Northwest High School swept boys and girls indoor county titles for the second consecutive year. The boys score of 127.5 was the
second highest point total in boys' meet history behind only last year's Northwest team (140). The Northwest girls scored 107
points which is the third highest total in girls' meet history, and they surpassed Churchill as the winningest girls team in meet
history with 5 team titles in the meet's 30 year history (Northwest has only been open 18 of those years).
Taylor Wright was expected to lead the charge for the Northwest girls team - she is a threat to win every event in which she is
entered - but she exited the meet after winning the 55-meter dash due to "feeling under the weather" according to Coach Robert
Youngblood. She did not compete in the 300-meter dash, triple jump, or 4x200 meter relay as expected.
It worked out for Northwest because the next closest team in
the girls standings, Walter Johnson, scored 32 points fewer. Cori Brown repeated as 300-meter county champion (41.44) and
Northwest finished fourth in the 4x2 without Wright. Eddita Pessima emerged as a star for the Jaguars as she became a double
county champion in two events never before won by a Northwest girl: the high jump and 55-meter hurdles. Northwest's bread and
butter, of course, was the jumping events where Northwest placed two girls in the top five in each.
The Northwest boys team surpassed even the dominance of the Northwest
girls team by scoring two boys in nearly every event. Of course, a team must have the qualifying marks in the first place to
enter two athletes in an event, so there was really no doubt to anyone who reviewed the heat sheets about Northwest's chances of
Individual champions from Northwest included Josh Netterville in the 55-meter dash (6.50) and long jump (22-11.00), Khaloni
Mganga in the 300m (35.97), Robert Gicheru in the 55-meter hurdles (7.83) and Northwest relays in in the 4x200 and 4x800.
On the infield, Netterville was striving for a 23 foot jump
while also trying to defeat Blake High School opponent, Ty Mason. It was a dramatic unfolding of events. Mason recorded 22-foot
jumps on nearly every attempt and he recorded a 22-09 mark in the preliminary round. It was the second best mark in county meet
history, but still Mason looked frustrated and hungry for the meet record. Netterville got his 22-11 mark late in the finals to
secure the come-from-behind victory with a new personal best and the new second best mark in meet history.
"I just really was looking forward to trying to win to beat Ty Mason of Blake," said Netterville. "He had a good meet and I
respect him...I wanted to get 23 in the long jump, I was close but yeah I wanted to PR."
Not much time elapsed after the long jump finals before Netterville and Mason were lined up side-by-side in the 55-meter dash
finals. They had the fastest two times in the prelims and the fastest two times in the finals, with Netterville again getting the
best of Mason, 6.50 to 6.57.
For Netterville, who does not run outdoor track in favor of baseball, it's all about points and PR's in the limited time he has
to run track this winter.
Said Netterville, "I wanted to win every event I was running in. I had a little struggle in the 300 after the big break that we
had. My hamstring got a little tight but it was okay I guess. My teammate Khaloni did good. We just wanted to get as many points
as we can. My buddy AJ...we just wanted to get as many points as we could as a team."
Three Meet Records
Three records were taken down in this 30th Montgomery County Indoor
Championship Meet. Abigail Green of Walter Johnson High School won the 1600m in 5:02.00, Thierry Siewe Yanga of Blair High School
won the 800m in 1:57.56, and the Springbrook boys won the 4x400-meter relay in 3:28.17.
Green's run had to come from a slow heat due to the fact that she had no performances in that event this season and thus was
seeded with no mark. Therefore, she had to entirely rely on pacing which she thinks she did pretty well.
"I was really happy with the 1600," said Green, "...not as much with the 32 [11:06.38, 1st], but it's my first time doing that
close double of the 16 followed by the 32 so I knew it would be a little slower than I wanted it to be."
"I was still happy that it worked out with [the record], happy that I was able to keep myself disciplined with the pace even
without somebody pacing it because I haven't done too many indoor 1600's."
Thierry Siewe Yanga of Blair High School also found himself
exhausted with the attempted two-event double in the short time frame, but he also was not having a good day in the first place.
