Third in a 5-part series on top athletes coming to the 2016 NBNI.
Sydney McLaughlin – A memory-making career in progress
At some point we track and field fans are inevitably asked who the greatest athletes we ever saw in person were. Several of those contesting NBNI will not doubt make those lists, for those at The Armory this weekend – and those lists will include Sydney McLaughlin. The Union Catholic, NJ junior, in her 2-1/2 years to date at the school, has already created indelible memories, such as her runner-up in the USATF Junior 400H as a freshman in 2014, just behind the NCAA champ; her 2015 NBNI 60H title; her 2015 World Youth championship last summer in the 400H; and some of her triumphant 4x400 anchor legs for UC. She’s come within .08 of the World Youth and high school record in the 400H, with two more years to capture the latter.
This winter, McLaughlin has eschewed competition in the individual 60H, an event where she was injured last winter, and has focused mostly on the flat 400 and relays. In her three 400m finals, she has run as fast as 53.34 at the New Jersey Meet of Champs – the US#1 clocking, despite the slow track in Toms River where the meet was contested. She’ll also be anchoring UC’s 4x400 – currently ranked US#3 at 3:47.27, but with most of last year’s NBNO-winning 3:35.90 crew back – and running the 4x55m shuttle hurdle relay, for which UC is also a prime contender. Could McLaughlin even challenge Francena McCorory’s 10-year-old 51.93 400 HSR? Given that she’s run multiple relay legs in the 51s (outdoor), don’t be surprised!
Grant Holloway – Pentathlon pursuit
We’ve seen Grant Holloway do a lot of things very, very well on the track and in the field the past few years. 7-foot high jump? Check. 25-foot long jump? Check (almost 26). National list-leading marks from the 55 to the 500? Check. National record over 55 hurdles (and almost 60H)? Check and check. Putting three of them together and adding a shot put and 1,000m run? Well, that would be a new challenge. So it is that the Grassfield, VA senior is trying his first multi-eventer at NBNI, the pentathlon, which will require him to contest three of his specialties – the 60H, LJ and HJ – and throw in the above-mentioned additions. The goal is the national record, set by Gunnar Nixon at NBNI in 2010. And more than one pundit has calculated that Holloway has a great chance to own that mark XXX
Meanwhile, there’s also the 60-meter hurdles – the only other event Holloway will contest. After all, there’s a national title to defend. In one of the best races of the meet at last year’s NBNI, Holloway nipped Chad Zallow in the 60H final, both hitting a meet record 7.59. Holloway’s margin was 4/1000 of a second (7.585-7.589) and they were just .02 off the HSR. Furthermore, Holloway scored the 55H HSR with an en-route time of 7.05. During his epic season to date, he has gotten his 55H back down to 7.14 (state meet), without having contested the full 60H yet. Can he get both national records this time … AFTER he’s contested five events the day before in the pentathlon? Fans can’t wait to find out.
Cassondra Hall – Looking for that first NBN title
You could say the 2015 NBNI was kind of a coming-out party for Cassondra Hall on the highest national level. Yes, she was already a very accomplished sprinter, but the 7.37 60m dash performance she authored here, good for a close 2nd behind Teahna Daniels, was a .16 PR from what she had before the weekend and made her a true elite. The performance also inspired an invite to compete for Team NSAF at the Caribbean Scholastic Invite, where she won the 100 and a second gold on the 4x100, and made for a very successful first international trip. When she came back the next weekend for NBNO, though, things were a bit tougher. She false-started in the 100 final and while she ran a great 200 – a then-PR 23.71 into a 2.0 headwind – she was second by less than .01 to Jayla Kirkland.
