By Andrew Conrad, firstname.lastname@example.org
12:15 AM EST, February 22, 2012
After Howard County's performance in the 2A state meet on Monday, when Glenelg's Blake Richardson was the lone winner, just a pair of gold medals on Tuesday by the 3A schools would have been considered an improvement.
As it turns out, the big schools overshot that mark on Tuesday at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, winning six individual events, and placing 14 more in the top three.
"Howard County was definitely a big force in this meet," said Wilde Lake junior Tim Virostek, who won both the 800 and 1,600. "We had a lot of individual winners, which was really cool."
Virostek's performance helped the Wildecats place fourth out of 29 teams, best out of all county schools.
"I'm very happy with how today worked out, it's a dream come true," said Virostek, whose highwater mark at last year's state meet was a sixth place finish in the 1,600.
Wilde Lake was only 7.5 points behind team champion Thomas Johnson, and only two points ahead of sixth place Reservoir. County champion Mt. Hebron (7th) and Howard (9th) also finished top ten in the team race.
While Virostek cruised to first in the 800 with relative ease, outpacing the runner-up — Reservoir's Timmy Usher — by more than two seconds, his win in the 1,600 was one of the most exciting races of the meet.
"I was in third most of the race, just hanging onto those guys and that's what I wanted to do," said Virostek, who was the cross country Runner of the Year. "On the last lap I decided to just kick it and see what happens."
Using a furious kick, Virostek passed Linganore's Patrick Duboyce down the final stretch and held on to win by just four one-hundreths of a second.
At the county championships one month ago, Virostek led the mile with less than a lap to go but River Hill freshman Chris Heydrick surprised him on the final stretch to steal the gold.
"That definitely helped me out at regions more than states, because at states I knew I was going to have lots of competition," said Virostek, who avenged the loss to Heydrick at the regional meet. "I was just hoping to hang onto these guys and out kick them."
Reservoir's Usher dueled with another Howard County runner in the 500.
He and Mt. Hebron's Nate Gainey separated from the pack toward the end of that race, and engaged in a mad dash for the finish line.
"Him and I kind of pace off of each other in the 500. He actually beat me in countys and then I came back and we had a good race in regionals (with Usher winning by .20)," he said. "I kind of knew that I was just going against him in this race."
Usher said that he and Gainey have developed an unpsoken strategy for the 500.
"We come off the break in second and third and we kind of coast off of whoever is in first ... and then once we get to the straightaway for one more lap, we just turn it on, kick it and give it all we've got."
Usher's older brother, Joey, plays football and basketball at Reservoir. Timmy plays soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring, but says that this year, he plans to run outdoor track instead.
"Indoor track is going really well for me, so I just figured why not keep running?" he said.
Virostek and Usher's wins highlighted Howard County's dominance of the middle distance and distance events on Tuesday. River Hill's Erick Soetje, Centennial's Josh Poole and Reservoir's Michael Motta went 2-3-4 in the 300; Mt. Hebron's Karl Schmidt and Hammond's Cole Rosenberg finished close behind Virostek and Usher in the 800, taking third and fifth; and twin brothers Duncan and Henry Enerson of Wilde Lake finished second and fifth in the 3,200.
In that race, Duncan Enerson pushed eventual winner Braden Bruning of Linganore to the limit, but fell short of a gold medal by 1.53 seconds.
Soetje's time of 35.55 in the 300 was only seven one-hundreths of a second off of the winning pace set by Digital Harbor's George Flaviano.
Other notable finishes at the meet came from Mt. Hebron's Paul Haley, who was fourth in the hurdles, and the relay teams of Reservoir (4x200), Howard (4x400) and Mt. Hebron (4x800), who each claimed third. Howard's Jordan Carr placed third in the high jump with a mark of 6-4.
Like Virostek, Howard County also had a strong hope for a multiple gold medal winner in the girls meet.
But Mt. Hebron's Michaela Wilkins, who won gold medals in four events at the county meet, got off to a rough start on Tuesday. Wilkins fell down rounding a turn midway through the 500 and dropped into last place. Despite the setback, she used a rousing effort to battle all the way back to third place, but it was a disappointing result nonetheless for Wilkins, who skipped the 300 in anticipation of a big performance in the 500.
"I was pushed. I don't know if it was intentional or what, but I was pushed and then I fell. But I knew I had to get back up and finish the job," said Wilkins, who still finished just 1.5 seconds out of first. "When I got up I thought that (I could come back and win)."
Wilkins did come back to win the 800 later, salvaging some good from the meet, and helped her team place third out of 30 teams.
"It feels good, it really does, I know I'm going to have to improve my time again by outdoor, but it does feel really good," she said. "I just look forward to better meets."
Howard's Christine London completed her postseason sweep of the 55 hurdles, winning her first indoor state title in a postseason best time of 8.15.
"I've been having a rough time at practice and I just feel like I finally pulled it together and really dug down and believed in myself and finally got the gold," said the junior, who won an outdoor state title last year in the 300 hurdles.
London won the preliminary hurdles race on Tuesday by a comfortable margin, but said that she took nothing for granted heading into the finals.
"I made that mistake last year (at the outdoor state meet). I hyped myself up and I ended up falling (in the 100 hurdles). So I was just trying not to look at times and just go into the race with a clear mind, run my own race and do my thing," she said. "This year I really focused on starts, because that was usually the worst part of my race. I did the 55 dash to work on my speed and now that I finally have my starts down it helped so much."
Atholton junior Natalie Alper won the high jump with a personal best mark of 5-4. That effort was six inches better than her showing at the Howard County meet, when she placed third.
Alper said that after the county meet, she attended a specialized high jump clinic where she was taught to delay her acceleration on her approach.
"The (county meet) was just a really bad day for me," said Alper, who bounced back to win regions with a jump of 5-2. "But (winning states) was a bit of a surprise. When I found out I was excited ... every time I went over the bar my form just felt really good."
Alper, who now has a personal goal of clearing 5-6 this spring, said that her teammate, seventh-place high jump finisher Katie Pelikan, also helped her win the title on Tuesday.
"I have a really good support system. Katie is always there to give advice and help me," said Alper, who also placed sixth in the 500.
Although Atholton qualified only two female athletes for the meet, the 15 points scored by Alper and Pelikan was good enough for 12th place, best of any county team except for Mt. Hebron.
Other top-three performances by Howard County girls in the meet came from Mt. Hebron's Karli Buescher, who was third in the 1,600 and fifth in the 800; Mt. Hebron's Rachel Yep, whose third place finish in the 3,200 was best among four county runners (Hammond's Nicole Dawson, River Hill's Leanne Young and Reservoir's Katie Wilson) to score points in that event; and Wilde Lake's Adrianna Shoemaker, who placed third in the pole vault.