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McDonogh's star runner Dalton Hengst looks to build on dramatic win in Cuba

Baltimore Sun Media Group

Dalton Hengst continues to surprise McDonogh cross country coach Jeff Sanborn.

The Eagles senior competed in the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Havana, Cuba, from May 26-28 as one of 28 track and field athletes (14 boys, 14 girls) invited to represent the United States as part of Team National Scholastic Athletics Foundation. Hengst ran the 1,500 meters, an event Sanborn said is not as popular outside of the U.S.

Hengst won in dramatic fashion, defeating Luis Martinez of Guatemala by 0.2 of a second, crossing the finish line in 3:54.90.

“He was pretty excited because it was a very strategic race,” Sanborn said. “It took him a little while to get out of the pack and find some space, but you won’t believe it. I thought ‘I don’t know, he might have misjudged it,’ and with that, he has this phenomenal kick. It was very close, the other guy was right there and some of us weren’t positive if he won. He was competitive and tough and it was a big win for him.”

Athletes selected to travel to Cuba competed in various events, including the 100, 200, 400 and 800 dash; 1,500 run; 100, 110 and 400 hurdles; long jump; triple jump; shot put; discus; javelin; and hammer throw.

“When I found out I got invited to go, I was really excited because it was my first time competing internationally, but at the same time it was a really cool experience,” Hengst said. “Going into it, I didn’t know much about Cuba…it was something that was kind of new and I had never been out of the country so going there, that whole experience itself. Being there with the team was awesome, to see other American guys around the country who are also really good.”

The invitational is for high school underclassmen, generally juniors, and the competition was just one of two parts of the five-day trip. Hengst’s victory in Cuba came at a memorable time, culturally, historically and politically, Sanborn said.

Hengst not only gained knowledge of athletics in a different country, but the cultural contrast was quite shocking, he said. He recalled a particular situation in which a young Cuban boy begged one of his American teammates for a dollar. He was amazed at how grateful the child was once his teammate handed him the bill.

“It’s a totally different world,” Hengst said. “I reflected on it and it’s one of those things where you are grateful for every moment you have here in America. The culture and lack of money over there was really eye-opening.”

Hengst is swift, fast and hard to beat. The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Cross Country Runner of the Year currently holds the fastest time in Maryland, a 15:11.2 in a first-place finish at the Third Battle Invitational on Oct. 15 last year. He repeated as the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion and won the state private school meet the following week.

In doing so, Hengst qualified for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships on Dec. 10, where he finished 21st.

Spring track proved to be another success for Hengst, as he won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the MIAA championship meet, and accomplished the same feat at the indoor MIAA title meet as well.

Sanborn has high expectations for Hengst this season, and said there is little question as to whether he can break his fastest time.

Hengst has long-term goals for his running career that go well beyond competing in college. Running is something he enjoys, he said, and he wants to go to a college that embodies that, as well.

“Running is an individual sport, but there’s a lot of people that surround me, my teammates, my coach and parents,” Hengst said. “I don’t want to let that be unheard of, how much they play a big role for me. At the end of the day, my coach can be a coach from 3 to 5 p.m. for me, and he’s been a great role model and helped me get my head around everything in life.

“I’ve surrounded myself with people that are into the running world and into me winning races and getting to the highest level I can. I just want to thank my parents, coaches and teammates for always keeping me company and pushing me to be the best I can be.”

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