By Mike Byrnes
This year marks the 26th anniversary of this meet. Started by my colleague Jim Spier in 1983, embellished by Tracy Sundlun and brought to fruition by those two and myself, the meet, now known as the NIKE INDOOR NATIONALS will once again bring together the best high school/prep athletes from throughout the nation for the finest indoor meet in the country. Once again these superlative athletes will vie for the unofficial title, Nike Indoor National Champion. It has been uttered by one of the Deans of our sport, Larry Byrne, "To rank with 'em, you gotta compete with 'em." Never has that been more true. Here below is a summary of who's coming, how good they are, who are the famed "MB Sleepers" and how I think they will do in Boston. In the past I've tried to provide you with the most information I have. The most vital is the type track where the performance was made. Of course, in the short sprints as well as the hurdles, a banked or flat track has no influence upon performance. But for events contested on the oval there is a definite advantage for racing on a banked surface. Thus, a performance followed by a "f" indicates a flat track while a "b" shows the track to be banked. It should also be noted that due to the plethora of distances many of the times mentioned below are guesstimates. As it should be, the Ladies will be discussed first. (If I did it otherwise, me sainted Mither would come down from the Heavens and …)
Joe Lanzalotto, statistician extraordinaire, reports there are 42 states + Washington, DC, Bermuda and Canada sending athletes to the meet. That's a total of 2516 athletes with New York leading the way with 578 followed by Massachusetts (340), New Jersey (261) and Virginia (183.)
THE SPRINTS: 60m, 200m, 400m - A truly outstanding group… The athletes you'll be seeing in Boston, in every event, represent over 90% of those listed in the National Top Five list. For example, the Girls mile field contains the top six ranked athletes and POSSIBLY the top TEN! And it continues that way throughout the meet. But let me get specific. A superb performance from junior CHRISTAL PETERSON, 6.96, is expected. In 200m action, AURIEYALL SCOTT will be join the field and face a very talented sophomore, KYLE PLANTE. Plante won the recent Eastern States title and thus looms as the odds-on favorite but the "MB Sleeper" (MBS) award goes to Peterson. Moving up to the 400m once again Plante rates the nod. As of this writing, early March, she leads the nation in the 200m (24.25b), 300m (38.59b) and 400m (55.43.) The latter effort took top honors at the Yale Invite. Challenging in the long sprint will be last year's 3rd place finisher Jerseyite MICHELLE BROWN, 55.74b and, if she chooses to run this event, the aforementioned Scott, 55.80. South Carolinian BRIANNA NELSON won the Kentucky Inv on a 300m track in 55.12 and is the defending champion in both the 200m and 400m! (For those of you not well-versed in the rules of our sport, performances made on oversized tracks do not count in the rankings.) One of the problems in indoor evaluation is the plethora of distances. At the NIKE NATIONALS we will contest the 400m. But one must also take into consideration who-did-what in the 300m, 500m and, to a lesser extent, the 600m. Two Virginians, a sophomore and a junior, are worthy of mention, junior MONICA WILLIAMS and soph SHAKEELA SAUNDERS. They went 1-2 at the Virginia State champs over the 500m distance with Williams winning in a scintillating 1:13.30 and Saunders, 1:14.46. Williams trailed with 60m to go but powered to the front and won going away. (All of these times were made on a flat track.) Maryland State winner DESIREE KING is in with a 1:14.8.) Georgian EBONY EUTSEY, the reigning NSSF Outdoor champion at 52.03 will be in Boston. She's simply got too much experience, not to mention talent, to not be forecast as the potential winner.
THE 800m is, like so many other events, LOADED. Oddly, all the contenders are underclass persons. Junior MOLLY McNAMARA, 2:11.82 and 2:53.43 for 1000m will be a strong contender for the NIKE title as will soph KELSEY MARGEY, 2:51.33 (USL.) Traveling in from Iowa, SHELBY HOULIHAN, a junior with a 2:12.31 under her belt. Another junior with an Irish connection, KATHY O'KEEFE, 2:53.43. Perhaps because she's coming such a long way, my MBS pick, Ms Houlihan.
THE MILE will be the best event of the meet. Since this meet was created in 1984 we've NEVER had a mile field even approaching this. There are no less than EIGHT athletes who could win. All are seniors save one, a junior and two are returnees, defending champion EMILY LIPARI and Mississippian CORY McGEE. For those two, along with JOANNA and KATHLEEN STEVENS and the Seattle Surprise, MADDY MEYERS, 4:46.77 this may very well be the best race of the day. When they raced here earlier (in Boston) McGee lead at 1500m by .07 over Lipari. But the diminutive Lipari has an absolutely devastating finish and she simply ran away from McGee and everyone else over the final 100m. The order, Lipari (4:46.77), Kathleen Stevens (4:49.96), Joanna Stevens (4:50.02) and McGee (4:50.06) will probably not be the same at NIKE. These kids are all well coached and will learn from their mistakes. We can expect a much faster pace as McGee and the Stevens attempt to force Lipari to make up a lot more ground. I've always thought a big kicker has a huge advantage and I'm going with Lipari to defend her title.
