The standards were tougher and the bar was set much higher, making Thursday's meet the most competitive it has been in years. All of the top sprinters, distance runners, field athletes, male or female, were truly ready to show off a season's-worth of exhausting training. The Montgomery County Championships was the start of the postseason where the excitement, determination, and athleticism motivate a very vibrant atmosphere. Each respective event was very intense and exciting. Fast times, long throws, awesome jumps, and a few county records were achieved by some of the many future dedicated Division-I athletes coming from Montgomery County high schools.
I had a chance to talk to several different elite athletes in the county who were graciously kind enough to share their thoughts about the meet and season with me; and moreso than ever, I learned that this meet was not just about the intangible fast times and records but it's about much more. It's about the tangible. It's about the athletes. It's about their careers as a whole which led up to this meet and great collaborative effort on part of the athletes and coaches who, with diverse philosophical ideas and methods, give it all they have for one common goal: win.
The Quince Orchard boys' 4x8 has been one of the more dominant 4x8's in recent years having been the second school in the past 4 track seasons to break 8 minutes. Their accomplishments are unlikely without one man who had always stuck to the road-racing aspect of cross-country and track. Neal Darmody is a junior for QO who had stuck to training and racing with his father. All of the Montgomery County athletes were vying to know which school he goes to. This year he decided to join cross-country and track and Quince Orchard was the lottery winner. The jackpot: an athlete who has been an indispensable member of a 4x8 relay capable of breaking the ultimate barrier: sub 8 minutes.
At counties, junior Josh Joson led off and was able to get off the line very quickly. This saved their relay a couple seconds, which is always the deciding factor between breaking a time barrier and coming close to it. Joson bolstered into the front pack right behind senior Evan Whetsell of Churchill who took everybody out. These two dueled for both laps, pushing each other and matching one another stride-for-stride. Whetsell pushed Joson just under 2 minutes. It was now Jamie Hard's and Darmody's turn to duel. Hard stuck with Darmody as long as he could With 200 meters left, Hard would fall of pace and Darmody would finish completely alone. Like always, Darmody allows the following leg to be right with the leaders if not in the lead. This gave David Laratta nobody to run with. But all he wanted to do was to make sure anchor Reagan Lynch had a lead. Laratta battled with the toughest opponent out there: his mind. He came through in one tenth of a second over two minutes and gave Lynch an insurmountable lead. At this point, Wootton was in second place and started to push QO. Lynch knew he had three more open races and hoped to relax as much as possible. He split a 1:58 and QO overall ran 8:00.1. The QO boys could have been better off with more competition to push them under 8 but are looking forward to being one of many sub-8:10 4x8s from Montgomery County to represent at states.
Wootton was the other 4x8 that pushed QO. Wootton finished two seconds behind QO in 8:02. Similar to QO, Wootton could not have accomplished what they did without the help of an athlete new to the high school running scene. Just like Darmody, Max Swider is also a junior. But unlike Darmody, this season has been Swider's first season of running. Swider was completely new to the scene. He had done no physical activity since soccer in November and wore pathetic looking beat-up shoes to the first day of practice. He ran his first 800 in 2:08, a time which would allow him a spot on their 'A' team 4x8 which had already broken their original school record of 8:32 in the 4x8 numerous times. Swider would make great strides throughout the season, as would Chris Boyd and Cedric Dana. Dana's improvement in the 800 was a result of an injury that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Dana was diagnosed with Compartment Syndrome which prevented him from doing any legitimate mileage at all. As a result, he began to work with the sprinters daily. And as it turns out, raw speed was what he really needed. Dana began dropping his times rapidly and since that move, he has never ran over 2 minutes for an 800.
Junior Kenny Sui was in a small slump but came through with a leadoff 2:05. Max Swider split a big PR of 1:59 and started out Dana in 5th place. Cedric Dana, who established himself as the top leg on his 4x8, ran the third leg. After some dispute whether to move him to anchor, Coach Redmond and Dana decided to keep Chris Boyd at anchor since he was used to the role, and have Dana run the third leg. Dana reeled in four teams in just the first lap of one leg, thus going out very fast. He started to reel in the leader Laratta with 100 to go but faded a little. He still split a 1:58.07 and put Chris Boyd in great position to be behind Reagan Lynch of QO and nobody else even close behind him. Boyd would fail to make any distance and hang in second place with a 1:59 split.
Whitman has had the best 4x8 squad for the past two years in the county. They hold the county record of 9:22, which they ran last year. With the increasing effectiveness of their solid speed work, they came in with hopes of breaking their previous record. The four members of the Whitman girls' 4x8 are so close that they would never want to train with anybody else. Each girl serves as an inspiration to the other and together they are able to steadily improve. One example is Morgane Gay. After some switching around by Coach Steve Hays, Morgane Gay has found herself very comfortable at the leadoff leg. At counties, she continued to improve by running a 2:11 split. This gave Debbie Isen a 50 meter lead. Excited, Isen went out very quickly. Meter by meter, the other runners began to reel in Isen. Isen held onto her lead as best as she could and after two minutes and 32 seconds of racing, handed off to Gabe Mckenzie who would run a great race. Mckenzie could not hold onto her lead with a 2:27 split, however. Nonetheless, anchor Leslie Morrison was in fantastic position behind anchor Erin Mcmanus of Churchill. Time and time again, Morrison finds herself in the same position: starting off in second place and having to catch the Churchill anchor, whoever it may be. The other members of her relay squad were very confident. Morrison would come through and pass Mcmanus with ease. Morrison would cruise to a 2:16 split. Despite their 9:26 overall time, they hope to bring their time down at regionals.
Chris Moen of Walter Johnson has long ago established himself as the best middle distance runner in the county. Moen had an enormous indoor season, beating his 4:15 1600 PR from outdoor counties by 8 tenths of a second for a full mile. He had struggled for all of outdoor and lost his confidence. His training progressively improved and he reached a point just before counties where he accepted that he "got his speed back." All he wanted to do at counties was get back to the fast times he had been running before 2007 outdoors. On his anchor leg of the 4x800, Moen would split just over 1:55 and reel in a lot of runners. Later in the meet, he would win one of the most stacked 800 meter races this county has ever seen with five different runners finishing under 1:58. He had a bad start to the race, getting boxed in for the first 250-300 meters. He was very surprised and excited to see that sophomore Antonio Palmer of Gaithersburg, an elite 800 runner since 7th grade, gave him the inside. Since he was boxed, his first lap was rather slow, coming through in 59 but was ahead of a large pack. Moen wanted to push the last lap hard to succeed in running a fast 800. Palmer would stick right with Moen for 300 more meters before fading and struggling to finish hard. Moen finished alone in 1:56. This has served as an enormous and much-needed confidence booster for Moen who now knows he is capable of doing what he once did with so much dominance. Moen did not run the mile but will run it at regionals.
Elias Tousley of B-CC, the male athlete of the meet as voted on by the coaches, had a very special day by completing two-thirds of the ever-respected distance triple. Usually, Tousley was a racer who would sit back in the pack and have a long and lethal kick late in the race. He has since wanted to have more confidence leading a race throughout its duration. Nonetheless, Tousley led the boys' mile, but at a slow pace, came through the 800 in 2:17. 250 meters left in the third lap, they had begun to pick up the pace and Will Palmer decided to make his move and pass Tousley. Tousley had a difficult time reeling in Palmer and did not think he would succeed in doing so. But, with 200 meters left, Tousley did make his move and passed Palmer. He would not relinquish his lead again and would finish in a 4:23, a time which he was disappointed with and would have much rather improved on his 4:20 from last year. Palmer mentally more than physically really struggled the last 200 meters and hung onto a 4:29.
Tousley, in the two mile, would look to conserve energy and run a decent time. This was definitely impossible with Neal Darmody and teammate Chris Bowie in the race. Darmody led for as long as he could with Tousley on his back and a large pack behind in the distance. Tousley made his move rather late in the race where at that point, Tousley, Darmody, and Bowie established themselves in the lead pack. As the pivotal last lap arrived, Tousley was on the move in front and finished in 9:29. Darmody struggled to stick with Tousley and finished five seconds behind, and Bowie almost caught Darmody. The success of Tousley and the strides Bowie has made this season by running his fastest time since counties last year (9:34) was in great part due to the quicker workouts from Coach Young. The shorter interval workouts have helped the duo develop more speed and overall turnover. This complemented the longer endurance-type workouts they had been doing earlier in the year.
Cara Harrison of Quince Orchard was part of a special 4x8 at Counties. Her relay squad is just 5 seconds off the school record and it is very possible they break that record at regions or states. Despite the blistering heat, which slowed down a lot of teams, each leg ran a PR and their entire squad ran a PR of about 8 seconds. Thursday was their first time under 9:40 despite having previously struggled to break 10 minutes. In her two-mile (she did not run the mile in order to focus on the two-mile), she found herself in a battle with Halsey Sinclair of Montgomery Blair. They came through their first mile in 5:33 right next to each other. Harrison stuck with her as long as she could but essentially hit the wall during the final mile.
Morgane Gay of Whitman had to endure the limited rest time between the 4x8 and mile. Fatigued from her 2:11 split, Gay still ran for the win. She was unaware of her competitors' abilities and went out hard and led from the shot of the gun. She held on for a 5:01. This conservation of energy proved valuable for her later in the meet. She triple jumped a PR distance of 33-05.50 which made her 5th in the county and hopeful of qualifying for states, despite her focus on distance. Finally, she split a PR of 58 seconds in the 4x4.
Leslie Morrison of Whitman was overall content about her eventful day. Morrison got out strong in the open 800 and immediately bolstered out into the lead. Morrison came through the first 400 in 68 with both of the talented Sinclair twins right behind her. Both of the Sinclairs hung on as long as they could but dropped back early within the final lap. Morrison would finish alone in 2:16. She would have liked to run faster as she had before in her career, but her 2:16 is a county meet record, nonetheless, and she is content with it. This is a product of Coach Hays' shifting focus toward speed and away from the longer-type intervals. The 400 was not as successful for Morrison as were her two 800's, surprisingly.
Katie Wolf of Winston Churchill is only a freshman. Yet she has emerged into an elite sprinter within the county. Wolf is stoked to be a freshman in the county and double in two events at counties after having nervously, yet rightfully so, been anticipating a long and difficult day with amazing competition in each of her events. In the open 400, she had to duel with Leslie Morrison and Alyssa Jewel of Gaithersburg who has consistently been going under 59 seconds. As always, the open 400 had come down to the final 100 meters and Wolf was able to pull out her first county title. She was able to repeat her performance in the open 200, coming off the turn and down the straightaway with great strength and momentum. Since she is only a freshman, this is Wolf's first taste of post-season track. She realized how much more serious and competitive it got and how much more focus and strategy it required. She was more than ready for it.
Wil Zahorodny, a junior from Damascus, is an elite cross country runner who, with great versatility throughout his career in track, has switched between the long distance and middle distances. He seems to have found that middle distance serves more as his niche than long distance this year. This says a lot because he is still very capable in the mile and two mile (won his only mile race at Cougar Relays 4:34). He is unsure of what his focus will be from hereon out but Zahorodny came into counties with one very strong yet realistic expectation for himself: sub-50 for 400 meters. He came through in the clutch, winning his heat as well as overall competition with a time of 49.16 seconds.
Ashley and Ashlyn Decruise have established themselves as enormous parts of Richard Montgomery sprinting, which is perhaps the strongest male-female sprinting corps in the county. The RM 4x2 had no problem whatsoever. They won by an unusually large margin for a sprint relay with a blazing 1:42. Their 4x1 was not able to live up to their 4x2, however, as they got disqualified and thus fell to the victor Gaithersburg Trojans. Bad handoffs plagued that RM 4x1. However, they were able to redeem themselves in the 4x4 with a big victory. Ashlyn Decruise would also finish in a respectable third place with a 25.95 in the open 200. Ashley Decruise, on the other hand, would win her only open event. Decruise had immense success getting out of the blocks in the 100 meter dash and thus already had a deserved advantage over her competition. She won with an 11.90, just one-tenth of a second off the meet record.
The Richard Montgomery boys 4x2 and 4x4 have been the supreme squads in Montgomery County this year, but they even greatly exceeded their own expectations at counties in the 4x2. They felt some pressure from a lot of people who were saying "they were done." They focused on time and finally broke a county record and thus defended their title from last year. Even more unbelievably, they beat their time from last year by two seconds (about half a second per person) with a time 1:29.07. The switch from Alonze Evans-Chase to leadoff and senior Patrick Pinchinat to second leg made their squad a second faster overall. They also did a lot of work on handoffs, which paid off for the most part. Brendan Etzel had some trouble receiving the handoff from Gary Frazier since he had left a little bit too soon and had to slow down a little to receive the baton. This is perfectly understandable considering the exciting situation Etzel was in-going into the lead as the anchor leg for RM. Nonetheless, Etzel split just under 21 as did Pinchinat. Frazier split around 21.5 and Evans-Chase around 22.5. They still have room to improve in the areas of smooth and clean handoffs, keeping in mind that one stumble in the exchange from Etzel to Pinchinat. Etzel shared similar success in the 4x4. Their leadoff leg found himself in the middle of the pack throughout his leg. But since Etzel's second leg, and Brian Sickles's and Jon Ryan's ensuing legs, Richard Montgomery would grab the lead and never look back. They repeated as County champions in 3:23.7.
Tyler Jackson was the winner in the 110 meter hurdles. His effort to edge out Donovan Mahone was something that the RM boys could not do without. Jackson had been injured for most of the season with a pulled hamstring. The past two weeks or so, Jackson has had to work very hard to get back at the level he was during indoor (state champion in 55 meter hurdles). He is still not completely healed, yet pushed through it at counties and is happy with his time and victory in the 110 meter hurdles. The scary thing is that he can only heal more and get further back into it come regionals and states.
Audrey Gariepy-Bogui of Churchill, female athlete of the meet as voted upon by her coaches, easily had the best performance on Thursday by setting four county records. She high jumped a 5-09.50 to make her the 6th best high jumper in the nation. She also won the 100-meter hurdles in a record time of 14.05 seconds. She broke records in the 300-meter hurdles (44.57), and the triple jump with a 38 foot jump. Very fittingly, Gariepy-Bogui is going to one of the best track schools in the nation in Villanova. One of her coaches, Dave Warren, had a lot to say about her training: "…With my hurdlers, we worked on hurdles every single day this season, and I told them a while ago if they keep their focus, we will have three in the final. They kept [at] it, worked their butts off and only one placed but we had 3 out 8 in there. And they know that four of those girls move to a different class or region so if they take the experience and pressure of the postseason with them we could have three make it to states. [It's a] tall task but we shall see. Overall though, the sprinters and jumpers have so much to work on technically so hopefully we can get some solid work in for the regional meet and get some kids into states."
BJ Shaw of Gaithersburg had a very eventful day at the County meet, competing in all three jumping events. His day began in a very frustrating way, placing 4th in the high jump and 3rd in the long jump. He had hoped for much better. Upon noting his frustration, his coaches and team provided great wisdom and advice and great support. This allowed Shaw to let his frustrations go and win the triple jump with a 12-or-so inch PR of 46-03.50. Shaw is even more prepared for the upcoming regional meet with a new shift in focus in training and looks to show off a new event.
Sean Stanley of Gaithersburg has been a very good shot put thrower his entire two year career at Gaithersburg. This is much in part due to having been a teammate of Robert Dugan, one of the top shot putters of yesteryear and being coached by the Coach Parry and Coach Joyce. Stanley would come through at counties with a throw of 52-11.50.
Brittney Moreland of Northwest is content with her performance at the county meet. She could not have achieved this without her "very hard work at practices" and was very thankful of her throwing coach Mr. Friedman. And of course, it always helps to step out of the cheerleading shoes and into the throwing shoes. Going into the meet, she had the county record for the shot put in mind. She was a mere three inches off the record but was still very satisfied with her solid performance of 39 feet and one inch.
The Richard Montgomery boys, with just about all their points coming from sprints and hurdles, upended the previously undefeated Gaithersburg Trojans 84-80.
The Winston Churchill girls won the girls' side of competition by a large margin, scoring 100 points. One of the main focuses of their training is recovery. This has kept them fresh and ready to put down fast times and important victories. They conserved a lot of their energy in dual meets and focused on training through them. Technique was a big focus as well. For the day of the meet, it was all about using those fresh legs and sticking to the game plan. Clearly, it worked.