NSAF On-Site at Mobile CoC - Preview: 11 Storylines and Athletes

by Steve Underwood



Boys’ 4x400: Indoor US#1 vs. Outdoor US#1

Forging a matchup of the New Balance Nationals Indoor (NBNI) 4x400m champion and national leader Huntington, NY and current outdoor US#1 Southwest Dekalb, GA is one of the great feats pulled off by meet director Steve Schoenwald.  One chuckles a bit to think, in fact, that SW Dekalb actually ran its outdoor time a week EARLIER than Huntington ran its indoor time – which graphically illustrates the different worlds of prep track and field around the country.  But when one considers that the meet has drawn New York teams before and that Atlanta powerhouses more commonly come here, maybe it isn’t THAT strange that this worked out.

It’s been a great 2016, though, for both great programs.  Huntington, led by Infinite Tucker and Kyree Johnson – among the nation’s indoor leaders at 600 and 300, respectively – got their 4x4 rolling at the Millrose Trials, then won the Millrose games before their 3:16.09 at NBNO.  This is their first outdoor meet.  Meanwhile, SW Dekalb – who counts Olympians like Angelo Taylor and Terrance Trammell among its alums – is having a heck of a year so far outdoors, led by twins Terry and Terryon Conwell.  Their ridiculous ledger of great relay marks this year also includes US#1 1:24.72 in the 4x2 and =#1 40.55 in the 4x100.  It won’t exactly be just a two-team battle.  Cahokia, IL – a frequent attendee at the Challenge – ran 3:18.99 indoors back in January and has the horses to run 3:16 or better on the right day. 

This clash should be an incredible way to end the meet Saturday night.  The Mobile Challenge standard of 3:15.74 by JW North of California, should get a real test.

Tolbert-Conwell boys’ 400 showdown

The aforementioned Terry Conwell of SW Dekalb is one of the principals of what might be the best boys’ individual race on the track, as well.  A 47.55 (and 21.16w) performer last year as a soph, Conwell really burst into the limelight with a 46.87 three weeks ago at the Atlanta Games.  He now sits #4 in the country and that performance, like SW Dekalb’s relays, have really lifted the program’s national profile. 

Tolbert, an Auburn, AL junior, had a spectacular winter in 2014-15, running 48.02 indoors and winning his state title – but injuries hampered his outdoor campaign.  This season, his indoor season was more tempered and he’s rolled into outdoors with marks of 20.69(nwi) and 46.77 – two weeks ago at Samford U., making him US#3.  In the 400, also watch for soph prodigy Elijah Godwin of Newton, GA, who’s already hit 47.41.

Finally: Tait vs. Cunningham

All winter long, as Winfield City, AL jr Trey Cunningham was leading the state and (mostly) the nation at 60H (7.71 PR) and Thompson, AL sr Emmanuel Tait was not far behind (7.81), fans longed for a matchup between the two stars.  But because all of Alabama’s indoor meets are run by AHSAA classification, they were always in different races.  That matchup will finally happen – at 110H – this weekend. 

The two actually raced here last year, but Cunningham’s talent was not as developed and he was also dealing with some injury issues, while Tait ran to a strong runner-up 14.15.  Both are much better in 2016.  The boys’ 110H actually looks to be a 3-man race, with Union Grove, GA sr Matthew Moore – also one of the nation’s best – capable of winning, as well.  The meet record in the 110H, 13.66 by DeAndre Eiland of Mississippi, could really get tested if the weather warms and the wind is friendly.  Tait will also run the 300H while Cunningham battles in the long jump.

Humphrey leads Hoover

Brittley Humphrey is also someone who’s come a long way since last year.  Always a strong, all-around hurdler and sprinter, she really started coming on last summer after NBNO at the World Youth Trials, where she was 2nd in the 100H behind Alexis Duncan, then led Team USA in the WY 100H in Cali with a 13.22 bronze-medal finish.  That level of performance has kind of carried over into indoors this winter; Humphrey led Hoover, AL to the 4x55m hurdle national title and lowered her 60H PR to 8.24.  Even though the latter got her “just” 5th at NBNO, that happened to be the greatest girls 60H in prep history and she was just .02 out of 3rd. 