THE TWO MILE won't be the best event of the meet. But it will probably be the BEST PERFORMANCE of the meet. EMILY SISSON is the finest distance runner in the United States, bar none. A member of the team representing the United States at the World Junior Cross Country Championships, Sisson has clocked 9:25.7 for 3000m. I just spoke with Jim Spier and we agree Sisson is ready to drop under 10:00, something only one high schooler has ever done, the great Melody Fairchild. In 1991, at this meet but under a different name, she raced to a 9:55.92 and 9:17.4 3000m, both high school records. Until I began researching this article I felt Fairchild's mark beyond approach. Now, I'm not so sure.
When Sisson turned in her 9:25.7 she won easily. But, she had, and will have again, the same advantage Fairchild had those 19 years ago, chasing down lapped runners. I've written about the late evening strategy session Fairchild, her coach and I had the night before her race so I won't go into that again. For Sisson, as great as she is, she'll have a tougher time. Why? To begin, her 3000m split will have to be close to 9:15, ten seconds better than best and she will still have a lap to go.
Can she do that?
I don't think so. Fairchild ran her race in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, a huge complex with superb ventilation. Those same conditions won't be present in Boston. But Sisson can quite possibly break 10:00, no small feat in itself. Her 9:25.7 ranks #3 on the All-Time list, behind Fairchild And Erin Keough (9:21.41.) Sisson will have to go through the 3000m under 9:20 and then finish well. A 40 second final lap will get the job done. Thus, a good finish and tremendous courage and self-confidence are musts. I'll be cheering for her louder than anyone. As NIKE says, JUST DO IT!
THE HURDLES brings Michigan's BRIDGETTE OWENS-MITCHELL to Boston. She's clocked 8.35 over the 60mH which translates to a 7.73 using the Spier Conversion System (SCS) good but not great. Candy Young holds the hsr of 7.50 with Owens-Mitchell tied for the 6th fastest performer of all time. Her chief competition will come from a most unlikely school, Saratoga. Long famed as a mecca for distance runners, MADALAYNE SMITH wanted nothing to do with early morning runs, lengthy grueling work-outs and relays. When asked what her event was she replied, "I'm a hurdler." To the two great Saratoga coaches, Art and Linda Kranick, this probably meant the steeplechase. But, being the top quality coaches they are, they made Smith into one of the nation's best over the barriers. Junior BREA BUCHANAN and Georgia's KENDELL WILLIAMS, a frosh will also figure in the mix.
THE RELAYS are virtually impossible to report upon. Many teams, knowing they have no real individual star, will put together a splendid relay. In some cases even WITH an established star. Here are a few of those that will definitely standout. In the 4x2, 4x4 and possibly the SMR (2-2-4-8) WESTERN BRANCH appears to be the class of the field although COLUMBIA, NJ can more than hold their own in the 4x4. Two perennial powers will, once again, fight it out in the 4x8 and DMR, SARATOGA and SHENEN- DEHOWA. James DeMarco, coach of the BLACKSBURG powerhouse, has made one event the focus of his season, the 4xmile where he hopes to set a new national record. He's got the guns to do it. The Stevens sisters of course, 4:49.46 and 4:50.02 are backed by another under 5:00 as well As a fourth at about 5:03. Saratoga holds the mark, 19:59.24, 2005.
THE FIELD EVENTS, too often an after thought, will shine in Boston.
THE HIGH JUMP matches up the two young women who hold seven of the top eight pe3rformances. EMILY KIANKA is the USL at 5'11 with two other 5-10 jumps to back her up. But LACEY SHUMAN three 5'10 jumps so we have two kids consistent at 5'10. Local heroine MOIRA CRONIN also has a 5'10 clearance. This could be one of the best ever competitions.
THE POLE VAULT belongs to…Louisiana…what?…Louisiana. The two best in the US, MORGANN LE LEUX and MERRITT VAN METER possess the top five US come in at 12'6, SARAH BIRKMEIER, SHAYLA SIMPSON and EMILY URCIUOLI. Michigan, Arizona and New Jersey make this a truly national event.
THE LONG JUMP could see an upset. Two NY'ers, JEN CLAYTON, 20'5.75 is well ahead nationally and has three other jumps close to 20' with NICOLE CUMMINGS, 19'06.5 needing a good day to supplant Clayton. Two Virginians, NICKI NUNN, 19'04.5 and JAZMEN TOWNSEND, 19-03 round out the top entrants.
THE TRIPLE JUMP features one of the best of all time, Californian CIARRA BREWER, the defending champion with a best of 43'04.25. Competition will come from another of the great Tidewater athletes (think Alan Iverson, Lawrence Taylor, Andre Cason, Keith Holley and the like) DESMONAE GRAY, 40'10.
THE SHOT PUT will be a virtual 'walk-over' for USL MELISSA KURZDORFER having the nation's top four marks, 50'6 to 48'10. VANESSA STEWART comes in at 48'02. Flying in from Wyoming, BAILLIE GIBSON, 47'0.5" could surprise. Stewart feels she can surpass the 50' mark and quite possibly "carpe diem" and upset Kurzdorfer. Of course, Kurzdorfer has her own ideas about "carpe dieming."
THE WEIGHT THROW also lies within Kurzdorfer's grasp. Her 60'02 throw is seven feel better than KAREN HENNINGS 53'04.