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State Champion Insights Part I
By: Kevin Milsted

When a team wins four consecutive state titles, or four consecutive anything for that matter, you have to look back and see if anybody contributed for all four years. In this case, the answer is "not really." Senior Josh Netterville recorded a few impressive marks as a freshman, but he did not really become a team contributor until his sophomore year. The same can be said for seniors Ngoy Jeriel Yamitshi, Komlan Attiogbe, and Elton Quansah. All were there from the beginning, impressed and inspired by the performances of Jalen Walker and Diego Zarate who were the team leaders in 2014. It took a year or two for each to develop into what they once admired.

"What we do," said Northwest head coach Robert Youngblood, "Is try to get the kids to buy into, not a team, but a program. [We] graduate Diego Zarate, Shyheim, Andrew Daniels, and we still do this. It's amazing."

Four consecutive state titles is amazing any way you slice it, but it is truly unprecedented in that no boys team had ever accomplished four consecutive indoor state titles in Maryland's largest classification. According to the MPSSAA state record book, Fairmont Heights won seven straight state titles in the 70's in Maryland's 'ABC' or 'A' classifications ('AA' was the largest classification at the time), and Oakland Mills won four straight state titles in Maryland's 1A-2A classification between 1999 and 2002.

One of the things that makes it so hard to win four straight state titles is that the athletes may begin to take it for granted. On Tuesday, during Northwest's quest for a fourth straight 4A state title, Youngblood sensed things unraveling. Northwest finished a disappointing third place in the 4x800-meter relay and only picked up one point in the 55-meter hurdles.

Said Youngblood, "After that [4x8] and then after the hurdles, I pulled the guys aside and I went off on them. I took all the guys outside and told them, 'You're going to throw away your state title. Ya'll came in with these big heads just knowing you were going to win and now you're not doing anything. You're chucking away everything.' All of a sudden, they all manned up. They decided to get it back together."

Josh Netterville probably did not need the motivational speech.

"I just have the will to not lose," said Netterville after his day concluded. "I hate losing. It's not even about winning. It's just about not losing. I just hate losing."

No, he probably did not need the motivational speech, but things certainly started to turn around for Northwest, starting with Netterville. He won his first state title with a 34.92 300-meter dash, which was the second fastest ever by an MCPS athlete at the indoor state meet. Shortly after, three Northwest runners finished in the top six in the 55-meter dash, led by Netterville's 6.40 winning performance. It was the fastest 55-meter performance ever by an MCPS athlete at the indoor state meet.

On going sub-35 in the 300m dash, Netterville said, "I didn't know I could do that. I was just trying to - well, Blood was saying that he knew I could do sub-35. I just wanted to beat Jalen Walker. I just wanted to beat another school record."

No moment was more telling of Netterville's never-lose attitude than Northwest's victory in the 4x200-meter relay. Unbeknownst to most, Northwest probably should not have won that race on account of substituting a distance runner in for a sprinter. By the fourth leg, the gap between first place Bowie and third place Northwest looked insurmountable.

"We had to make a substitution," said Youngblood. "We put Elton Quansah, our 4x8 guy, and here comes Josh flying around...pulls it out and wins the 4x2. That was CRAZY."

And so one of MoCo's finest ever indoor-only track athletes goes out on top. The baseball diamond is calling and it seems likely that he will hang up his track spikes for good.

"I still have nationals," he said. "I mean, maybe in college but I doubt it. It's hard to shuffle with baseball and indoor track."

The other hero of the day for Northwest was Chase Osborne who turned in a 1:57.93 800m to win his first state title after also scraping one point in the 1600- meter run before the 800m.

Osborne admitted that his fortunes changed when Thierry Siewe Yanga of Montgomery Blair High School was forced to miss the regional meet due to a hamstring injury. Siewe Yanga seemed completely unbeatable: in MCPS meets, at the Montgomery Invitational, and in breaking the indoor county championship 800m meet record. And then suddenly, he was not there.

"I was going to go for second or something behind Thierry," said Osborne, when asked if three weeks ago he pictured himself as a state champion.

