By ELLIOTT DENMAN
4X200 RELAY — Sophomore Afia Charles had her problems noting the track markings. But her Blazin' Raiders of Eleanor Roosevelt High, Greenbelt, Md. still held on to win in 1:36.95. It wasn't easy but the Raiders (running with Elan Hilare, Doris Anyanwu, Tasha Stanley and Charles) did hang in to defeat Skyline of Texas, a very close second in 1:37.05, with Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1:38.39) nosing out Withrow oF Cincinnati (1:38.89) and Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High (1:38.96) in the 3-4-5 battle. Anyanwu's a junior and Charles is a sophomore, but seniors Hilare (bound for Southern California) and Stanley (headed for North Carolina-Chapel Hill) are ready to make their marks in the collegiat ranks.
"I was focused on the wrong exchange zone," said Charles. "So when I was running to try to get the baton I heard somebody say 'Afia look out.' I knew it could cost me because in the last 100 meters I saw the other girl's hand behind me. Thankfully, I finished strong and it was the last 10 meters of the track that meant the difference. If it had been a longer race, I don't know what would have happened. I just wanted to run relax. I kept hearing Doris (Anyanwu) yell 'run relaxed, run relaxed.' Usually when someone challenges me, I lose form because I start being tense. I wanted to keep my shoulders down and run hard to victory."
Early heats went to the Beastly Wolverines (1:42.74), the Blazin ' Raiders B team (1:40.28) and Booker T. Washington (1:41.28.)
1-MILE RACEWALK — Molly Josephs has been a serious racewalker for just over a year and a half. But just look at this recent Garden City, NY, Middle School graduate now — she's a national champion with a great future awaiting her.
Long Island colleague and friend Destiny Lalane, a Bay Shore sophomore, gutsily challenged Josephs for the early lead, only to start fading. And once Josephs was out in front on her own, there was no catching her.
Josephs crossed the line in 7:46.07 — well under the national freshman record of 7:57.73 — but, of course, won't get the record because she's not yet a freshman. Lalane dropped well back but still had enough left to hold on to second In 7:52.36. Lafayette, Californian Nicolette Sorensen, whose brother Tyler won the boys 1-mile walk title, claimed third in 8:12.48.
Josephs became hooked on walking after a low-key Long Island race in 2007.
"I don't even know what distance that race was; it could have been 5K but I'm not sure. But I didn't care. I liked being a racewalker. It felt different from running, that's for sure, and I liked the way I felt. It was fun for me.
"I've never won anything this big before. Hopefully, I can keep winning over the next couple of years and make this a pattern. It makes me excited how good I can be when I get older."
"At the very end I wasn't sure how good my pace was. I didn't know how far people were behind me. I just try to judge how far back people are by listening to how loud the people are in the stands. If I hear a loud noise that means people are close. The crowd didn't get that loud."
Josephs, who is coached by Garden City's Erica Fregosi, marked her 14th birthday on March 28th. Her next big start will be at New York's Empire State Games.
100-METER DASH — Newnan, Georgia's defending champion, Chalonda Goodman, had equaled the NON record with her 11.39 romp in the prelims, matching the all-time best in this meet shared by Kansas City's Muna Lee, Fort Lauderdale's Sanya Richards, and Chicago's Alexandria Anderson.
Lee had run her 11.39 in 2000, Richards hers in 2002, Anderson hers in 2005.
Yet another 11.39 wasn't in the cards, though, for the final three and a half hours later. But Goodman's 11.51, in the face of a 1.0-meter wind in her face, was remarkable nevertheless.
Goodman (who'd won this as a sophomore in 11.56) got off to a horrendous start, but recouped all the last ground by the 60-meter mark and blazed home a clearcut winner.
English Gardner, the sizzling sophomore out of Voorhees, NJ, had raced to the early lead, only to see Goodman regain all her lost ground — and a whole lot more.
The real battles came in the duel for the other places. Gardner's 11.82 held on for second over Gastonia, NC junior Stormy Kendrick (11.87) and Charlotte freshman Dominique Weathers (11.94.) The fastest senior on the premises, Winterville, NC's Kelsey McKorkle, settled for fifth in 11.99.
"I knew I had to widen the gap early (after the slow start) because it was going to be tough to defend my title," said Goodman. "I worked harder than I've ever worked before because the competition gets tougher every year.
When everyone says they're gunning for me, it makes me work harder. There are a lot of things I need to keep improving on, so I'm keep being blessed and keep doing those things that make me successful."
