through his 10.18 win at CSI (=#8 all-time), then rode out some tough, close losses to Lyles and Norman at NBNO and USA Juniors. He wrapped it all up with a Pan Am Jr 200 bronze and is now a U. of Florida frosh.
14. Willie Morrison, Leavenworth HS, KS, 2015, Shot Put/Discus
Morrison – a 64-6.25 putter in 2014 – emerged as the nation’s best during the indoor campaign, going unbeaten, reaching 67-4, and winning NBNI at 66-5.25. Outdoors, the Californian Katnik eclipsed him on the list, but Morrison was again unbeaten and made it an NBN indoor/outdoor double with his first 70-footer – US#2 70-2.5 – in Greensboro. Then at USA Juniors, Morrison was 3rd, just missing Team USA for Pan Ams by ¾ of an inch. But he was the 1st prep, beat Katnik by almost 2 feet in their only meeting, and set an all-time prep best with the Junior 6kg (13.2 lbs.) shot at 67-9. He’s now a U. of Indiana freshman.
15. Adrian Piperi, The Woodlands HS, TX, 2017, Shot Put/Discus
If Piperi had ended his season at NBNO, it would have been an excellent soph campaign. He was unbeaten in Texas, winning 6A, and took 2nd in Greensboro behind Morrison with a US#4 66-10 shot put PR. But then came the World Youth Trials and a clutch 69-1.25 winner (smaller 5k kg Youth shot) on his final attempt for a Team USA berth. Galvanized, Piperi went to Cali and blew everyone’s mind (including his own) capturing gold with a pair of 72-2.25 throws, 2nd only to Ryan Crouser all-time U.S. with that implement. He was also good with the discus, getting 3rd at NBNO and 5th at World Youth.
- Honorable Mention briefs: The nation’s two best hammer throwers were teammates at Barrington (R.I.) HS. Junior Robert Colantonio hit 243-7 (#7 all-time) and won both USA Juniors and the Youth Trials, followed by 7th-place finishes at WYC and PAJ. He also had an earlier 256-6 with the Youth hammer (#2 all-time). Senior Adam Kelly, the 2-time NBNI weight champ, won NBNO, Chicagoland Throws (US#2 243-1, #8 all-time) and CSI, was 2nd at Juniors and 5th at PAJ … Michael Biddle (Williamsburg, PA sr) was US#2 at 213-10 with the best competitive record in the javelin, winning NBNO and the American JavFest … Soph Liam Christensen (Academic Magnet, SC) won the WY Trials (224-4, with lighter 700g Youth jav) and just missed the WY final, throwing further (238-2) than any U.S. Youth in meet history. He then was 2nd (209-5) to Biddle at JavFest … Carlos Davis (Blue Springs, MO sr) was the nation’s best discus thrower, reaching a US#1 214-4, winning Great Southwest and repeating at Chicagoland.
- Chad Zallow (JF Kennedy, OH sr) was very close to ranking much higher on this list; he was 2nd by .01 to Grant Holloway in the NBNI 60H (7.59, #3 all-time), won the NBNO 110H with a windy 13.19(+3.8, #5 all-time/all-conditions), ranked US#2 over 110H with his legal 13.48. Unfortunately a DQ at USA Juniors put an end to his season … Holloway had his ups and downs outdoors, ranking #1 in the long jump at 25-8.75 – part of a 6A state meet quadruple – but false-started the NBNO 110H and had nagging injury issues that hindered better post-season marks … Keshun Reed (Arlington Martin, TX jr) had a great season over 400, grabbing the U.S. lead with his 6A state title (45.75, US#3 by season’s end) and went on to win bronze at World Youths behind Josephus Lyles (plus relay gold).
- Armand Duplantis (Lafayette, LA fr) set and reset freshman class national pole vault records eight times during the year, finishing with a 17-4.5 to win the World Youth title – representing Sweden. Facing the nation’s best several times indoors and out, he won the Millrose Games and was in the top 3 at NBNO, Great Southwest, Texas Relays and the Reno Summit … Ja’Mari Ward (Cahokia, IL jr) swept the NBNI horizontals in spectacular fashion in March, with US#1 and Armory record marks of 25-7.25 and 51-7.75. His outdoor season was short-circuited by injury, but he achieved US#1 (51-11) and #2 (25-6.5) marks during the Illinois season … Jaron Brooks (Henry Clay, KY jr) won the NBNI (6-11.5) and NBNO (7-1.5) high jumps, as well as CSI (6-11.5). Darius Carbin (Mt. Pleasant) came on huge at season’s end to edge Brooks in the WY Trials (6-11), then take the bronze in Cali (7-1) while Brooks was 5th (7-0.25).
- Jack Jibb (Monroe-Woodbury, NY sr) was clearly the year’s best steepler with a pair of US#1s. He broke 9:00 with his 8:57.34 (#5 all-time) to win NY state over 3k, then ruled NBNO with a 5:50.71 (#7 all-time) over 2k … Mike Brannigan (Northport, NY sr) had some great distance achievements in 2015, winning the spectacular Loucks Games 3,200 (8:42.92, US#3 converted to 2M), taking 3rd in the Adidas mile (US#4 4:03.18), running 4:05.78 in the Pre mile and taking 2nd in the NBNI 5,000 … Cameron Haught (Yellow Springs, OH soph) dominated the walks, winning over 1M at NBNI and NBNO, taking 2nd over 10k at USA Juniors (1st prep) and topping the U.S. lists at every distance.
- Top decathlon returnee Travis Toliver (Episcopal, TX sr) was way off form at Arcadia in April, but razor sharp by late June in getting 2nd at USA Juniors behind collegian Harrison Williams with 7,440 – superior to any H.S. marks made during the year. He finished 2nd to Williams at Pan Am Jrs as well, with a solid 7,346 … George Patrick (Brentwood Acad., TN jr) had a fine 7,282 in his first Youth 10-eventer at the WY Trials, then improved to a spectacular 7,493 in Cali for 4th – just missing bronze.