She is just starting her outdoor season (even though ‘Bama runners have been at it for several weeks) and last weekend had a great 13.89 100H/41.93 300H double at Florida State.  Here, Humphrey’s toughest competition in the shorter race might be teammate Caitlyn Little, a newly named member of Team NSAF for the Caribbean Scholastic Invite in May.  But in the 300H, she’ll face Alexis Jones of Campbell, GA, who has run 42.66.  Does Humphrey have a chance at the meet records?  The 100H mark is the oldest on the books; prep legend Char Foster ran 13.60 here in 1995.  That’ll be tough, but Bianca Blair’s 42.11 300H standard from 2007 will be on shaky ground.

Ja’Mari in the house

Coach Milsap’s Cahokia crew has come from southern Illinois, near St. Louis, on several occasions here to Mobile to start their indoor season and boost the competitive level of the meet.  This year’s team will score well in several events, including the aforementioned 4x4, but their star is Ja’Mari Ward, who trained with the NSAF Project Triple Jump for two years.  He was the Athlete of the Meet at NBNI back in 2015, hitting his indoor PRs of 25-7 and 51-7.  His results last spring and so far in 2016 have been limited somewhat by nagging injuries, but he’s coming off an Illinois Prep Top Times triple where he not only won the horizontals in 25-3 and 48-11, but also dashed to a 6.81 60.  He’ll do both the TJ and LJ here, as well as relay duty.

Can Ward walk away with a pair of meet records?  Cameron Luper has the LJ standard with a fine 24-6.5 from 2013, certainly doable for Ja’Mari.  The TJ record of 50-4.5 by Phelon Jones from 2006 will require that Ward hit a mark he hasn’t reached since last spring.

Queen Kirkland attacks the dashes

In last year’s Mobile Challenge girls’ 100, Candace Hill sprinted to a dominant 11.30 victory while Woodlawn, AL soph Jayla Kirkland was 3rd in 11.84.  Who could have known that 3+ months later, Hill and Kirkland would be 1st and 3rd in the World Youth Championships?  And who could have known that Hill would now be a professional sprinter and that Kirkland would the defending champ heading into the 2016 New Balance Nationals Outdoors?  Hill, of course, will not be in Mobile this weekend, but Kirkland will and is the favorite in the two dashes she won in Greensboro last June.

Indeed, Kirkland really came on in June and July, hitting a (all-conditions) PR 11.33w and 23.71 to triumph at NBNO in very tight races, then making Team USA and clocking 11.41 in Cali for the bronze.  Injuries limited Kirkland a bit indoors, as she ran 7.45 for 60 and took 7th at NBNI.  This weekend marks the start of her outdoor season, even though Alabama has been going several weeks.  Kirkland could get very tough competition from Janie O’Connor, who has also worn a Team USA uni (2014 Youth Olympics).  She ran 11.52 last year for her PR and was 5th in the Challenge 100.  For the record, the meet records in the 100 and 200 are brutal – so much so that even Candace Hill couldn’t beat them: 11.24 in the 100 and 23.24 in the 200 by Florida prep superstar Erica Whipple, at her peak.

Hurley moves to 2M to face Platek

The profile of the Mobile Challenge for the girls’ distance-running events got a big boost late in the registration phase when Emma Grace Hurley, a senior at Fellowship Christian in Roswell, GA, signed on.  A 4:56 1,600 and 10:37 2M (8th at NBNO) runner in 2015, she was an improved 15th last fall in her 2nd trip to Foot Locker Finals, then two weeks ago authored a stunning 4:46.00 PR at 1,600.  It was thought she’d run the mile here, perhaps chase Cory McGee’s meet record, but the latest entries have her in the 2-mile.  That’s not a bad thing, as she’ll get some great competition there from Sara Platek, a Ragsdale, NC junior.  Platek was 6th in that same NBNO 2M last spring, then 6th again three weeks ago at NBNI with a new 10:26.11 PR.  The meet record which has stood since 2002, 10:23.05 by Laura Ziegle from Utah, could be in danger.