Said Siewe Yanga, "I was tired coming out of that 500 and I barely ate this morning so I've had severe headaches...had to get
some pills. So today I feel really tired. Hopefully I get that county record [he broke the record by two-tenths of a second but
he did not know for sure until the end of the meet]...Hopefully, I add three weeks to really get some quality speed work in and
stamina so hopefully it will be better."
"Diego and Oliver Lloyd," he continued, "I remember being in that race two years ago...Those guys always inspired me to be like
them but I never thought I could be even close to them. So this is like a dream come true for real."
Diego Zarate and Oliver Lloyd ranked #1 and #10 in meet history after the 2015 meet while Siewe Yanga placed 13th that day in
2:08.79, but thanks to Siewe Yanga's unabated growth in two years, Zarate and Lloyd will be bumped down a spot or two on the
all-time rankings after 2017.
Siewe Yanga was also the first male indoor county champion in any non-relay event in indoor county meet history from Blair High
Springbrook's head coach Bryan Steele is no stranger to meet records: he
held three meet records after the 2002 indoor county championship meet. Now he can claim one more record as a coach, and it is
possible that the record might not be Springbrook's if not for Steele's coaching.
After losing the boys 4x200 relay to Northwest, Steele found his boys dejected and downtrodden.
Said Steele, "I went over there and pumped them up and let them know, 'You know, we got one more to go so let's put all of that
aside and let's get the 4x4. We haven't won anything all day so let's leave here with one. You guys won this event last year, so
let's not give this event away to them this year. Make it hard. Don't let them take this one.' It seemed like they listened."
Steele described the race, "First leg didn't go as planned because of
the waterfall start. I expected us to have a little bit of a lead after first leg. We didn't have much of a lead. Second leg, he
pressed it. After his run I felt good. Third leg - I got a little nervous third leg."
The first two legs, Alvin Mukisa and Emanuel Akins, and the anchor leg, Mayen McClain, were reliable track veterans. The third
leg, Sheku Musa was a soccer player and first year track runner.
"Sheku Musa...We put him on the 4x4 Saturday and he split a 53. Today I didn't get his split at all because I was jumping up. On
anchor, I knew we could keep it close. I knew Mayen was mad with the 300 and the 55 and 4x2 so I knew he would definitely give
everything he had. After Mayen got it and it was close, I felt good about it."
It took a record-breaking effort because Northwest also went under the previous record. Springbrook topped Northwest, 3:28.17 to
3:29.26. The old record was 3:29.89.
Jabari Bennett of Blake High School is a big guy who was sidelined
this season by a very little injury: an ingrown toenail.
"It affected my quad so I was out for a couple weeks," explained Bennett.
When he threw just 44-10 at MCPS Meet #2 in early December, he said that it was hurting him a lot so he took a couple weeks off.
On his first throw in his first meet back, he threw 56-03.00, the #3 mark in county meet history, and the best mark in meet
history by a junior. He was also the first Montgomery County indoor champion from Blake High School in the shot put.
"It's a great thing to me. I didn't expect to throw that far that quickly. I was expecting to do a warmup throw [on the first
attempt], but I just kind of launched it out there. It was great. It feels great."
Blake High School finished just sixth in the team standings, partly due to Nathan Phillips' inability to finish the meet after
pulling up short in the 55-meter dash trials. Had Phillips finished the meet and a few other events swung their way, Blake could
have finished as high as second or third, but Blake views themselves as contenders at the state meet moreso than the county meet.
Said Bennett, "We're just working every day. We're in the weight room. We're running hard. We have a mindset: we're hungry and
we want to win championships. We want to win states. So we're really hungry."
The Blake High School girls dominated the 4x200 and 4x400 meter relays with fantastic times of 1:45.16 and 4:02.41. Both times
were the #2 performances in meet history.
Two girls had especially inspired and unexpected runs in the middle distance events. Melissa Kameka of Damascus clocked 1:16.55
to win the 500m by over two seconds, and Morgan Casey of Blair clocked 2:19.31 in the 800m to win that event by over two seconds.
Kameka was favored by Mocorunning fans to win the 500m, so it was not
surprising to see her cross the finish line first. The surprise came when looking down at the stop watch after she crossed the
finish line first.
