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Viking Invitational Elite Recap
By: Kevin Milsted

Head track coach Steve Hays and his supporting staff at Whitman High School put on a first rate invitational track meet for the last ten years, but after the tenth rendition of the Walt Whitman Viking Invitational last spring, Hays felt that it was time to make a change. Hence, the 11th Viking Invitational was not hosted at Whitman High School but rather at Walter Johnson High School.

"Whitman has the two finish lines and we thought it would be better to have one common finish line so we didn't have to move the cameras," Hays explained. "The [WJ] track has a little bit more to it than ours does...and we just wanted to get help from some of the other coaches to make the events better. The Walter Johnson coaches said they wanted to help out."

Hays was referring to the arrangement of the finish line for the boys 110-meter hurdles on the Whitman track. Whereas most tracks have a separate start line for the 110m hurdles, Whitman does not have that extra space and therefore it has a separate finish line for that race only. Whitman's jumping pits have also been unusable in past years when it rains.

Enter Elizabeth Muehl, whose vision for an elite invitational track meet in Maryland materialized when Hays expressed interest in moving the Viking Invitational to Walter Johnson. When Muehl heard the news, she wanted to take on a lead role and she had some grandiose ideas for change.

"Steve [Hays] does a great job over at Whitman," said Muehl. "Eleven years in - it's been great. Unfortunately his facilities are not as good. He had already been trying to figure out how he could still run a meet but not have to do it at his place where the pits flood. So we were like 'Yeah, we'll do it here.'"

"For the last couple of years," she continued, "I've been trying to come up with something that is a little more unique and that is going to put Maryland a little bit more on the map for track. I had been thinking about this elite component where it would be great if you have one heat of the mile...but in my vision for the girls... you have these 12 girls all racing to get under 5 and how great that would be for track fans."

Voted by her peers as Mocorunning's XC Coach of the Decade for 2000 to 2009, Muehl has been out of the coaching spotlight since she stepped down as Northwest High School's head track and cross country coach after the 2010-2011 school year, but she never really left the track scene. She has been a facilitator for the sport in Montgomery County in a role that she describes as the "connector between the existing coaches, officials, and the head offices" and the coordinator to "push track and cross country forward."

Muehl is also in the building at Walter Johnson High School and is an assistant coach with the track team in the spring. Her concept for the elite component of the Viking Invitational did not solely revolve around bringing in elite talent. It was also dependent on structure and organization.

"I am so pleased about what happened tonight," she said shortly after events concluded on Friday evening. "This was a relaxed atmosphere. They could warm up. They could check in and still move around. They knew exactly what time their event was and there were some phenomenal performances to top everything else off. So I would say this was a ten out of ten."

"My vision for this is that within three years, I want this night to be the night on every great kid's calendar. This is what I want. Now, I don't know if I'll ever get there but that's my vision and that's where I am going to work I am hoping that word of mouth and some great performances tonight and coaches and kids feeling really good leaving here tonight really helps spread the word for next year. This was track."

Putting an exclamation mark on the Friday night elite events was the greatest girls 3200-meter race ever contested on Montgomery County soil. A pack of four girls attacked the race fearlessly. Maria Coffin of Annapolis, Abigail Green of Walter Johnson, Taylor Knibb of Sidwell Friends, and Page Lester of National Cathedral came through the first 1600 meters in approximately 5:19. The sun fell behind the stadium during the second mile and cool air in the low 60's kept the runners so invigorated that the top two girls actually negative-split the second half of the race. Though Knibb was never far off the leaders, when the kicking started, it was Green in the last 300 meters boldly attempting to drain the kick out of Coffin's legs. But in the final 50 meters, the Footlocker finalist Maria Coffin got the best of Green. Coffin won in 10:37.07. Green finished second in 10:37.60. Knibb finished third in 10:42.55 and Lester finished fourth in 10:47.88.

For Walter Johnson's Abigail Green, it was nearly a twelve second personal best and ranks fourth all-time among Montgomery County athletes behind Sally Glynn (WJ Class of 1996), Bethlehem Taye (Paint Branch Class of 2016), and Caroline Beakes (B-CC class of 2015).

Walter Johnson head coach Tom Martin spoke on Abigail Green's transformation as a runner.

"She's making progress in her racing mentality," said Martin. "She's clearly a very talented young lady, but as a sophomore she's relatively inexperienced as far as racing is concerned and now what you are seeing from her is learning how to race better. When you put the talent and a better race mentality together you are going to get race results like this."

When asked if he was surprised by Green's aggression late in the race, Martin said that he was not surprised by it, especially after he saw a similar desire to win for the first time a week earlier.

"I saw her starting to get a little of that will to win last week in the tremendous leg that she ran in the 4x8 at Woodward Relays. That's something else that you don't necessarily have. It's an acquired desire. You learn that way to find something inside you that gets you a little further and she is starting to do that."


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