The 2008 athletes of Montgomery County's public school track and field teams had something to prove. Despite cool, rainy weather, little rest time, and (for some) multiple events, fast times and good marks were abundant at this year's Championship meet on May 8th. Several meet records went down, and a number of state-leading and US top 10 performances were reached. The 2008 championships really raised the bar, and showed the nation that MoCo was worth talking about.
The first meet record of the day was the girls' 4x800 meter relay, which started out fast with Churchill's Maryam Fikri leading for almost the entire first leg, splitting 2:19 for 800 meters, followed closely by Northwest, B-CC, and Whitman. A fumbled handoff from Whitman's Liza Schalch to Morgane Gay cost Whitman a few seconds, but Gay made up a lot of ground, putting Whitman in second place behind Churchill's Alex Giedd, but ahead of 3rd place Northwest. The top three teams dropped the rest of the field after the third leg, making it a three-team race from then on. Owoade Ayorinde handed off to teammate Erin McManus at 7:06, but with Northwest freshman Britt Eckerstrom and Whitman senior Leslie Morrison right on her heels, it was anyone's race. McManus led for most of her leg, but huge kicks from Eckerstrom and Morrison made the race very tight with 200 meters to go. McManus fought valiantly over the last 100, but Morrison, the 2007 state champion in the 800, devoured the final straightaway with a 2:12 split to bring Whitman the gold medal, as well as a county record of 9:22.14. Churchill finished a second back in 9:23 (McManus split 2:16), and Northwest ran a very solid 9:27 for 3rd place (Eckerstrom split 2:20).
Though it wasn't as close as the girls' 4x8, the boys' race was just as exciting, likely due to the obliteration of the old county record. The race started out fast, as QO junior Wayne Bartholomew led WJ, B-CC, and Churchill through the first lap in 56 seconds. Bartholomew would keep the lead for the entire first leg, handing off in 1:56 to teammate Ryan Priovolos, who was followed by a chase pack made up of B-CC, WJ, Churchill, and Clarksburg. Priovolos broke the race open once again after passing 500 meters, and the race was over. By the time he finished his split in 1:59, QO had a big lead on 2nd place B-CC, which was busy duking it out with WJ and Churchill for second place. David Laratta finished 9 seconds ahead of B-CC with a 1:56 split, and handed off to Josh Joson, who ran a very impressive 1:56 completely alone to finish in an overall time of 7:49.59, a school record, county record, and season best. Alex Prevost ran a strong anchor leg for B-CC, bringing his 4x8 team its first sub-8 minute clocking this year with a 7:59.6. Churchill overtook a Chris Moen-less Walter Johnson team with a strong anchor leg, finishing 8:06 to WJ's 8:09.
The boys' 110 high hurdle finals was next, which saw a surprise winner in Clarksburg's Petros Bein. Pre-race favorite Tyler Jackson seemed to have suffered some sort of hamstring injury, which caused him to fall hard with two hurdles to go. Bein finished in 14.71 over QO's Caleb Malone and Gaithersburg's Owen Cain, but attention quickly averted back to Jackson as he valiantly struggled to make it over the last few hurdles. His competitors cheered him on through the finish and supported him as he crossed the line and made his way to the infield, which made a stirring statement on how strong the camaraderie is between Montgomery County athletes.
|The girls' 100 high hurdle finals also saw a surprise upset, with Churchill's Amirah Polite out leaning favorite Olivia Durr of Poolesville, 15.18 to 15.21. Sherwood junior Katie Salke continued her fine season with a 3rd place showing in 15.34.|
|The girls' 1600 had even more upsets, as unexpected winners took both the 'A' and 'B' sections. Rockville's Amy Ferro led Richard Montgomery's Sarah Britton and B-CC's Paige Donnelly for most of the race, and despite a late-race charge from Donnelly in the race's final strides, Ferro took home the win in 5:25. This time turned out to hold up well, as Ferro's race put her among the top 8 final scorers. This was likely due to the small size of the 'A' heat (8 runners), which was much less deep than in years past. Blair's Johanna Gretschel took the race out fast, leading Churchill's Maryam Fikri, Wootton's Jessie Rubin, Northwest's Kathy Aherne, and Churchill's Erin McManus. Gretschel held her lead for the entire race, and looked very smooth and controlled with a large lead over the rest of the strung-out field. A nice kick brought Gretschel her first county title with a time of 5:11.18 over Rubin (5:16), Fikri (5:19), and Aherne (5:20). The race was a great effort for most of the top girls, most of whom had just run the 4x8 less than an hour beforehand.|
Montgomery County has a fine tradition of generating solid boys distance runners, which made the boys' 1600 one of the most anticipated races of the day. The 'B' heat was won by another runner from Blair, Rutvij Pandya, in a 4:39, but all eyes were on the 'A' heat, which featured some of the county's very best milers in Chris Moen, Neal Darmody, and Andrew Palmer. And since the 1600 was the first race of the day for Moen, Darmody, and Palmer, a fast time was all but guaranteed. Darmody took the race out hard, splitting 61 seconds for the first 400 meters. But by 800 meters, a close-following Moen took the lead, coming through in 2:08, with Darmody and Palmer trailing behind. The next 800 meters was The Chris Moen show, as a Moen the county hadn't seen in over a year finally reared his head and took charge in the last 800 meters, consuming the track with his long, flowing stride. The audience was on its feet as Moen started his famed devastating kick, covering the last 100 meters in 12 seconds for a time of 4:13.05. It was a county record, which shaved almost 3 full seconds off his old record from two years ago. It was also without competition, as Moen finished 9 seconds ahead of QO's Neal Darmody (4:23) and 12 ahead of Whitman's Andrew Palmer (4:26).
