The Watkins Mill boys finished second in the 3A state team standings. It was the highest finish ever for Watkins Mill at the Maryland state championship meet and it served to put Watkins Mill athletics on the map according to two-time individual state champion, David Vincent Okoli.
Said Okoli, "Where we're from, my school, we're not really known for sports like that, so me doing things like this is really opening doors for other people in the school. That's my goal: I just want to see everybody make it out."
Okoli won the 3A classification 100-meter and 200-meter dashes with his fastest times coming during the prelims on Friday. His prelim times were 10.75 and 21.78, but the wind flipped on Saturday, particularly in the 200-meter which flipped from +2.1 on Friday to -3.0 on Saturday, a five meter per second differential. His final time were 10.87 and 22.32.
"I thank God for putting me in this position, and I'm really thankful because the goal was not just to win as individuals, it's to win as a team and that's what we're trying to do: to get as much points as we can. I just so happened to win."
He added that his turnover is his key to success, but he was not particularly satisfied with his starts out of the blocks, especially in the 100m.
Okoli ended up with a third state title with his 4x100-meter relay team which clocked a season best 42.14.
Watkins Mill's 55 points was just three points shy of Huntington's winning score of 58. The Wolverines had the chess pieces in place to win it all, but the young team had miscues which kept them off the scoreboard in a few events. Every individual state qualifier for Watkins Mill returns next year except for hurdler Amadou Silimana. Watkins Mill is especially encouraged by freshman Donovan Brown who finished third in the 400m with a personal best time of 50.07.
Okoli was not the only athlete whose times were slower than desired on Saturday. Paint Branch's Kaya Rae Dunbar ran about two-tenths slower in the finals when she won the 4A 100-meter hurdles in 14.47. She also ran about one second off her personal best in the 300-meter hurdles with a fourth place time of 46.29.
"I was happy, but I wish I ran a faster time. Yesterday, I was definitely happy about that [14.21]....[I] had a pretty good start in my opinion yesterday and just kept pushing through it."
She was very subdued for winning one state title and placing fourth in a second event. The wind was probably a factor in the 100-meter hurdles, but she could not find a positive in her 300-meter hurdles race.
"I'm kinda like, it's not necessarily bad, but I'm a little upset about it. I feel like I could have done better. I feel like my start, the first couple hurdles could have been faster than what it was, and that would have set up everything else."
Dunbar is now a two-time state champion including the 55-meter hurdles indoors and 100-meter hurdles outdoors, and her time of 14.21 ranks fourth all-time by an MCPS athlete according to mocorunning's all-time records.
Seneca Valley High School's Deborah Gnoumou ran about two-tenths slower in the finals Saturday (15.27) compared to the prelims on Thursday night (15.05), but she did not care about the time at all. She was overcome with emotion for taking the victory in the 2A classification 100-meter hurdles.
Said Gnoumou, "I feel so blessed. So happy. I've worked so hard for this. Just practicing, practicing, praying for this moment."
In addition to doubling over with emotion, Gnoumou was visibly limping after the race. She explained that a few meets ago, she fell while high jumping which resulted in a scraped knee and swollen shin. She also said that she has had pain in her knees since she was eight years old when she fractured both kneecaps.
"Overcoming everything means so much to me," said said. "...I'd like to thank my coaches, my mom. I'd like to thank God especially for being there for me all this time through injury."
Gaithersburg High School's Zachary Jones did not exactly have a dream state meet due to an unfortunate schedule conflict with high school graduation on Friday afternoon. Jones, the 4A West region champion in the 110-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, and pole vault, chose his high school graduation over the state meet, and therefore he missed the 110-meter hurdles and pole vault events. That only left the 300-meter hurdles on Saturday, and he ran it like it was the last race he would ever run.
Said Jones, "Yesterday I graduated and it started at 2:30. The meet, Morgan State started at 4:00. We were all the way in D.C. There was no way I could make it. I missed pole vaulting and I missed 110 hurdles. It sucked, but I think that's what made me fight hard through these 300-meter hurdles."
He rocketed out of the blocks and immediately made up the stagger on the runner to his right.
"Not to be cocky or anything but I kind of knew I was going to be leading in the front. I tried to do my best, and I don't know, I kind of gave up in the middle but still mentally followed through it," said Jones.
He finished in 38.86 which was nearly a full second ahead of the next competitor in the 4A race. It was the fastest 300-meter hurdle time by an MCPS athlete in any meet since 2016.
"My hams are like scorching," he added. "They hurt real bad. Lactic acid build-up...I'm happy but at the same time I feel like I could have recovered better coming off the homestretch."
Blake High School was unable to realize its dream of winning the girls 3A state title on Saturday. Serena Harrison was involved in the tightest 100-meter final of the meet in which she finished in fourth place just 0.03 seconds behind the first place champion, Jada Sobratti of Frederick High School. Noelani Phillips ran short of her expectations in the 400-meter dash (3rd in 56.06) but she bounced back to claim the state title in the 200-meter dash in 24.82 with a -1.5 wind reading.
Said Phillips, "My 400 didn't go exactly how I wanted so I just got my head right and I was like, 'I gotta come out and win this 200 because we've been working at it all year so just had to leave it on the track.'"
She continued, "I directed all my anger and all my emotions towards just running so I got out, held it, and on the back stretch started accelerating, turning over, came through the line."
Phillips declined to comment on Blake's absence in the 4x100-meter relay, but Blake loaded up the 4x400-meter relay with Phillips and Harrison. It was a stronger team than Blake fielded in the 3A West Regional Meet, and therefore, Blake needed to run alone from the slower heat. Their time of 3:57.65 held up for second place.
Perhaps the surprise performance of the state meet came from Quince Orchard's Kyra Lyles who ended the weekend with an individual state title in the 400-meter dash and two additional state titles in the 4x100 and 4x200-meter relays. QO also took seventh in the 4x400-meter relay.
The 400-meter dash was an emotional roller coaster. She watched as Urbana's Ella Auderset went down in the homestretch and she suddenly found herself in the lead.
"I'm actually friends with Ella," said Lyles, "We talk a lot off of the track so I was sad to see her fall, but I'm glad she got back up, and she was telling me how she was glad it was me that got it even though she was about to do it."
"When I saw Ella fall, I was like, 'Oh my God.' Because there was one girl next to me, I was just like, 'Oh my God, I just have to beat her now.' My strategy was just beat whoever was next to me at the end."
Lyles credited her improvement to running indoor track this year as opposed to last year when she was stuck running 58's due to lack of conditioning. Her 400-meter times dropped into the 57's early this spring season and her state winning 400-meter time was a personal best 56.48.
"Since this year I came off running the 5 and 3 all season [500m and 300m], so I was like, 'Okay, my 4 has to be stronger this year,' and I've just had the goal to just win."
As for the relays, she said that she and her teammates wanted to win badly at least once because, "It's been the same relay since freshman year [give or take]...and we always get second."
Montgomery County brought home significant hardware in the throwing events on Day 3 of the State Championship Meet. Damascus's Mallory Anderson won the 2A shot put (36-02.50), Paint Branch's Janise Bestman won the 4A shot put (38-09.25), and Einstein's Aaron Lomax won the 4A discus (157-07).
The state meet is rarely the place for PR's in the 1600-meter run because it usually turns into a tactical affair. Richard Montgomery's Garrett Suhr bucked that trend and used his fast competition to race to a PR 4:15.24. It was the fastest 1600-meter run by a MoCo athlete at the state championship meet since 1984.
See also: Mocorunning's Friday Recap and Mocorunning's Saturday Recap Part I