Entering Monday’s Ivan Walker Memorial Howard County indoor track and field championship meet, Howard girls coach Tyler Wade was confident that his team could build on its past success.
The same held true for Reservoir girls coach Phil Rogers, who said he knew his girls had a shot, but just wanted them to be in the conversation by the end.
Tied at 88 points each, both teams made their coaches proud with a share of first place.
“We knew coming in that Reservoir had a great squad, and it was going to come down to the wire,” said Wade, whose Lions won their third straight track and field county championship, including outdoor. “To win in this county is a great accomplishment, but to do it three times in a row is special.”
Pacing the Lions was Gabby Rayner, who took first place in the 500-meter dash (1:22:04). The junior was also Howard’s top finisher in the 4A state cross country meet.
“I only ran the 500 once this season and it was probably the hardest race I’ve ever ran,” she said. “It feels good to be county champs. We put in that hard work and it paid off. We all knew where we needed to score points. We all relied on each other to make those points and we did it. This team knows how to work hard.”
Though his team also collected victories from Courtney Merson in the high jump and Taylor Scaife in the shot put, Wade’s team needed a big performance from their long jumpers in the afternoon’s final event.
With a winning score of 16-00.75, Bre Hamilton helped Howard leap its way to a share of the title.
For Reservoir’s girls, winning the 4x400-meter relay is what ultimately gave the team its final push. On the heels of Amaya Philips, Michelle Ignacio, Julianne Knoblett and Yaa Danso, the Gators edged second place Centennial by just a fraction of a second.
Danso also competed in the 55-meter hurdles at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, coming in third place with a time of 9.20. For the four-year runner, winning a county title was the best way to end her high school career.
“It feels amazing,” said an elated Danso, who couldn’t help but smile after posing for pictures with her team. “In my senior year, to leave with a championship is great.”
Rogers and Danso agreed that Monday’s win was a team effort.
“We said to the girls that today was about heart,” the coach added. “It was a proud day for the coaches at Reservoir.”
The Gators also collected a first place finish in the 4x800-meter relay, as well as a pair of Karli Smiraglia silvers in the 800- and 1,600-meter races.
After Howard and Reservoir, Long Reach (81 points), Wilde Lake (65) and River Hill (65) rounded out the top-five in the standings.
On the boys side, Long Reach (100 points) raced to a team victory thanks to gold medal performances from Tosin Oyewole (55-meter dash, 6.49) and Robert Carter (55-meter hurdles, 7.70). Oyewole and Carter then joined fellow Lightning runners Clarence Smalley and Eric Thomas in a record-breaking 4x200-meter relay effort (1:31.28).
“We thought we had a shot coming in, but we had to do some strategic things,” said Long Reach coach Pete Hughes. One of those changes the Lightning made heading into Monday’s meet was moving Carter out of the 4x400 and into the dash, which proved to be a successful switch.
“The jumps were key,” Hughes added. “I thought that coming in, and it proved to be true.”
Lightning high jumper Eric Thomas took home a silver, and triple jumpers Khalin Zarsah and Chris Flowers took second and third, respectively.
Oyewole took second in the 300-meter dash (35.19), while the 4x400-meter relay team placed fought for a No. 2 finish as well.
Reservoir (80.83), Mt. Hebron (60.83), Howard (60.5) and Atholton(59) rounded out the top-five in the boys team standings.
In terms of individual success, this year’s field was much more spread out than in years past.
Atholton’s Jennfier Bleakney broke meet records in both the 800- and 1600-meter runs. Long Reach’s Bria Hill won the triple jump and ran the second leg of her team’s record-breaking 4x200-meter relay. Wilde Lake’s Jamila Brown took home titles in the 55- and 300-meter dashes as well.
River Hill junior Chris Heydrick, who won his first 800- and his third 1,600-meter run, said he was pleased in the way his offseason training impacted his performance on Monday.
“I’ve never had a lot of success after running a mile, so this is the first year that those two races are coming together and that I’m running fast in both of them,” said Heydrick, a 2013 first-team all-county cross country runner. “This past summer, I got some really good training in and had a really good cross country season. That helped me get my legs a little more endurance and a little more strength.”
When asked about their chances heading into regionals, runners like Oyewole, Heydrick and Rayner agreed that it will just be business as usual. Next week, teams will be back in Landover, vying for a chance to compete on against the best in the state.
“Our sprinters and hurdlers are at the top in their events,” said Hughes. “At the state level, it doesn’t take much to win. I think we’re a favorite.”