The girls 4x200 was expected to be yet another victory for Wootton, but Gaithersburg's ladies had something else planned. The first 2 heats went quickly, with an exciting victory from Blair over RM, but all eyes in the stadium were focused on the sprinters in the third heat. Gaithersburg jumped out to an early lead and never looked back; by the end of the second leg it appeared that the race was over. Bad handoffs and miscues from Wootton and Kennedy hurt their chances of catching Gaithersburg at the end. Gaithersburg finshed almost 2 seconds ahead of the competition, 1:44.79 to Wootton's 1:46:50. Kennedy's girls rounded out the top 3 with a 1:47:19.
The boys 4x200 lived up to the hype it had received, as Blair's boys succeeded in setting a new county record. The second heat held an exciting victory for Watkins Mill over a Kirk-powered B-CC. The third heat was anyone's race until Louis Varella blasted it open on the 3rd leg and amassed a 20 meter lead by the handoff. Despite worries that the cool, rainy weather would hinder a record attempt, Blair's Jonathan Haughton blazed to the finish in a new county record of 1:28.62, almost a half of a second faster than RM's 2007 time.
The girls 400 became yet another opportunity for Wootton freshmen Olivia Ekpone to showcase her national-caliber skills. The first heat was won by Nenna Akpaete in 1:00.18, a few seconds ahead of her competition and also faster than the entire second heat. The third and final heat saw Ekpone in her third race of the day, and many wondered if a record attempt was possible. From the start Ekpone darted to the lead, with only Paint Branch's Arielle Statham holding on to the fast pace. By the 200 meter mark Statham had been dropped and the rest of the pack began to catch up, and Ekpone had the race wrapped up. Her final time of 54.61 brought the crowd to their feet, and broke a 12 year old county record in the process.
The boys 400 promised to be a fast race, as all of the fast heat had seed times of 50.12 or better, as well as several 49-second runners and no clear favorite. Churchill's Darren Harris posted the fastest time of the slower heats with a time of 50.85 in heat 3. By heat 4, many wondered who would come out on top of this exciting race. From the gun, Blair's Louis Varella and Paint Branch's John Jones got out the quickest and established an early lead. The two dueled for the first 200 meters, but with 150 to go Jones had broken and Varella gained control of the race. He widened the gap for the last 100 meters and finished in a time of 48.48, well over a second faster than runner-up Mark Small of Clarksburg and Northwood's Derrick Powell.
With pre-race favorite Lousie Hannallah out with injury, many expected superstar frosh Britt Eckerstrom of Northwest to take the victory in the 3200, as she was the runner-up of the 4A cross country state championships and performed admirably during the indoor season. Eckerstrom did not disappoint, and dominated the race from start to finish by maintaining a 10-meter gap almost the entire time, finishing in a solid 11:19. The real race was for second, between Whitman's Debbie Isen and Liza Schalch, QO's Aimee Moores, and B-CC's Addie Tousley. The pack of four clung together for the first mile in about 5:38, until the Whitman duo and Moores began to move up. The three stayed together until the last 200 meters of the race, and Moores delivered a powerful kick to finish second in 11:25. Isen and Tousley charged furiously the last 100 meters with Tousley outleaning Isen.