100-METER HURDLES — Twenty-seven ran, in four prelims, and sophomore A'Lexus Brown of Port Arthur, Texas, stood at the top of the charts with her runaway 14.04 heat win over Nefertiti Smith's 14.30.
No one else was close to Brannon in the prelims, with Liberty, SC sophomore Jasmin Stowers (14.28); Union, NJ junior Ugonna Ndu (14.29) and Upper Marlboro, Md. senior Imani Colbert 14.36) leading the rest.
But Brannon could not match that form in the final.
As she slowed to 14.29 and settled for second, Stowers revved up to 14.05 and took the gold.
New Castle, Delaware's Nikko Brady heated up for the occasion and ran third in 14.37, just ahead of Ndu's 14.44. Colbert was in great position —until she ran into a barrier and failed to finish.
Chesapeake, Va.'s Smith slowed from the 14.30 prelim to her 14.70 in the second racel, but still impressed as the lone freshman in the final.
"Winning Nike at a young age is a huge accomplishment for me," said Stowers. " It's real easy to go slow over the hurdles once you get a lead so I wanted to avoid that. I felt someone beside me at the start and then I pushed away because I didn't feel someone beside me, so I just finished strong."
1600-METER MEDLEY RELAY — By 5:30 p.m, two relay finals were in the books and the Blazin' Raiders of Greenbelt, Md.'s Eleanor Roosevelt High were two-for-two.
There was little doubt that the Raiders' quartet of Doris Anyanwu-Afia Charles-Tasha Stanley-Amirah Johson was going to win this 200-200-400-800
The only questions, though, concerned their final time.
Stanley, the lone senior in the group, broke it up with her 54.6 lap. And anchor Johnson, a freshman pheenom, with no one on her heels, brought it home comfortably in 3:53.87.
It was the Raiders' third consecutive 1600 medley win, following their 3:52.38 triumph in 2006, and their meet and national-record 3:51.90 2007 victory. triumph.
Said Anyanwu: "It feels really good to go into a race knowing we're able to do what we need to do to win. It's a mental thing. If you know you can do it, your body is going to do it. But if you go around doubting yourself, you're not going to be able to accomplish what we accomplished today.
"We were pretty confident that we could come in and win both events. We have great coaching and I know what each of my teammates is capable of doing. I didn't take any of our opponents for granted, but I just know what we are capable of."
2-MILE RUN — With half a lap left, the sus-Spence was over.
Just as most NOB-goers figured it, it was Shippensburg, Pa. senior Neely Spence leaving the field in her tracks with her concluding sprint.
Daughter of former IAAF world marathon medalist Steve Spence — who will become her college coach when she joins Dad's team at Shippensburg University this fall — she won it in 10:20.77.
Unable to match Spence's closing rush, Harvard, Mass. junior Emily Jones settled for second in 10:22.40 and Penn Relays/Eastern/NJ Meet of Champions titlist Kathleen McCafferty of Madison, NJ held on for third in 10:22.47.
This was a truly national race, with the delegates of Tennessee (Kathy Kroeger 10:24.53), Arizona (Jessica Tonn 10:24.57), Florida (Ashley Brasovan 10:25.28) and New York (Emily Tripari 10:33.72) next in line.
Said Spence: "The race worked out perfectly. There were no fluke things that happened like shoes falling off or people getting spiked. There was a little bit of jostling but we are all close together so that was to be expected. I was just waiting for someone to make a move and then I covered it on the last leg. In the last 200 (meters), I started kicking it. I couldn't have planned a race that perfect."
"I haven't been feeling great and over States I got sick. It's been two weeks since I've been well, so I've been little anxious to get out there and compete. Plus, my confidence after States was really down, so to come here and end my high school career on a good note means my career really ended well. ''
4X800 RELAY — Eleanor Roosevelt's Blazin' Raiders had already won the 4x200 and the 1600 sprint medley, and were the 2007 NON 4x800 champions in 8:55.50. But a title defense was not in the Raiders' game plan.
This time, it was Warwick Valley, NY in front from start to finish.
Junior Kristen Jados led it off in 2:18.9, senior Tori Pennings widened it with her 2:14.1, senior Claire Pettit sped up the pace with a 2:11.1, and sophomore Lillian Greibesland's 2:11.3 brought it home for a rousing 8:55.74 triumph.
For Warwick Valley, with its immense year-round distance running tradition, this was the second quickest 4x800 time in the nation this year.
"Beginning the third leg we really started pulling away," Greibesland said. "We knew Roosevelt wasn't here, so we wanted to motivate ourselves by trying to break the meet record.