Kameka expressed her frustration with being "stuck" at 1:20 all season. Her coach shared in that frustration and together they
developed a strategy for a breakthrough.
"I've been running 1:20 for the past few meets," said Kameka. "My coach told me to run the first 400 like I would for a regular
400 and then just push through and go the rest of the 100."
On the final curve, she had a lead, but she could not tell by how much.
"I definitely thought they were really close behind me. The last 55 meters I just didn't want to risk it so I just pushed my
The result was the #4 time in meet history and the fastest time at the county meet since 2012. She also set a personal record by
more than three seconds.
Later in the open 800m, Casey of Blair pulled a similar feat. She had
not run under 2:23 this season, and Mocorunning is guilty of not including her as a top five fan choice to win that event prior
to the meet. Other girls appeared to have stronger resumes and Casey had not finished first in an MCPS meet this season.
But with each loss, Casey was learning.
"From MoCo invite I knew who was ahead of me," said Casey. "I knew it was Gwyn [Asbury] from Churchill and I just took in
everything that I had learned from past races in terms of getting boxed in or going out too fast or not kicking early enough. I
just combined that and also I just really, really wanted it, really badly."
For the first three laps, it was anybody's race. Paint Branch's Kyra Badrian led initially, then Casey took over the lead, but it
appeared like her opponents were sitting and waiting to make a move on the final lap. A burst of speed on the final lap by Casey
created separation that widened with every stride.
"That entire time I thought Kyra was right behind me because I heard her coach shouting 'you gotta pass on the outside!' So I was
like 'Ahhh, she's right there!' I totally thought people were behind me the entire way."
But nobody was behind her - not within striking distance anyway. Her 2:19.31 performance won by two seconds and was the #3
performance in meet history. It was the fastest performance at the county meet since 2007.
Both Kameka and Casey were the first athletes from their respective schools to win indoor county titles in their respective
Thrilling Distance Races
Distance fans were treated to a very unique 1600-meter race in which two of the meet favorites, Andrew Lent of Poolesville and
Rohann Asfaw of Richard Montgomery, had to run in early sections due to not having quality seed times. Lent went first and
finished in 4:34.60, a time that ultimately ranked fourth overall. Asfaw went next and won his heat by 18 seconds in 4:29.56. It
was a top-25 time in meet history and it set the standard for what the runners in heat #3 had to surpass.
Ryan Lockett of Poolesville described the final section of the 1600m:
"We negative-splitted crazy because I was going after Rohann's time and that's not something I like to do. I don't really like
racing for time. I hate taking the lead. I like just sitting back. I had to, though, because I knew the freshman, although he's
great, he's not gonna go after that time. So that's what I did and I realized I was lagging behind so I negative-splitted."
The freshman that he referred to was Richard Montgomery's Garrett Suhr who seemed to be having little trouble keeping up with
whatever Lockett threw at him. On the final stretch, Suhr kicked past Lockett and won in a race that could only be decided by the
automatic timing camera. Suhr became the first Montgomery County freshman male to ever win an individual county title, and he did
it with a 4:25.91 to 4:25.92 win over Lockett.
"To be completely honest," continued Lockett, "I didn't see him at all. I didn't know he was going to be right behind me. On the
last lap, I heard some people calling his name so I was like 'oh, maybe he's trying to kick it in,' but I thought I was fast
enough. And then the last second I saw him to my right and I leaned and I thought, 'Okay, I barely got him.' I was frustrated
because he's a freshman and I didn't expect him to do that well but I out-leaned him. Apparently, I lost by 0.01 and obviously
the past two races I lost by barely anything. That made me really mad and angry, and I used it in this race [3200m].
Later in the meet, two frustrated runners, Lockett and Asfaw, locked horns for the second time in five days. One of the runners
was destined to walk away relieved while the other would walk away with compounded frustration.
B-CC's Adam Nakasaka set the pace for the first mile, and when Asfaw moved into the lead after 1600-meters, Nakasaka responded
immediately and retook the lead. Nakasaka led for three more laps while the two seemed to pull away from Lockett by at least two
or three seconds.
I asked Lockett what was going through his mind at that point in the race when he appeared to be fading behind the two leaders.