Like the girls race, pre-meet favorite Solomon Haile of Sherwood did not attend the meet, which left the door wide open for 4A indoor state champ Neal Darmody of QO. A pack quickly formed at the start of the race with Darmody, Kyle Short and Dylan Straughan of B-CC, and Kyle Balderson of Sherwood. By the 1600 mark, the pack of 4 began to separate and Darmody put on a surge, which would give him a comfortable gap for the rest of the race. 4A state indoor 3200 runner-up Brian Graves of WJ implemented his familiar strategy of sitting back and working hard the second mile, and halfway through the race he had caught the chase pack behind Darmody. With 800 left, Darmody had dropped most of the pack, with Balderson alone hanging within striking distance. The bell lap saw a drastic increase in speed, with all members of the race giving it everything they had. Darmody's strong pace allowed him to cruise to victory in 9:33, with Balderson second in 9:35. Graves held off Short for third in 9:39.
The loss of Audrey Gariepy-Bogui to graduation meant that the girls' 300 meter hurdles race was once again up for grabs. Poolesville junior Olivia Durr added another victory to her stellar season, winning with a time of 44.98 PR, only a half-second behind the meet record. Churchill sophomore Katie Wolf, runner up in the 100, displayed her range by placing second in 46.47 and earning valuable points for her team.
|With RM's hurdle ace Tyler Jackson out for the rest of the day after a spill in the 110h race, the 300 hurdles became anyone's race. Newcomer Keith Hudson of Northwood took an early lead, and QO's Caleb Malone stuck right behind him. Hudson maintained the lead from a fast-closing Malone down the homestretch, winning in 39.81 to Malone's 40.17.|
|The girls 200 meter finals, which contained 4 freshmen, was yet another victory for Wootton's Olivia Ekpone. The freshmen used her long, powerful stride to distance herself from the competition with a victory in 24.54. Fellow frosh Le'Quisha Parker was the runner-up with a finish time of 25.51, edging past Paint Branch's Arielle Statham and Gaithersburg's Alissa Jewell.|
|The boys 200 meter finals was mostly a battle between sprint powers Blair and Clarksburg, with 2 Blazers and 3 Coyotes in the last heat. Blair's own Jonathan Haughton cruised to victory in 22.04, just ahead of teammate Mohamed Mansary and Clarksburg's Avery Graham, who placed third and second in 22.42 and 22.12 respectively.|
Those who witnessed the Walt Whitman girls 4x800 team blast a new meet record knew that Whitman's Morgane Gay and Leslie Morrison would likely re-establish their dominance in the girls 800 meter race. The first heat gave an exciting victory to sophomore Alyssa Henshaw of Northwest, who overpowered her competition in a solid 2:27 effort. Early on at the start of the second heat, the previously mentioned Whitman duo and Johanna Gretschel of Blair established a quick pace, coming through the first 200 in 30 seconds. Almost immediately after, the pace dropped severely, and the pack caught back up with the top 3, who finished the first lap in 1:11. The pace quickened with 400 to go, and with 200 left Gay and Morrison were noticeably in the lead. The two unleashed a furious kick in the last 100 meters, with Gay getting the win in 2:17.11 and Morrison placing second in 2:17.31. Johanna Gretschel finished 3rd in 2:20.
By the start of the boys 800 meter race, the excitement was palpable. Those who have been following the meet closely noticed that Damascus' Wil Zahorodny, a national leader in the 500 for most of the indoor season, had not yet raced, and would be completely fresh for the 800. The first two heats saw unusually fast races with William Draffin of Churchill taking the first heat in 2:02 and Sharif Kronemer of Springbrook kicking past Blair senior Nilan Schnure for a time of 1:59 to win the second heat. The third heat, which contained 8 runners who had previously broken two minutes, promised to contain very fast times. At the firing of the gun, Zahorodny bolted to the lead, with only Antonio Palmer of Gaithersburg attempting to stay with him. Zahorodny finished a blazing first 100 in an unofficial 11.9, and reached the first 200 in 24 seconds. The crowd knew that this race would truly be something special, as Zahorodny reached the first 400 in 51 seconds with Palmer not far behind. They kept pushing, and after 500 meters, Palmer started to fade off Zahorodny's relentless tempo. The crowd was on its feet as the Damascus senior roared down the final straightaway, finishing in a US #2 time of 1:51.15, the fastest 800 meters ever run by a Montgomery County athlete. Despite being visibly disappointed after the race, Antonio Palmer finished in a very, very nice time of 1:54.03, which was well ahead of the next pack of runners, led by Chris Moen, who outkicked Northwood senior Giovanni Reumante for third.
The girls 4x100 relay had many teams scrambling to put their best relays together, as several teams were in a dead heat for third place. Wootton was expected to win, as they had the fastest seed and were anchored by superfrosh Olivia Ekpone, but once again Gaithersburg's girls upset the pre-race favorites to win. Like the 4x2, G-Burg had established such a sizeable lead by the final leg that they could not be stopped, winning in a time of 48.84, a second ahead of the competition. Clarksburg's girls also turned some heads, running a good race and finishing second in 49.83.
