For the Northwest girls, it was different from last year in so many ways.
The stacked 2011 squad consisted primarily of juniors and seniors. They were unbeatable in the relays. The teams that challenged Northwest could do so only by attacking where Northwest was weak.
This year, Northwest has a decidedly young team with primarily freshmen and sophomores making up the relays. Opponents attacked Northwest head-on from every direction, and it would be the relays that tipped the balance of the team standings throughout the 2012 indoor state meet.
Northwest picked up the win in the 4x800 relay, a victory they were not necessarily counting on after B-CC had defeated them at the 4A West Regional. It was a come-from-behind win after India Knight moved from nearly last to second place on the second leg. Gaby Go moved the team into first place and Naomi Sheppard kept B-CC out of reach with a 2:20 split and overall county-best time of 9:39.57.
Momentum shifted away from Northwest when Camry Torian and Kennedy Knight only picked up seven points between the two in the 55-meter dash and the 300-meter dash while Eleanor Roosevelt and Bowie picked up five points each from only one girl. Northwest was hoping for at least ten points more to build a cushion.
Knight and Torian found redemption later when teamed up with Hayley Henshaw and India Knight in the 4x200. Rallying from behind, Kennedy Knight pulled the team from second-to-last place to second place on the third leg. Torian rocketed into first place on the anchor leg, moving past Bowie who held the fastest time of the season entering the meet. 1:44.63 was the fastest time of the season for a Montgomery County team this year.
Trailing Bowie and Eleanor Roosevelt with two events remaining, Northwest's Naomi Sheppard came up with six crucial points for the team in the open 800m. Her third place finish in 2:21.97 positioned Northwest one point behind Eleanor Roosevelt and seven points behind Bowie who did not have a 4x400 relay.
To clinch the state title, Northwest needed to finish first or second in the 4x400 relay and defeat Eleanor Roosevelt which boasted a season-best time of 4:01, over six seconds better than Northwest's season best.
As with the previous relays, Northwest fell behind early. On the third leg, Tiara Wellman, completely fresh with no previous events, picked off several runners and positioned the team in second place. India Knight, who participated on the previous two winning relays, made up ground and caught the lead runner from Eleanor Roosevelt, but the Roosevelt runner responded and re-opened a gap on the final lap. Northwest finished second with a season-best time by over five seconds. 4:01.97 was faster than the 2011 Northwest squad ran at any point last indoor season.
Eleanor Roosevelt finished first with 49 points. Northwest was second with 46 points and Bowie was third with 45 points.
Three Montgomery County girls won individual 4A state titles, but it was a second place performance that was perhaps the most historically significant.
Udeme Akpaete from Springbrook had her biggest challenge of the season in the open 500m when she faced Old Mill's Alexis Franklin. Akpaete pushed the pace from the gun in her normal fashion but was challenged by Franklin on the final curve. Franklin, who already won the 300 and ran the 55-meter hurdle trials, out-sprinted Akpaete to win in 1:14.46 while Akpaete clocked 1:14.56.
It was the fastest 500-meter time ever clocked by a Montgomery County girl. We're not just talking about since Mocorunning was built or since 2000, but the limited records from the previous decades don't indicate that there were any MoCo girls running close to the 1:14's in the past.
While Akpaete called it a day, Franklin had to bounce back to run the 55-meter hurdle finals immediately after the draining 500. She was arguably the favorite to win the hurdles, but apparently did not recover from the 500 and finished sixth which allowed Wootton's Gwen Shaw and WJ's Laura Dally to move up. Shaw finished second in 8.33 after running a personal best time of 8.29 in the prelims, and Dally finished third 8.46.
Shaw also clocked a personal best county-leading time of 40.67 in the 300m which was good for third.
The tightest race of the days was the girls 4A 1600 for which two MoCo girls waited over ten minutes to learn the official outcome. The race saw several lead changes in the first half which was completed in just 2:43. Clarksburg's Abbey Daley and Churchill's Lucy Srour dropped the pace on the fifth lap while B-CC's Ava Farrell lurked closely behind. On the seventh lap, Farrell made a definitive surge into the lead and began to open a gap on Srour and Daley. Farrell seemed to have the race locked up on the final curve, but Srour closed down the gap in the final straightaway. The two girls essentially tied with a time of 5:15.38 and it was not until several minutes passed that Srour was judged the winner.
After winning a "slower heat" of the 500 with a time of 1:17.93 and finishing sixth overall, B-CC's Brittany Wade took control of the 800-meter race. It was smooth-sailing for the first three laps as she split 33-33-35, but Severna Park's Ashley Hayes was noticeably surging as the field slowed on the third lap. Hayes briefly took over first place on the final lap, but Wade responded and passed back on the final curve and sprinted to win the race by over a second in 2:17.27.
The girls' 3200 was not nearly as dramatic as the 800 or 1600. Whitman's Caroline Guiot took over the lead after a slow first quarter mile. She pressed the pace so that only two girls remained close. With a quarter mile to go, Dulaney's Isabel Griffith moved up on Guiot, but Guiot responded and opened a permanent gap on the field. She added a 3200m state title to her trophy shelf with a personal best time of 11:21.96 after claiming the state cross country title last fall.
The Churchill boys made no attempt to win a team state title, but the three representatives from their school combined for two individual state titles and 33 points which was good for third place overall.
Will Conway repeated as indoor 1600-meter state champion with a personal best time of 4:21.04 and finished second in the 800m with an indoor personal best time of 1:58.77.
The 1600-meter race played out similarly to his win in the previous year only with different players around him. He drafted off Quince Orchard's Evan Laratta for about five and a half laps until he felt he could take charge of the race. It was about a lap earlier than he made his move last year, but he said that it was all about feeling the part in the race where he knew he could kick it in from.
In the 800, he said he thought he could have should have kicked a little sooner but was happy.
As Conway was lining up to race the open 800, Churchill teammate Nadim Elhage launched his third and strongest throw of the day: 52 feet and one inch. He already had the lead and it added about a foot to his previous best throw of the day, but the pressure was still on him with two other competitors at 49 feet. Memories of the Montgomery Invitational drifted through his head. He didn't want a repeat of the day the freshman passed him on the final throw. He wanted to set a new personal best of 54 feet, but the mark of 52-01 was all he needed and he was happy to get the win.