Pettit put it this way: "When I got the stick we had a little lead, so I had to be confident that I could extend that lead. I didn't think about what was behind me, I just kept pushing. We've been trying to win a national championship for a quite a while so this felt good."
New Jersey's Hunterdon Hawks were a distant second to Warwick Valley in 9:08.51 and Collins Hills took home the third-place medals with their 9:10.91 victory in the early section.
TRIPLE JUMP — After Charaschiesa Lockhart of Dallas spanned 41 feet and half an inch in round five, and top rival Emily Moore of Gillette, Wyoming fell far short of that in round six, it was all over.
Lockhart, who'd taken the lead with her 40-1 in the fourth round and popped her big one of 41-0 Â½ minutes later, passed on her sixth attempt and called it a day.
They were the only two to better 40 feet — Port Arthur, Texas's A'Lexus Brannon going 39-9 Â¼ for third, and Cincinnati's Jalesha Brown hitting 39-6 Â½ in fourth.
"It feels outstanding to win here because I've worked really hard all season long," said Lockhart.
"It feels great to finally get here and accomplish this. I thought I had a good shot to win it because I've been jumping well all season. I'm just glad it paid off."
"I knew if I went through my phases correctly my jump would be hard to beat. I just tried to remain focused on the task in hand and get it done."
POLE VAULT - The last two NON pole vault titles had gone to Indiana's Katie Veith (2006) and Texas's Shade Wegandt (2007), each with a meet-record leap of 13 feet, 2 Â½ inches, or 4.03 meters.
But records are made to be broken, resolved Watertown, South Dakota senior Leslie Brost, and that's precisely what she did — by exactly one centimeter.
After New Iberia, Louisiana freshman Morgann LeLeux and Easton, Pa. senior Abby Schaffer bowed out (they would share second place at 12 feet, 11 inches), this became Leslie Brost's show.
With the bar now set at 4.04 meters (13 feet, 3 inches), Brost went up-up-up ….and over, for the gold.
"Today was a really nice day to jump," said Brost. " There was a pretty nice tailwind that made for a day where you can put up impressive jumps. I tied my PR today and the weather had a lot to do with that."
"It was a weird day. When the day first started it seemed like the wind was going to be at our face and then moved behind, so what started out as something bad turned into something good."
"I'm not used to this competition. I'm from a really small town so it was nice to come here and compete against these good jumpers. I don't go to the big national meets very often so it was fun to jump against these girls."
HIGH JUMP — Seventeen jumped. Four no-heighted. Four cleared 5-2 Â½, but missed at 5-4 Â½. So that sent the nine who sailed over the bar at 5-4 Â½ into the Saturday finals. Just three had totally clean dossiers — Medina, Ohio's Tyler Burke; Titusville, NJ's Emily Klanka, and Rockford, Michigan's Rachel Herald.
SHOT PUT — Harding of Charlotte's Kamorean Hayes had made this event her personal property, muscling her way to the gold in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
All Becky O'Brien could do after placing second to Hayes in 2008 — 50-6 Â¾ to 48-5 Â¼ - was go back home to Cumberland, Maine and train even harder than ever before.
That was the script and O'Brien followed it to perfection.
All six of her throws topped the best effort of runner-up Emily Vannoy of Frederick, Md.
Gathering steam from round to round to round, O'Brien finally bombed one out to 52-1 Â¾ in the sixth and final round. It was the second best ever in NON annals and ranked 11th all-time in USA history.
"I wish I would have thrown it a little bit further, but there were a few things that went wrong on my last throw," said O'Brien. "It was my PR, but I still I think I could have thrown it much better than that. I didn't quite get the height I needed on the shot, my legs didn't push as well as they could have.
"I've PRed the last two years here, so I was thinking why not PR three years in a row?. To win by this margin was really important to me. I didn't want to come in and win with a bad day. I wanted to win and do it impressively."
Only NON thrower ever to best the O'Brien winning mark was Red Oak, Texas's Michelle Carter, who established the meet record of 54-5 Â¼ in 2003 (and still holds the National record of 54-10 Â¾, also in 2003.)
Two others bested 45 feet — Lawrenceville, Ga.'s Eve Machovec, third at 45-5 Â¼, and Toms River, NJ North's Maureen Laffan, fourth at 45-1 Â¾.
Now, O'Brien shifts her focus to Saturday's discus throw, in which she's seeded second.
This will be a hugely hectic weekend for the O'Brien entourage.
They drove the 900 miles from Maine on Thursday, and then head to Columbus, Ohio for the USA Track and Field Junior National Championships on Sunday. Sometime late Monday — surely very weary — they will arrive back home in Maine.