So suffice to say, Hall has been on a mission so far in 2016, her senior season with Sprint Athletics and Northside Warner Robins, GA. After closing the summer at USATF JOs in July with PRs of 11.44 and 23.24, she’s sizzled on the indoor circuit in the Southeast: She’s unbeaten in the 60 with a 7.36 PR from the Vanderbilt, TN Invite, and also hasn’t lost in the 200, where she has a 23.73 best on an oversize track in Lexington, KY. The competition will be extremely tough, with Kirkland, defending NBNI 200 champ LaurenRain Williams and several others well in the mix. But don’t be surprised if Hall at least one of those titles!
Trey Cunningham – Debut on the big stage
He’s become something of a small school legend in Alabama, especially indoors where he’s won eight individual state titles in the past two years. He’s competed for and won AAU JO titles before, and he competed at NBNO in Greensboro last June – though not really in top form. So it’s fair to say that Trey Cunningham’s trip to New York this weekend, to compete for the NBNI title in the 60-meter hurdles, represents the biggest stage that he’s performed on to date in his prep career, and with the biggest stakes. Cunningham had impressed in middle school track and as a freshman at Winfield City HS, but it was during the 1A-3A state indoor meet as a soph that he first made a huge impact, quadrupling the long jump (20-9.5), triple jump (44-9.5), 60 dash (7.22) and 60 hurdles (8.22). He would have made further ascension toward true national class outdoors, but nagging injuries slowed him.
It was this past December, though, that Cunningham made the nation start to take notice, hitting early indoor 60H times of 7.83 one week, then 7.79 the next. In January, he lowered that mark to 7.76, a nation-leading mark then that is still #2 (by .01). He also went over 23 feet in the long jump. This time at state indoor, with many more outside Alabama paying attention, he scored another much more impressive quadruple: 23-4 LJ, 50.30 400m, 6.98 60 dash and 7.84 60H. Now it’s on to the Big Apple. While few probably expect him to upset defending champ Grant Holloway, Cunningham will finally get some great competition while healthy. Who knows what he’ll do?
Anna Cockrell – She’s won everything but this
If Anna Cockrell crosses the finish line first Sunday during the NBNI 60m hurdles, it will be her first NBN title, indoors or out. For those who watched her last year, that might be a little hard to believe at first – so successful was she all over the world, it seems. In early June, having earned a spot on Team NSAF for the Caribbean Scholastic Invite, she on the 400H. Three weeks later in Eugene, she ruled the USATF Junior 400H, going under 57 for the first time. Then a month later, Cockrell was with Team USA at the Pan Am Juniors in Edmonton, Canada, celebrating another international triumph in the long hurdle race. But at NBNO in Greensboro, she yielded the top 400H spot to Sydney McLaughlin, who would become the World Youth Champ, and was also 3rd in a dramatic 100H final won by prodigal 8th-grader Tia Jones.
That leaves us with last year’s NBNI, where Cockrell may not have won, but actually had a breakthrough performance that kind of set the stage for the rest of the year. She came into New York then with an 8.42 PR in the 60H, but then improved to 8.35 and 8.32 in the rounds, and finally 8.21 in the final – just .04 behind McLaughlin in 2nd. Cockrell was then picked for CSI and the rest was history. This winter, so far, the Providence Day School, NC senior (and Southern Cal signee) has been unbeaten at 60H – no PR, but consistently between 8.24 and 8.29. She’s PR’d in all of her sprints, however: the 55 (6.97), 60 (7.55), 300 (38.80) and 400 (55.79) dashes. The 60H field will be fantastic this weekend, but Cockrell appears to be primed for that first NBN ring.
Maxwell Willis – Into the limelight
It’s been a big senior year so far for Maxwell Willis. First, he transferred from Bowie HS in Maryland to Archbishop Carroll in Washington, DC. Then he signed with Baylor to continue is track and field career collegiately. On the track, it’s been an emergence from being a fine rising star that didn’t quite make it to the top of the podium last year to a nation-leading, bona fide gold medal contender this year. It wasn’t that Willis didn’t win any big races last year. He dominated in Maryland, then had a breakout 20.55w 200 at Great Southwest for 2nd. After taking 5th (100) and 3rd (200) in the NBNO sprints, he scored a significant triumph in the World Youth Trials 200 over Josephus Lyles. In Cali, however, he ran a fine 20.99 in the prelims only to get DQ’d for a lane violation in the semis – while Lyles would win medals in the 200 and 400.
