When she was in elementary school, Chantel Ray used to watch then-Hampton High hurdles standout T'erea Brown dominate the competition.
Brown, a U.S. Olympian in 2012, graduated from Hampton in 2007 as the best female hurdler the Peninsula has produced. She finished with the top time in the indoor 55-meter hurdles and the outdoor 100-meter hurdles, and had the second-best time in the 300-meter hurdles outdoors.
When Ray, the Daily Press Female Runner of the Year, graduates in June, she will be right up there with Brown. Together, they have 14 of the top 15 times in the 55 hurdles and 18 of the top 25 times in the 100 hurdles.
Ray simply overwhelmed the competition this winter by winning conference, region and state championships by an average of six-tenths of a second, though races sometimes are decided by hundredths of a second.
In the state Group 5A meet, Ray won in 7.90 seconds, the second-best time of her career. That was the fastest time in the nation this winter in a pure 55-meter hurdles race, though she and three others ran faster times for the first 55 meters of the 60-meter hurdles championship at the New Balance Nationals.
After watching Brown, Ray started hurdling in fifth grade. It looked like fun, she said, but she now realizes "everybody can run, but not everybody can hurdle."
Ray said she and Brown have known each other for several years because Brown went to school with her brother. They keep in touch — and Ray says it helps to have an Olympian to lean on.
"Whenever I need her or have a problem, I can call her," said Ray, who will run for Ohio State next year.
Ray has run 7.88 indoors in the 55 hurdles, four-tenths of a second faster than Brown's best. But Brown still has the best 100-meter outdoor time of 13.67 seconds, which is two-tenths of a second faster than Ray's best.
The goal this spring is not to break Brown's record, but to improve her technique.
"I'm not going to worry about time, I'm just going to run through the hurdles," she said. "I had a problem during indoor track where I would break my speed running between hurdles."
Burke can be reached by phone at 757-247-4961.
Girls indoor track and field all-stars
55 | Carolyn Brown | Phoebus | junior. She won several close duels with Heritage's Asonya Anderson and won the 4A state championship.
300 | Carolyn Brown | Phoebus | junior. She was the only area runner to break 40 seconds, running 39.59 in the Group 4A state meet.
500 | Syaira Richardson | Smithfield | freshman. She broke into the high school track scene in a big way, leading the area with a 1:16.41 time in this event.
1,000 | Nicole Goff | Grafton | senior. She ran the best time by a Peninsula runner, turning in a 3:03.28 effort in the Virginia Tech Invitational.
1,600 | Molly McKenna | Peninsula Catholic | senior. She ran 5:12.90 in the VISAA state meet for the best time in the area this winter.
3,200 | Rachel Bloxom | Grafton | junior. Her time of 11:12.06 in the Winter Frolic at Christopher Newport University led all area runners.
55 hurdles | Chantel Ray | Hampton | senior. She ran 7.90 in the 5A state meet, the fastest pure 55-meter hurdles time in the country this winter.
800 relay | Phoebus (Carolyn Brown, Katia Pierce, Amira Aduma, Twanika Washington). They made the best of their trip to the New Balance Nationals, running 1:42.11.
1,600 relay | Bethel (Ahsiana Gates-Wood, Ashley Greenlee, Mariah Burrell, Jayme Thomas). The Bruins have dominated this event for years, and this season was no exception. Bethel ran an area-best 4:01.49 in the 6A South regional.
3,200 relay | Bethel (Mariah Burrell, Ashley Greenlee, Imari Heavans, Xiomara Enz). The Bruins also had the best distance relay following their 9:50.17 time in the 6A state meet.
High jump | Carolyn Brown | Phoebus | junior. She expanded her repertoire during the winter, clearing 5 feet, 6 inches in the Conference 18 meet.
Pole vault | Kathryn Tomczak | Lafayette | junior. She continued to be the area's best pole vaulter, winning the 3A state championship and clearing 12 feet during a midseason meet.
Long jump | Jayme Thomas | Bethel | senior. She had a career-best jump of 18-1 in the Conference 2 meet.
Triple jump | Jayme Thomas | Bethel | senior. Also in the Conference 2 meet, she jumped 39-0 1/2 to lead the area.
Shot put | Hannah Shoemaker | Smithfield | senior. In the 4A South regional meet, her 39-4 put was a foot-and-a-half farther then her previous best.