BY ELLIOTT DENMAN
5,000-METER RUN "I can't believe it, I can't believe it," Anna Shields, first champion crowned in the 2008 Nike Indoor Nationals, kept telling the family members extending their early-morning congratulatory hugs. "The first laps felt so easy, but by the end it was getting to me."
In between, though, the Lewis Mills High School (Harwinton, Ct.) junior reeled off a 5:28 opening 1600 and went through 3200 in 10:59 to build a huge lead. Then it was just a matter of bringing it in.
She did just that in 17:38.57 for her 25 laps, leaving 2-3 finishers MaryGrace Pellegrini of Louisville (17:48.75) and Kathleen Lautzenheiser of Midlothian, Va. (17:48.77) far down the track, in their personal duel for silver and bronze.
It was the longest indoor race of Shields' life and she won it in a breeze.
"My cross country season wasn't that great," she said. "But it's been my best indoor season ever, and winning this tops everything."
Lahser High School/Troy's Erin LaFave took the five-runner first section in 18:09.50 and wound up sixth over-all.
Left untouched and unthreatened was the National record of 16:43.02 set by Colts Neck, NJ High's Briana Jackucewicz — then a seventh-grader — back in 2004.
The 5000 made its NIN debut in 2007 — won by Chesapeake, Va.'s Aurora Scott (16:53.55) over Bailey, Colorado's Kristen McGlynn (17:36.60) - so Shields' 17:38.57 becomes No. 3 on the meet's all-time list.
ONE-MILE RACEWALK Westhampton Beach's Leah Buletti had lost the New York State 1600-meter race last week to Penfield's Olivia Lapham and wasn't going to let it happen again.
So she blazed out early and maintained the steady pace that produced a 7:46.78 victory, with Lapham (7:50.02) second and Pleasanton's Nicolette Sorensen (7:52.28) third. "I kept thinking she (Lapham) was going to come back on me, but she didn't," said Buletti.
"I put last week behind me, just the way coach (Westhampton Beach's John Broich) told me."
For Buletti, this was another top performance on the national stage. She'd placed fourth in the Millrose Games women's mile walk, only behind the nation's leading senior walkers, clocking a 7:29.84. For Lapham, it was a second straight year as NIN silver medalist.
Miami Valley, Ohio Track Club's Allison Chin took the 10-walker opening section in 8:21.70, setting the stage for the 11-walker second race. Chin wound up seventh in the over-all standings.
Never endangered was the National record shared by Lisa Kutzing (hand-timed 7:00.9 in 1998) and Katy Hayes (electronic 7:00.94 in 2004).
FRESHMAN 1-MILE RUN Chelsey Sveinsson bagged the first meet record of the day with her 4:49.73 romp to the girls freshman mile crown. The Dallas runner brought the mark home to Texas with a 50-yard win over Shannon Osika of Running Gear, whose five-minute-flat performance also bettered the listed meet record of 5:07.61 set in 2007 by Greenfield, NY's Brianne Bellon.
While becoming NIN's first sub-five frosh, Sveinsson was never a threat to Mary Decker's national record of 4:40.1 dating back to 1973. Then again, no one else has for the last 35 years, either.
"I had no clue that I was running under meet-record pace; all I was hoping to do was run 37's (37-second laps) and break five," said Sveinsson. "That's all, so to go way under it, that's something extra.
"Mary Decker? I have her picture, but I don't really know who she is. But, wow, she ran 4:40, as a freshman? That must have been an unbelievable race."
4X200 RELAY Wearing shocking pink oufits, with white and green trim — a far cry from their school's traditional blue and silver — the Landstown girls of Virginia Beach, Va.made a fashion statement as well major indentation on the year list.
Kelnesha Hinnant, Olivia Hutchins, Cierra McGee and Marlena Wesh blazed to the top of the 2008 national rankings with their come-from-behind 1:40.08 triumph and in the process they relegated the famed and defending champion Blazin' Raiders of hometown Greenbelt, Md. to second place.
Doris Anyanwu, Tasha Stanley and Christian Hicks had kept the Raiders in front over the first three laps but a devastating homestretch burst by Wesh brought her home just ahead of Raider anchor Afia Charles.
If it was any consolation, the Raiders' 1:40.17 was the number two time in the nation this year. Grassfield beat out Elizabeth Seton for third, 1:42.34 to 1:43.06.