Since Clarksburg's boys opted out of the 4x1 in order to run individual events and other relays, the field was clear for Blair to add another relay victory to their collection. The first two heats saw Sherwood and Paint Branch taking the wins, but the third and final heat contained the fastest seed times. Blair was unchallenged for the entire race, despite a bad first handoff. Fumbled handoffs from the second exchange zone took several other teams out of contention, and Blair breezed to the finish in 44.15. Gaithersburg was the runner-up in 44.71, and Einstein rounded out the top 3 in 44.87.
By the end of the meet Wootton had wrapped up the girls' team title, yet many teams were still vying for valuable points. The first heat of the girls 4x400 relay saw Poolesville achieving a dominant victory in 4:08, but the best times were yet to come. In the second heat, Paint Branch dominated the first leg with a split of 58 seconds, leaving Churchill, Northwest, and Whitman to play catch-up. Luckily for Whitman, Morgane Gay is the best person in the county at playing catch-up, as she split well under 60 seconds to bring her team to first place. Whitman maintained a strong lead for the rest of the third leg, with a chase pack made of Churchill, Paint Branch and Sherwood battling it out for second. On the final leg, the gap between the first three teams closed and Paint Branch and Churchill came close to Whitman's Leslie Morrison. In the final 100 meters of the race, Paint Branch's anchor threw it down and made an exciting surge, but Morrison had too much left. Whitman held off Paint Branch, 4:03 to 4:05, with Churchill at 4:06.
The boys' 4x400 was the final opportunity of the day for Blair to flex its sprinting muscle. The boys from Silver Spring already turned in a 3:21.17 at Woodward Relays a month ago, which was almost 3 full seconds head of any public school team, and the fastest 4x4 Montgomery County has seen in the past 3 years. The race started quickly, with a Northwest runner taking the race out hard, but by the time the first 400 was over Blair and Quince Orchard were neck-and-neck. Blair took the lead for the next leg, but was quickly caught by Clarksburg, the "other" MoCo sprint school, which challenged Blair throughout the second leg as QO hung on for third. Blair's Enuma Nzesi exploded out of the exchange zone on the third leg, but was passed by Northwood's 400 ace Derrick Powell, who made the last leg a one-on-one duel between Northwood's Giovanni Reumante and Blair's Louis Varella. Reumante had a several-meter head start thanks to Powell, but Varella's prowess over 400 meters was too great. The 400 county champ broke the race open on the back stretch, and finished for an overall time of 3:22.94 (0.94 seconds away from a county record) with Reumante finishing respectably for an overall time of 3:24.98 for Northwood.
In the field, Ian Francis made a name for himself as he finally won a county title in his trademark event, the triple jump, with a leap of 46-01.75. Kennedy freshman Thea Lafond took home a gold medal in the same event on the girls side, with a 36-06.25 jump. Springbrook senior Ebou Touray won a tight battle for high jump champion with the only 6-foot jump of the meet. Blake's Monica Gerald took the girls' high jump gold with a surprise victory over Paint Branch's Vanessa Jules. And in the long jump, Kennedy junior Romula Hawthorne exploded with a 17-foot jump, a personal best by an entire foot, beating Page Harris of Clarksburg by 4.5 inches. The boy's long jump was won by multi-sport superstar Anthony Young-Wiseman, who concluded a great day by leaping 21-10, 7 inches farther than the runner up, Darius Ray of Magruder.
Shot put and discus saw two double-winners, as Sean Stanley of Gaithersburg threw a discus 153 feet and a shot put 56 feet, 5 inches, while Arleigh Rose of Sherwood won the shot put by a mere inch over Springbrook's Milan White with a 34-2 throw, and the discus with a 118-08 toss. And finally, the pole vault competition (yes, MoCo has pole vault) was won by Springbrook senior Joffery Alcidor with a leap of 11 feet on the boys' side, and by Liz Calhoun of Wooton on the girls' side.
The boys' team competition saw yet another huge, unpredictable upset as Clarksburg, a 2A school in only its 2nd year of existence, won with 95 points over 4A indoor state champion Quince Orchard (88.5 points), perennial powerhouse Gaithersburg (83), and this year's sprint power Montgomery Blair (81).
The winner of the girls' team competition was no surprise, as an Olivia Ekpone-led Wootton took home its second team county title of the year with 96 points over second-place Winston Churchill (76 points). Walt Whitman edged out Gaithersburg by 5 points with a score of 57.5 points.