Mtn Brook 4x8 back after NBNI surprise

The boys of Mountain Brook, AL had run a sterling 7:57.93 4x800 to win the indoor state title in early February, a school record that had enthralled coach Greg Echols.  Imagine his amazement a month later at NBNI when his crew – running the penultimate section of the championship 4x8 – blasted a 7:45.58, a time that only one team could surpass in the final section (and by just .31) and earning the school a silver medal in the event.  Soph Charles Slaughter (1:57.90), jr Richard Riley (1:55.86), frosh Edward Denning (1:58.20) and senior leader Drew Williams (1:52.62) were the architects of that effort and it will be fun to see if they push the envelope here, in the event that kicks off the championship portion of the meet.

Can the quartet run that kind of time again?  All four ran PRs on that day, so it won’t be easy.  But the meet record is “only” 7:53.45, so that would seem a reasonable goal even if they aren’t in peak form Saturday, three weeks after that epic run in New York.

Williams also battling Keith in the mile

The best boys’ distance matchup of the Challenge should be in the mile, where Drew Williams will come back from the 4x8 (assuming he runs it) to face John Curtis, LA senior Devyn Keith.  Keith has quite a history of performances both here and at NBN meets.  He was the 2014 2M runner-up in Mobile, then 2nd in the mile last year.  He has great range, coming off a recent 1:53.21 800 PR and with a 14:55.74 5,000 from last spring’s NBNO. 
At NBNI 3 weeks ago, Keith anchored John Curtis’s SMR to a 3rd-place finish behind Chantilly’s national record with his 1:53.95 anchor.  His mile best is 4:16.07, which could be significantly lowered Saturday.  Williams, of course, has that recent epic NBNI 4x8 anchor, but also came back with a 4:13.40 PR in the mile the next day, placing 12th in that loaded field. 

Rogers wants to throw one deep

If anyone takes down a boys’ throws record Saturday at Mobile, it’s likely to be Isaiah Rogers – the Campbell, GA senior known best as the leader of Coach Mike Judge’s terrific Throw 1 Deep program out of Marietta, but competing here with his HS team.  Rogers – a finalist in last summer’s World Youth Champs shot put – is coming off a very strong indoor season that saw him reach a PR 65-9.75 for 3rd at NBNI.  His outdoor PR improved last month to 66-5.25 and he would need just 62-10 to match the Mobile all-time standard, set by Andy Fryman of Kentucky in 2003.  Rogers will also be one of the top contenders in the discus.

Zeldon shoots for 150

There is one current meet record-holder slated to appear in Mobile this weekend.  Samantha Zeldon, now a St. Scholastica, LA senior, started her Challenge career in 2014 with a runner-up finish to Kristin Clark (former Project Javelin thrower from Ruston, LA).  Last year, she beat Clark’s meet record with a 147-6 heave, part of an outstanding junior year that saw her go unbeaten and win her state title with a 150-4 PR.  True, Zeldon didn’t compete much at the national level, but perhaps she will be inspired to as a senior who has already started out with a 148-9 Sugar Bowl victory last month and many weeks to go to get in the 150s and perhaps beyond. 

The next step is here, however, and Mobile Saturday could see its first 150-foot performance if Zeldon gets off a good one.  Her toughest competition should come from another Louisiana thrower, Alex Rigmaiden, a St. Louis HS senior who was runner-up last year.  She’s actually thrown further than Zeldon, with a 157 PR, but hasn’t been as consistent and not yet over 130 this year.  If she’s healthy and the wind is favorable, look for two to battle beyond 150, not just one.

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