4X55 SHUTTLE HURDLES RELAY "Oh, my gosh, we're national champions, this is incredible," exulted Lareesa Wilds.
"We never even won a meet before, now to win Nationals, I can't believe it," added Torrie Saunders.
But the electronic timing apparatus did not lie. Yes, indeed, the Annapolis, Md. High School quartet of Jessica Tongue, Saunders, Lareesa Wilds and Shazarah Wilds — who ran as the Running Panthers — are the NIN shuttle hurdles champions, with their 34.59 victory in the third of three sections.
Manchester High, winner of the second section in 34.71, settled for second place, while Western Branch, Md., which trailed in Manchester's race, landed third in 34.74. The Lenape, NJ Elite, second in the Panthers' section, wound up fourth over-all in 35.11.
First-section winner Hillsborough, NJ, settled for sixth over-all in 35.28.
4-MILE RELAY Three sophomores and senior Hannah Davidson pooled their talents and restored the Kinetic Springs Track Club of Saratoga Spring, NY as NIN's reign as titlists over the 32-lap (and a little bit) titlists. Midlothian, Va. had interrupted the Kinetic winning streak last year with a 21:00.56 victory, but nothing like that was about to happen this time.
The sophs — Brianne Bellon (5:05), Erica Howes (5:23) and Cassie Goutos (5:14) did the early work, and senior Davidson brought it home with a 5:03 anchor.
Blacksburg (21:03.22) fought off defending champion Midlothian (21:05.73) in the all-Virginia duel for the silver medals, and New Jersey's Lenape Elite snared fourth (21:18.28.)
Considering his runners' state of health, Kinetic's Art Kranick (who co-coaches with wife Linda) rated it a first-rate performance.
"Three of these four girls (all but Howes) have been battling the flu," said Kranick. "We're just getting to where we should be. I know for sure we can do a lot better and we will when we're all healthy."
Kinetic's Nicole Blood-anchored 19:59.24 in 2005 remained the untouched NIN and National record.
400-METER RUN TRIALS Seven heats reduced the 31-runner field to the eight qualifiers for Sunday's two-section final to be decided on time. Twenty-three of the 31 broke one minute and it took a 57.88 to advance.
Greenville, SC's Briana Nelson was speediest of all in 55.71, with Blazin' Raider Doris Anyanwu of Eleanor Roosevelt (56.18), the Maryland Titans' Olivia Ekpone (56.78) and Teekay Track Club's (Woodrow Wilson of Long Beach, California) Angela Cooper (56.81) all racing their way into the top-seeded section Sunday.
No one here, though, poses even a remote challenge to the still-astounding NIN and National record of 51.93 set by Bethel/Hampton, Va.'s Francena McCorory in 2006.
Just missing the cut — by all of 7/100ths of a second - was ninth-fastest Deseree King of the Oxon Hill, Md. Cruzin' Clippers.
200-METER DASH TRIALS — Anyone who saw Bianca Knight as a scholastic runner the past three years knew the Ridgeland, Mississippi speedster was headed for huge things. After all, she'd won the NIN 200 crown in 24.05 as a sophomore back in 2005 and went on to a national scholastic record of 22.97 last February.
Knight-watchers were right on the button — now a University of Texas freshman, she won the NCAA title in the meet-record time of 22.40, fastest mark in the world this year, Friday night in Fayetteville, Ark.
If anyone's going to threaten West Palm Beach, Floridian Erica Whipple's 2001 NIN record of 23.78 or Knight's NIN No. 2 all-time 24.05 of 2005, in the eight-runner, two-section Sunday final, it figures to be Marlena Wesh.
Landstown/Virginia Beach's Wesh, who'd already collected a gold medal anchoring the 4x200 winners, led all NIN qualifiers at 24.56, with Chatham, NJ's Ogechi Nwaneri next best at 24.72, followed by the Maryland Titans' Olivia Ekpone (24.86) and Immaculate Conception/East Orange, NJ's Dominique Booker (24.90.) The last qualifier, Clinton, Md.'s Danielle Brock, advanced in 25.13.
DISTANCE MEDLEY RELAY — The Blazin' Raiders of Eleanor Roosevelt sped to the NIN meet record of 11:48.68 a year ago and clocked a 12:11.76 this time, but all it got them was third place.
