Her arms flailing and feet sputtering, Howard's Christine London stared down toward the track at Morgan State University and fought back the scary feeling of déjà vu.
London, stumbling over the third hurdle in the 300 hurdles at this year's 3A state championships Saturday, had been in this spot before. Exactly a year earlier, she had seen her hopes of winning multiple state titles dashed when she fell in the 100 hurdles.
So in that moment, as she tried to maintain her balance this time around, the memories came flooding back.
"I don't know what happened … I usually power through those first three hurdles," London said. "So as I almost fell, I was like 'what am I doing?' I just felt off for some reason, but I wasn't going to let it go. I wasn't going to let a mess up cost me again."
Catching herself just before going down, London not only recovered but went on to win the race in a time of 44.01 seconds. That title, along with a winning time of 14.26 seconds in the 100 hurdles, gave the Lion junior a sweep of the 3A hurdle events at states for the first time in her career.
London ended up as one two county athletes, along with Mt. Hebron's Michaela Wilkins (400 and 800), to win multiple individual events among the boys and girls events in the 2A and 3A classifications. In all, there were eight events won by county athletes or relay teams.
Even with the individual successes, though, no county teams on either side managed a finish in the top two. The Howard boys, which finished third (55 points) in 3A behind champion Potomac, and the Mt. Hebron girls, which finished fourth (47) in 3A behind champion Thomas Johnson, were the closest to titles.
For full results from the meet see Thursday's edition of the Howard County Times.
Howard's London ultimately achieved her goal of walking away from Morgan State with a pair of gold medals, although it took battling through a few tenuous moments.
Even before her near-fall in the 300, she had eked out a victory in the 100 hurdles while going down at the finish line. Tumbling to the track, she posted a time just quick enough to edge Milford Mill's Racquel Moses by .04 of a second.
"I just had to throw myself and sacrifice to get it," London said.
Then in the 300 hurdles, London overcame her scare early on to beat Tuscarora's Mary Mowoe by nearly a full second.
"I feel like I didn't realize how much I wanted it until I almost fell … it kind of gave me my drive back," London said.
In a lot of ways, Wilkins came into this year's state meet in a similar boat to London - a state champion that had never previously won more than one individual event on the outdoor season's biggest stage.
But not only did Wilkins change all that Saturday, she did it in record-breaking fashion. She started things with her fastest time of the postseason in the 400, posting 55.44 seconds to hold off Milford Mill's Moses.
Then she followed it up with arguably her best race of the year, setting a new 3A state record in the 800 with a time of 2:12.02.
"It meant a lot, especially because I've really been trying to work on my 800," said Wilkins, who won last year's state title in the 800 with a time of 2:16.05. "Last year's time here was a PR and I beat it by four seconds today … it feels great."
Wilkins hung on the hip of Thomas Stone's Rachel Halmon for the first half of the 800, before making her move on the back straightaway. And once she pulled ahead, Wilkins never let up.
"I knew she was right there, so I made sure I worked until the end … that definitely helped (my time)," Wilkins said.
In addition to her two individual crowns, Wilkins also was a part of the Mt. Hebron 4x200 and 4x400 relay squads that finished third. With the Vikings scoring 47 points overall, Wilkins ended up as a part of nearly 70 percent of them.
On the boys side, Howard was the big story after finishing behind county teams Reservoir and Wilde Lake at both counties and regionals.
Thanks to a dominant effort in the relays, winning the 4x200 (1:27.48) and 4x400 (3:21.49) to go with a second place effort in the 4x100 (41.99), the Lions maximized their points in their area of strength. Each of the Lions' three relay teams set personal best times.
"We knew from day one that it was up to our three relays every time we stepped on that track, because we don't have strong distance or throwing this year," said Stephen Marsh, who, along with Etienne Moriesseau, is a member of all three relays. "We knew what we had to do and today, just like we have all year, we went out and did it."
Howard ended up with 55 points, six behind second-place Thomas Johnson and 24 behind Potomac. Wilde Lake was fourth with 49.33 points.
Marsh, who also ran his way to second place in the 200 (22.11 seconds), credited teamwork as the key to peaking at the right time.
"Hard work and wanting to win is what it comes down to," Marsh said. "We have great versatility and we compliment each other very well."
River Hill ended up tenth in the team standings (29 points), but did produce a pair of individual champions.
David Kaiser started things off on Friday with the best distance of his career in the long jump. His leap of 23-3.25 was over a foot farther than his previous personal best and came on his final attempt of the competition.
"Basically I just thought to myself that, because I'm a senior, this is my last jump ever," Kaiser said. "I figured what did I have to lose and … I can't really explain it. I definitely surprised myself."
Kaiser had finished fifth in the long jump at the 3A East regional.
Erick Soetje was the Hawks' other champion and he did it with a time of 48.81 seconds in the 400-meter dash. After opening up a lead of a few yards entering the final straightaway, the junior managed to hold on for the victory over Digital Harbor's Quick Stukes (48.98).
"The only thing I thought about during that last 100 (meters) was don't let him past me," Soetje said. "I've had that same mentality these past two months and I believe that's the only reason I'm running the times I am. A lot of it's mental."
Points were scarce for the county teams in the smaller classification.
Long Reach, which was 12th among the boys with 24 points and 16th among the girls with 20, was the county's top finisher in the team competitions. No individuals won titles.
That didn't mean, however, there weren't highlights.
Glenelg freshman Julia Nardone was at the top of the list, finishing second in the 3,200 (11:17.20) and third in the 1,600 (5:14.01). Winters Mill's Hannah Oneda won both races, setting a new state record in the 3,200.
Long Reach's Kristen Fawole turned in a solid meet of her own with a third place finish in the triple jump (36-11.25) and fourth place showing in the long jump (17-6.5).
The Long Reach boys relay squads also turned in a few notable efforts by scoring in three different relays, including a second-place showing in the 4x200 (1:30.52).Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun