Few moments in Greg Dunston's coaching career were so powerful that he was unable to speak. One such moment was when Andrew Jesien won the Penn Relays mile in 2005 while Dunston was coaching at Walter Johnson. He called a family member to share the good news, but no words came from his mouth. He passed off his phone, hoping that someone else could explain to the other person on the line.
That moment repeated itself on Saturday afternoon. Even if he had the words to describe the moment, he was choked up in emotion so that he could hardly speak. It was the fastest 4x800 relay he had ever coached. The team exceeded all expectations, including his own, to win the national 4x800 title at the National Scholastic Indoor Championship in 7:48.99.
Of course, it was the national media that was most surprised by Georgetown Prep's performance. The "fastest" races are always last, so when one event ends, most writers go back to their lab tops or work on interviews with winners of the previous event. The fastest times are expected to come out of the one or two final heats based on the fastest seed times. Honest coach Dunston seeded his team at 8:18 because that was the team's fastest time of the season.
The Little Hoyas knew they were better than their seed time. All things calculated, Dunston thought his team could run about 7:54 and have plenty of breathing room for the Penn Relays small schools 4x800 qualification standard. Of course, if everyone exceeded their best time, it was possible to go even lower. That is exactly what happened.
|Running with Georgetown Prep for the first time was transfer Russell Hornsby. Hornsby was a key runner on Jamestown's nationally ranked cross country team in 2008 and had a personal best 800 time of 1:55. He had been ineligible to compete for Georgetown Prep until now because of transfer rules. He sat out the outdoor track season at Jamestown High School last year, and sat out the cross country season and indoor track season with Georgetown Prep this year. He was permitted to run on the relay at this meet because the team competed as the Little Hoyas Track Club, not Georgetown Prep School. He is considered a junior now and will be a senior next year.|
Shin problems prevented Hornsby from working out much this winter. With basically two weeks of practice and two real workouts, he led off for the Hoyas with a split just faster that his best of 1:55. A runner from Speed City Track Club challenged him every step of the way.
Nick Letourneau received the baton with a lead of just one stride. He maintained the lead for his entire leg, clocking a split of 1:58.
The sophomore, Joey Chapin, took off with a slim lead over the Speed City squad but was soon caught and settled into second place. He ran a career best time of 2:02 and hopped over the Speed City runner after he had tripped and fallen coming down the final straightaway.
Because of the fallen Speed City runner, Joseph Woiwode was handed the baton with a large lead of over 25 meters and it became a race against the clock. He carried the baton around the track in 1:53.6 to finish in an overall time of 7:48.99.
|Photographers jumped off the track to fetch their writers. Interviewers from Milesplit and Dyestat cornered the Georgetown Prep quartet and did not let them disperse until all heats were complete. In the mean time they were asked questions about where they were from, who they were, and how the heck they managed to drop thirty seconds from their season best time out of the "slowest" heat.|
Athletes preparing for their race in the warm-up area watched the first heat with wide eyeballs. Among them were athletes from Walter Johnson who were hoping for success of their own.
In the fourth and final heat, Old Bridge led for nearly the entire race while Walter Johnson gave chase. Sean O'Leary maintained the pace of the leader in the first leg with a split of 1:57. The sophomore, Josh Ellis, who coach Tom Martin says has greatly matured this season, split 1:59 to maintain a slim deficit behind Old Bridge. Nicholas Regan gave up a few steps on his leg in splitting 2:00, but increased the gap on the third place team to set up Martin Dally on the anchor leg.
|Dally, who admittedly was lacking "killer instinct" towards the end of the regular indoor season, says that he now has renewed motivation. Even still, with the gap that the Old Bridge runner had gained on his team, he was unsure of his ability to catch the leader and win the race. With less than a lap to go and a large deficit to make up on the leader, he heard the voice of Coach Tom Rogers on the back-stretch telling him to go for it. He said that he wasn't even thinking but that his body just went. In the final few meters, he powered forward into the lead and fell at the line. He lifted his head to see the clock had stopped at 7:52. Walter Johnson had won the "fastest" heat in a new school record time of 7:52.07. |
Dally later described the race simply as, "amazing."
|As Walter Johnson celebrated (the WJ girls 4x800 team was trackside in the warm-up area to congratulate them first), the Georgetown Prep crew was corralled into the media room where they piled onto a small couch and were interviewed as a team by the Armory Track crew.|
Athletes from Richard Montgomery quietly put on their sweats. They raced in the same heat as Walter Johnson, but Sam Martin said that they were going home disappointed. They had hoped to keep up with Walter Johnson and badly wanted to break 8:00. They only clocked 8:05.53.