"When I was lagging behind [in the 3200m]...every runner goes
through those doubts of like, 'oh man, I'm not having a good race. I can't get up to them.' But today I thought back to my
previous race [1600m] and I just used my anger or frustration to my advantage and I just went for it. I didn't expect to do what
I did but it worked and I am really happy for how I did."
Lockett not only made up the gap in the blink of an eye, his last-lap surge was powerful beyond anyone's expectations. He created
a four second gap between himself and Asfaw to win the race in 9:33.81, the #4 performance in meet history. Asfaw's time of
9:37.50 was the new #9 time in meet history.
Incredible Freshman Feats
Richard Montgomery High School made history by winning the first and
second indoor county titles ever by male freshmen. Chronologically speaking, Suhr was the first freshman to ever do it with his
win in the 1600m, but Seydi Sall's later victory in the open 500-meter dash in 1:05.74 is probably the most eye-popping thing
this writer has ever seen at the county meet. The only runner ever faster at the county meet was the legendary Wil Zahorodny, a
senior from Damascus who clocked 1:05.09 at the county meet in 2008, and because Zahorodny's performance came the one year that
the county meet was hosted at Georgetown Prep, Sall's performance is the best ever recorded at the county meet at the Prince
George's Sports and Learning Center.
The crazy part about Sall's story is that he never ran track before. While his early performances indicated a promising future
(1:11.06 in MCPS Meet #2), his most recent performance puts him on the fast track to becoming nationally elite.
"I started back in October," said Sall. "At first I thought I was going to be a sprinter because in practice when we do sprint
drills I would beat people a little. Then I ran the 400 during practice one day and I got a 52...before we even started in meets
coach wanted me to run the 500."
Coach always knows best, right?
"Honestly, he's a mechanical nightmare," said Richard Montgomery head coach Davy Rogers. "We're working on his form, but he's
hunched over. He's not standing straight up. He's kind of hitting on the back of his heel going forward. Biomechanically, he's a
mess, but heart-wise, he's got it all."
Davy said that he spotted Sall on the track working out for fall basketball.
"I told him, 'dude, you're not a basketball player,' (because I've seen him play basketball). 'You're a runner! You could be a
really good runner.' So he was just going to do club running indoor and I said, 'Why don't you just run for the team and get a
little bit more out of it.' So he came out and he's flourished."
Even after a 1:08.18 at the Montgomery Invitational, Davy was not expecting another 2.5 second drop.
"I told him before the race, 'There's no reason you can't go out and win this thing. Run like you are trying to win it.' But
1:05? No, that's our school record. That's faster than Brett Ligon ran. He was our school record holder, and Garrett broke
Emmanual Porquin's school record in the open 800 indoor. So we've got two freshmen with school records."
Suhr talked about Sall and their prospects as teammates moving forward: "He's crazy. He is very competitive at practice. It's fun
running with him. Coach is planning a 4x8 in two years that is trying to win nationals."
"Garrett I knew was coming in," said Rogers on his distance-oriented
freshman star who landed in his lap this past fall. "I've been told by a lot of club teams, club track coaches that you've got a
kid coming in that's good. I'd heard that he'd run low 4:30's in eighth grade and was a pretty good 800 runner. He just came in
this year and had a great cross country season. I always think him running with Rohann makes all the difference in the world. He
gets to train with one of the best."
"I started in fourth grade," said Suhr, "when my friends just wanted to do track for some fun. I did it and I started winning
everything so I moved up a little bit and just been going since then."
"It's crazy," he continued. "I didn't think at the beginning of cross country, I didn't think I was going to do this. I was just
recovering from a sprained ankle and I thought I was just going to be mediocre this season and PR outdoor, but I'm breaking all
my PR's now."
As for the national title that Suhr alluded to, Rogers thinks that Suhr might be getting ahead of himself just a little bit (or
he secretly wished that Suhr didn't say that to a reporter), but he could hardly hide his own excitement.
"I'm excited. The next few years, and once I get Mark Unger healthy again, I think we will have a really solid 4x8 and 4x4.
Garrett likes to think big picture and I think we will be very good. I think we will be better than the 2010 and 2011 team. It's
just a matter of finding that other guy. Just one more 2-flat guy."