The win went to Alabama's Mountain Brook Track Club in 11:57.50 (fourth best time in NIN annals) over the Garden City, NY Track Club's 12:09.66., as the Raiders edged the Lady Dawgs for third by 1.02 seconds.
Mountain Brook, third at the 2007 NIN DMR, ran this one with Catherine Diethhelm (3:43 leadoff 1200), Grier Darnall (1:01 400), Marie DeMedecis (2:17 800) and Madeline Morgan (a rousing come-from-behind 4:55 anchor 1600.)
Grier and Morgan are freshmen, DeMedecis a junior, and Diethelm the lone senior.
"This was a really great team performance," exulted Diethelm. "We were thinking team all the way. And Madeline (Morgan), she was just awesome. She must have brought us up from at least 75 meters back."
SPRINT MEDLEY RELAY — Eleanor Roosevelt's hometown Blazin' Raiders had taken three Saturday relay crowns (4x200, DMR, SMR) at the 2007 NIN meet but hadn't been in the victory column this time around — until the concluding sprint medley.
But the team of Afia Charles, Doris Anyanwu, Jenea McCammon and Tasha Stanley changed that run of fortune with a decisive 4:07.42 win in this 200-200-400-800 specialty, leaving the AJ's Track Club of Chester, Pa. (4:09.29) and the Irish Road Track Club/Conestoga High of Berwyn, Pa. (4:09.84) to battle it out for second and third.
Next in were the Cruzin' Clippers of Oxon Hill, Md. at 4:10.23.
"This is our home track, so right then and there, that's a lot of motivation for us to do well here," said Anyanwu. "You wouldn't want someone coming into your own home and putting their feet up on the furniture, would you?"
Charles is a sophomore, McCammon and Anyanwu juniors, and Stanley the lone senior.
Stanley is bound for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study science and pre-med on a track scholarship, but she knows she'll miss the supportive atmosphere of her high school.
"Oh, college is going to be great, I'm sure, but just the same I'm going to miss my teammates. We've done so much together. It's going to be hard saying goodbye."
Chanelle Price-anchored Easton, Pa. demolished the NIN record for this 2-2-4-8 race with a 3:56.46 triumph a year ago. Put that one down as another that's going to last a while.
WEIGHT THROW Just call her Victoria Victorious.
Victoria Flowers, the NIN national champion in the 20-pound weight throw out of Providence, RI's Classical High School, wasn't at her best but she certainly was convincing.
She'd set the national record of 62-2 just two weeks ago and the three throws she unloaded within the legal sector here were better than runner-up Twenty Nine Palms, California freshman Katie Kraychir's best of 55-6 1/2.
Her sixth and last spin in the ring produced a 61-2 effort that demolished the meet record of 60-8 3/4 set by another Rhode Islander, Kristen Michael, back in 2002.
"I knew it was my final throw and I really wanted that meet record,"said Flowers, who'd thrown 57-2 3/4 in the second round and 59-1 1/4 in the fourth; her heaves in rounds 1, 3 and 5 were fouls.
"I let everything go on that last one, it was a good, clean throw, everything clicked. Today, I just felt great. Coach (Robert Palazzo) said I could do it, and I did. He was a good college thrower himself, and his coach was Al Moreau, so there's a lot of background here."
Even though Rhode Island continues to be the only state where the weight throw is a standard event on the scholastic track program, Flowers was the first NIN champion from Little Rhody since 2004.
Just three others topped the 50-foot mark — Marietta, Ga.'s Allison Horner at 52-8 1/4, Waterville's Bethany Karter-Obrien's 51-3 1/2, and Sterling, NY's Natalie Baird at 51-2 1/4.
Horner and Kraychir's sister Cassey had placed 2-3 (back of New Rochelle, NY's Cynthia Lloyd) at the 2007 NIN.
Labeled a "thrower of the future" by NIN meet director emeritus Mike Byrnes, Kings Park, NY sophomore Karen Henning (kid sister of boys national record-smasher Walter Henning, now at North Carolina) was a notable sixth at 49-3.
Flowers will throw the hammer (her best is 171-1) and put the shot (best of 46-3) this spring before heading to the University of Connecticut, where she'll major in education and mathematics, this fall.