This winter, Willis has made progress with his new school. He was beaten in a tough 300 vs. the Lyles at Virginia Tech, but has since come back with two monster 200 wins – 21.08 at the Milesplit Spire Showcase and 21.04 at the Kentucky Invite. While both tracks are oversized, they represent the fastest two all-conditions 200 times of the winter. Meanwhile, Willis has been the biggest reason Archbishop Carroll leads the nation in the 4x400 (3:16.11) and is #2 in the 4x200. Suffice it to say, he’s fit in well. At NBNI this weekend, Willis still can’t be called the favorite in the 200 – not while Lyles is the defending champ – but he knows he’s getting closer and closer and learning what it feels like to win at a national level.
Chanel Brissett – Barriers steadily overcome
Chanel Brissett has been fast for a long time – a long, long time. From 55 meters to 200 (and occasionally longer), the Cheltenham, PA junior has been a star, from Junior Olympic track in middle school through her freshman and sophomore high school seasons. She started piling up the sprint victories and medals at the state level, while making forays into the hurdles starting in 2014. She ran 14.04 at AAU JOs at the end of that freshman year, but barely raced the event – or the hurdles indoors – in 2015. Meanwhile, she had sprint bests of 7.06 (55), 7.47 (60), 11.84 (100) and 23.88 (200). Would she be able to break through to the top national level her final two years as a sprinter?
This winter, however, Brissett has focused most on becoming the best hurdler she can be – with dramatic results. She came into the season with 8.06 55H and 8.68 60H PRs, but quickly dropped the 60H to 8.46 in December. Then at the early January Hispanic Games, she rocketed to a 7.85 55H for the title. Two weeks later, at the Kevin Dare Invite, she blew away her 60H PR again with an 8.28. Suddenly, Brissett was among the nation’s top 3 hurdlers at both distances. At her state championship two weeks ago, Brissett lowered that 60H mark one more time to 8.25 – just .01 off Anna Cockrell’s national lead. Having successfully brought her sprint speed to the barrier races, she’s become a better hurdler than she was a sprinter and a true national championship threat.
Keshun Reed – Building on Cali
More often than need, rising national-class stars announce their arrivals, so to speak, at the biggest invitationals or national championship affairs. But sometimes it comes at the state level. It’s likely that Keshun Reed will never forget his junior year 6A state meet in Texas, when he blazed a 45.76 400 that marked his arrival not just at the very top echelon of U.S. prep quarter-milers, but an international threat as well. Reed had actually captured national attention the previous summer, when after his soph year at Arlington Martin, he ripped a 46.45 at AAU JOs. But until that state 6A final, he hadn’t beaten that time. Reed didn’t make it to Greensboro for the following month’s NBNO, but he did contest the World Youth Trials a few weeks later, where he finished 2nd behind Josephus Lyles in the 400 and confirmed his status as an IAAF WY Champs medal threat.
In Cali, Reed did Team USA proud, winning 400 bronze behind Lyles’ silver, then capturing a gold on the mixed relay. He returned to Texas with big goals for his senior season. First, he signed with LSU to become a Tiger in 2016-17. Then he hit the indoor circuit with a little more intent than in the past. Opening at Texas A&M in January, he rocketed an eye-popping 47.09 – a time that has stood up as national leader all winter. The following week at Arkansas, he dropped down for a 6.88 60/21.27 200 double – the 200 mark a narrow US#2 that has also stood up. Since then, he’s trained hard and kept it close to the vest, with just one low-key outdoor race – a quick 21.09 200 (nwi). There’s no question that he wants national titles in both and will help make both 200 and 400 finals top-notch thrillers.