In the girls 3,200-meter run at the Howard County indoor track and field championships Friday at the Prince George’s Sports Complex, in Landover, Mt. Hebron junior Rachel Yep jumped out to a large lead and expanded it over the next 16 laps, eventually winning in 11:36.56, almost nine seconds faster than Hammond's Nicole Dawson and 15 seconds before Oakland Mills’ Tiffany Lang, who had already won the 1,600 earlier in the day.
“I just wanted to go out fast to try to create a gap early in the race and then I just tried to hold on as much as I could,” said Yep.
Her performance turned out to be a good indicator of how her team, both boys and girls, would fare at the meet. In the girls competition, Mt. Hebron won with 98 points, 36 ahead of runner-up Hammond, who had 62 points. And in the boys competition, the Vikings scored 108 points, 37 ahead of runner-up Howard, who had 71 points, making it one of the most dominant performances by a school at the meet in recent history.
Yep’s older sister, Becky — who won the 3A state cross country championship in 2009 as well as several track state titles — was working the county meet as an official, displaying laps during the distance events.
“It made me feel more confident in myself knowing my sister was there,” the younger Yep said. “My sister knows how much I really wanted it, so she would just kind of look at me, and I would push a little bit harder.”
With the wins, the Vikings became the first team since River Hill in 2009 to sweep the Ivan Walker Memorial meet, and their 206 combined points were the most by a single team since Long Reach scored 230 in 2006.
“I’m extremely proud ... we have a very young team that works so hard together. A lot of them don’t have a lot of track experience. There are probably like three people on the team that ever ran either AAU or USA Track and Field. A lot of them are new, so I just have to make sure that I train them like a championship team,” said Tee Carter, who coaches the Mt. Hebron track teams along with Paul Ulrich.
And after training “like a championship team” all winter, the Vikings performed like champions on Jan. 20, winning five boys events and five girls events.
Michaela Wilkins won the 300, 500 and 800 and ran on the winning 4x400 relay team that defeated Hammond in a photo finish.
“We’ve had a lot of hard practices and a lot of hard work — to finally have a good meet like this felt really good. It was really hard but it paid off in the end,” Wilkins said. “We’re a really successful track program with really amazing coaches, and we hope to win regions and states, and then future county (meets).”
On the boys side, the wins were spread out all over the track and field as the Vikings claimed victories in the hurdles (Paul Haley), the 500 (Nate Gainey), the pole vault (Spencer Owens), the shot put (Brendan Chavis), and as a grand finale, a meet record-setting performance in the 4x400 relay (3:32.71), breaking a record set by River Hill in 2009.
“We’re still a young team so to see that … we’re just well rounded, and we have a lot of young talent, which is all going to pay off next year,” said junior Jackson Porter, who anchored that relay and also placed second in the 55 and 300 races. “We just went hard and put in work, we’ll just keep doing it, and go to regionals and do it there too.”
The Mt. Hebron boys last won the county meet in 2008, and the girls won their last county title the year before. The Vikings’ last indoor track county sweep came in 2003.
“It’s just amazing that we can be such a well rounded team and be able to pull away so far from the other schools,” said Gainey, a junior. “(It's great) how we can work together so well as a team, girls and guys, because most schools are only able to get one or the other in a year.”
Other notable performances at the meet came from Howard’s Christine London, who won both the 55 hurdles and 55 dash; Long Reach’s Kristen Fawole, who broke a county and meet record with her 35-6.75 mark in the triple jump; Hammond’s Jermika Miller, who won both the high jump and long jump; and River Hill’s Chris Heydrick, who, as only a freshman, won the 1,600.
Heydrick’s older brother, Scott, won indoor state titles in the 800 and 1,600 last year after entering high school as a baseball player. Chris Heydrick, similarly, entered high school as a lacrosse player but took up cross country last fall and burst onto the scene at the county championships, leading his team to victory with a fourth-place finish.
Heydrick’s success continued indoors when he defeated Wilde Lake’s Tim Virostek, the boys cross country Runner of the Year and the winner of the 800 later in the meet, by .17 of a second in the 1,600.
“I came in hoping to get second. That’s where I was seeded. I just found that I had a lot more in me, so I just started kicking,” said Heydrick, who plans to run outdoor this spring instead of play lacrosse. “I ran a 4:37 before, I’ve been PRing every meet, but I was like ‘Tim runs a 4:25, I’m out of his league,’ but I just went out there and made it happen … I was in fourth with two laps to go, and then on the last lap, just passed Tim and went from there.”
London has had plenty of past success in the hurdles, but her gold medal in the 55 dash was a pleasant surprise.
“It’s my first year doing (the dash). I pretty much did it just for fun … I kind of eased up at the end but when I saw people catching me I said I can’t let that happen, so I put in my all just for that last moment,” said the junior who edged Centennial senior Tessa Seale by the slimmest of margins: .01 of a second. In hurdles “when you get off the block you have to go straight up. With the dash it’s like a progression: You slowly bring your head up, so it’s kind of weird. I feel kind of empty when there are no hurdles there.”
London also helped Howard win the 4x200 relay.
Fawole fell 3/4 of an inch short of Hammond’s Miller in the long jump but came through with a historic performance in the triple jump, breaking a record set by Mt. Hebron’s Angela Mensah in 2009 by more than 2 inches.
“I didn’t even know what the record was. I just wanted to jump the best I could,” said the junior who began jumping as a freshman. “In the triple jump, the second phase is always the crucial phase, and that’s the one thing I practiced the most … so I have to say that dedicating all of my time to that second phase really helped a lot.”
Other winners were Howard’s Josh Peoples (55 dash), Keira Maynor (shot put), Jordan Carr, (triple jump) and the Lions' boys 4x200 relay team; River Hill’s Erick Soetje (300), Caitlin Davis (pole vault) and David Kaiser (long jump); Oakland Mills’ Sam Andrews (3,200) and girls 4x800 relay team; Hammond’s Tavian Ruffin (high jump) and Reservoir’s boys 4x800 relay team.