TRIPLE JUMP — Erin Brooks of Seton Keough/Baltimore came in as Number Two on the U.S. year list at 40-5 1/2 and did even better with the National medals on the line.
Brooks and a Maryland rival, Michelle Newman of Eastern Tech, both of them seniors, opened with identical 39-6 hop-step-jumps and stayed in a first-place deadlock through two more rounds.
But, while Newman was destined never to improve, Brooks leaped to 39-10 in round four and capped it with a best-of-all PR 40-11 1/2 in her final dash down the runway.
Another Maryland senior, Ermesha Fair of Western Branch, claimed third with a fourth-round best of 39-0 1/4.
Jamesha Youngblood's meet record of 42-2 /4 for Hercules of California wasn't approached but Brooks became just the second 40-foot winner since 2004.
"I just took it phase by phase by phase, keeping my knees up and hangin in the air as long as I could," said the Wake Forest-bound Brooks.
It was old 40-30-30 plan, 40 percent hop, 30 percent step, 30 percent concluding leap. And on hand to congratulate the new winner was another Maryland triple jump star, national record-holder and former World Championship medal winner Tiombe Hurd of Upper Marlboro.
PENTATHLON It was no secret that Ryann Krais was ready to perform at an ultra-level.
But just how ultra would it really be for the UCLA-bound Methacton High /Norristown, Pa. senior?
She'd already won the NIN pentathlon twice — scoring 3,670 points as a sophomore in 2006 and a meet-record 3,715 as a junior last March -and came to Landover determined to make a serious run at Shana Woods' national record of 3,924 for California's Long Beach Poly in 2006.
Krais opened with a smooth 8.62 victory (and the over-all win) in her section of the 60-meter high hurdles and followed with a 5-5 3/4 high jump that shared the best mark in the 25-multi-athlete field.
But a shot put of just 31-7 1/2 slowed her bid. Four others had better tosses.
The long jump would become the decide-it-all event.
Twice, she seemed to uncork super jumps of at least 19 feet. But each time the red flag went up, indicating a foul. So she settled for a "safety jump" of 18-4 1/2 on her third attempt. The fouls were by minuscule margins — of perhaps an inch — but would prove critical.
So that put everything on the line in the concluding 800 meters.
Methacton coach Rob Ronzano's calculations showed she'd need to run at least a 2:15.94 to get the national mark.
Digging deep into her dwindling energy supply, Krais ran an opening 1:06 400 meters — under record pace — but the all-out effort took its toll and she settled for a 2:23.32 clocking and a final score of 3,823 points.
Totally wearied, but now the No. 2 all-time pentathlon performer on the all-time charts, she crumpled to the side of the track for a needed respite.
"Oh, this is nothing, just some cramps, normal stuff," she said, trying to put a smile back on her face. "I had a good day, but just ran out of gas."
"Ryann was outstanding," said Ronzano. "She won for a third straight year and broke her own meet record.
"That was the fastest hurdles race she ever ran on this track, and one of her best-ever high jumps, she barely missed at 5-7.
"The shot put was OK but not great, then it came down to the long jump. They were close fouls, too, no by very much. If either of them over 19 had counted, she'd have had the record.
"So when it came down to the 800, she had to go out too fast if she'd have any chance at the record. To her credit, she went all-out going for it.
"It just wasn't to be."
Lorraine Graham of the Springdale, Md. Maryland Jaguars and Jesse LaBreck of Maine's Messalonskee High School occupied the 2-3 spots after three events, LaBreck held on for third with a 3,399 total as Aurora's Shakela Pinnick moved up to second at 3,549, but Graham dropped to seventh.
Eleven of the 25 NIN pentathletes scored more than 3,000 points.
After a night's rest, Krais bounces back to compete in the individual 60-meter hurdles and long jump on the Sunday program.
And then she can start thinking of the outdoor season — where she'll defend her Penn Relays 400-meter hurdles title, among other challenges.
The highly-promising Hannah Carter — whose 173-7 javelin throw last year led the nation, despite her eighth-grade status — occupied 17th place with a 2,660 score. Now a Mesa, Arizona freshman, she led all NIN shot putters with a 38-8 1/4 toss, but struggled through the hurdles (10.04) and 800 (3:37.40.)