"Back at regionals when Thierry wasn't in the race, I'm like, 'well, someone's got to take control of the race.' So that's what I did. I just booked it the first three laps or so and that ran me a 1:56."

There is a lighting design engineer somewhere in America who can take partial credit for Osborne's success. During that regional race, when Osborne led from start to finish, he was still perpetually aware of Garrett Suhr's fierce kick. The bizarre movement of shadows made him believe that someone was constantly moving on his shoulder.

"It's kind of weird," he said. "The lights here make a bunch of shadows around you and I kept thinking one of the shadows was Garrett, but when I finished the race, I turned around and had a big lead."

Shadows were not an issue at states.

"I wasn't even thinking about it really. I was just like, 'I'm gonna go win states.' That's all I was thinking about so I just took off and never looked back."

Waiting at the finish line with a paper cup of water, Thierry Siewe Yanga was the first to put his arm around him and congratulate the new 800m state champ.

The Northwest girls team finished second in the 4A standings for the second consecutive year. Taylor Wright was the team's lynchpin as she scored 22 of 70.5 points by herself, but Eddita Pessima was the team's lone individual state champion.

"Eddita is somebody that never thought she was a track person," said Youngblood. "She was like, 'I don't even like track.' She used to argue with me about this."

Pessima agreed: "He saw something in me that I didn't see in myself at the time. He kept saying, 'You can do this. You can do this.' I didn't believe him. I honestly didn't, but he kept talking to me and motivating me. I quit my job, and I was like, 'Okay, I can do this.'"

Her time of 8.28 was third fastest by an MCPS athlete at the state meet in the last ten years. To the naked eye, it looked like a dead-even finish between Pessima and Nafisat Adeyemi of Bladensburg High School. Both Pessima and Adeyemi appeared to celebrate as they crossed the finish line.

"When I first crossed it, I thought I crossed it first so I got excited, but then she started celebrating, so I was like, 'Oh, wait. I don't think I won.'"

The FAT camera gave the nod to Pessima by two-hundredths of a second.

"As soon as I saw my name on the scoreboard," said Pessima, "I felt as if nothing else mattered at the time. The fact that I had my teammates come and hug me and Blood come and support me...we both cried. It was such a great moment."

"She has dedicated herself," said Youngblood. "She put in hard work. She put herself in the 4x4. She's one of the better high jumpers. Hurdles, 4x2, you name it, Eddita can do it all now. She's right up there with the rest of the girls."

Before the 4A West Regional Meet, no one would have picked Northwest to win or contend for the girls 4x800 relay state title. Prior to the indoor season, the Northwest girls would not have picked the Northwest girls.

"Here's the thing," explained Youngblood. "Talk to Sofia and Lananda. They literally told me at the beginning of the year, 'We're not running the 4x8 because we are not going to be good.' Literally. And Sofia, she says, 'Come here. I gotta tell you something. Remember when I said...' I said, 'I remember your exact words. And now look.' She says, 'I can't believe this. Everything you said is going to be right.'"

Prior to the regional meet, Northwest had only clocked 10:14. They won the 4A West Regional with a time of 9:50.58. The state 4x8, won in 9:45.31, tested each girl's mettle and demonstrated a toughness like Youngblood had not seen.

Churchill jumped out to the early lead in the 4A 4x800 thanks to eventual individual 800m state champion, Gwenyth Asbury. Northwest raced right back into it and had the lead by the end of the second leg. Churchill, Whitman, and especially B-CC pressed the issue over the second half of the race, but Northwest's Lananda Correia and Modukpe Akpona did not relinquish the lead.

Sofia Zarate, who did not believe that Northwest would contend this season according to Youngblood, received the baton in first place. Analise Schmidt, who helped B-CC win the outdoor state title in the 4x8 last year, and who is just as well known for her 500-meter speed, got the baton within striking distance of Zarate. Zarate held off her opponent with a 2:23 split.

Said Youngblood, "Fifth, sixth place was always good for her. Now, it's, 'I want to try to win.'"


2017-02-27 15:50:58

Northwest Girls 4x8 👏 #ExpectTheUnexpected

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