Walter Johnson coach, Tom Martin, jokingly said that he teared up for a different reason than Dunston. He was implying that if it were not for Georgetown Prep, his team would be standing atop the podium. He said this in the presence of Dunston as a joke, and there were truly no hard feelings between the two long-time friends and the two teams which made the trip to New York together.
It was Georgetown Prep's second time on the podium that weekend. The previous day they finished third in the sprint medley relay, also out of a "slow" heat. Owen Davis and Alex Mulchandani combined for the first 400 meters in approximately 47 seconds. Nick Letourneau clocked 50 seconds on the 400 leg, and Woiwode ran 1:53.7 on the 800-meter anchor leg for an overall time of 3:31.25. It held up as the fastest time from the first five heats, but was surpassed by two teams in the final heat.
|After all Saturday events were complete, the two relay teams piled onto the podium side by side. Only one geographic mile separates the two schools in North Bethesda. |
When asked how he thought his team would compare to nearby Gonzaga High School, Dunston only said that he would love to have Gonzaga at this year's Woodward Relays.
The fairy tale did not end with the 4x800 national championship. In the final day, Hornsby looked on as his good friend and former Jamestown teammate Colin Mearns won the mile in 4:13.08, splitting approximately 2:10 for 809 meters, and then 2:03 for 800 meters.
|Hornsby jumped in his 800 race and finished eighth overall with a personal best time of 1:54.39.|
Three weeks earlier, Mocorunning honored Woiwode as the athlete of the week for running 1:54.78, the fastest indoor 800-meter time by a county athlete since 1994. With Hornsby's 1:54.39, he briefly took over as the fastest MoCo indoor 800 runner since 1994.
After earning All-American honors twice and splitting 1:53 on two consecutive days, Woiwode was tired. He did not have the expectation of winning the open 800. In fact, there was still doubt as to whether he was truly an 800 runner. Dunston explained that it took years of convincing to get Woiwode and Letourneau to try the 800. Woiwode felt that he fit into the bulky sprinter category and used to think of the 800 as a distance event.
|When the final heat of the 800 went off, the leaders flew off the line. Woiwode let his opponents create a large lead on him. He had never seen that pace for the 800. Entering the final lap, he had never been in better than fourth position for the whole race. With just over 100 meters to go, he unleashed a superior burst of speed to blow by one runner after another. He won the race in the final stretch by a tenth of a second with an overall time of 1:52.86.|
He was in disbelief of his own ability. He said, "I guess I'm an 800 runner now," and then asked how long he had until the 4x400 relay.
Earlier I had asked Dunston if they were seriously going to run in the 4x400 after all they accomplished. He told me that they were going to see what they could do, but assured me that they would be given ample rest over the next two weeks, especially when they are relaxing in Disney World on spring break.
Woiwode split 48 seconds en route to a season best time of 3:25.17. If that wasn't a fitting end to the fairy tale weekend, hanging out with Tinkerbell and Cinderella in Orlando ought to suffice.
So where exactly does 1:52.86 fit in in a historical context? According to a performance list of Maryland distance athletes dating back to the 1960's maintained by the internet entity "malmo," Peter Kimball of Whitman (1994) and Wil Zahorodny of Damascus (2008), are the only two Montgomery County runners to ever run faster, and they did so outdoors. I write with confidence that 1:52.86 is the fastest indoor 800 ever run by a Montgomery County runner.
Andrew Palmer ran 9:25.34 to place 11th in the two mile. He started out strong and faded in the final 800 meters. He was not immediately available for comment.
Cory Puffett of DeMatha finished in 9th in 9:21.21. He asked me immediately afterwards if I had seen what Kyle Graves of Good Counsel ran at Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston that same weekend. Graves had run a 9:21.07 the previous day and Puffett was excited about it. I told him that I had heard about it but did not speak with him further. It did not need to be spoken that this will be an exciting year in the WCAC (also congratulations to DeMatha's 4x400 team for winning at NSIC in 3:17.57.
Sean O'Leary said he felt dead and disappointed with his mile race. Although he was never really in the race in his heat, he still clocked close to his personal best time with a twelfth place finish in 4:25.45.
Rodney Kizito of Springbrook clocked 51.63 in the 400 which he thought was just alright. He is excited for the relays that he thinks his team can put together this year.
Letourneau ran 51.21 in the 400. Afterwards, he said that he was tired, but turned around the same day and split 1:58 in the 4x800.
Brandt Silver-Korn from Whitman ran his first and only race this indoor season and clocked 16:30.70 in the 5k. Prior to the race, he said that he was hoping just to finish under the qualifying standard of 17 minutes since he had not raced all winter, but he started the race at a very fast pace. He was in third place for about half the race, running under 4:50 for the first mile and about 10:23 for 3200 meters. He faded in the final mile, as he suspected he would, but feels he is ready for some good 3200's this spring.
The WJ girls ran 9:46.41 in the 4x800 relay.