After the River Hill boys and Atholton girls both won the 4x800 meter relay at the outdoor track state meet last year, expectations were high again this spring.
Now, after the first day of the 3A and 4A state meets at Morgan State on May 22, there is little doubt that Howard County has set the standard for the event in 3A.
Sophomore Eleanor Vanvranken, senior Rebekah Markovitz, sophomore Fanny Yayi-bondje and senior Jen Bleakney combined to dominate for the Raiders girls, finishing in 9 minutes, 29.66 seconds to cruise by Huntingtown (9:47.20), while the Hawks team of senior Tanzer Balimtas, senior Mark Moody, junior Liam Pedersen and senior Chris Heydrick ran 7:58.59 to outpace the Mt. Hebron boys (8:03.63).
Centennial senior Nicholas Coburn won the 3A shot put by throwing 49-3.5 and was the only other Howard County athlete to win on the first day of the meet.
Both relay teams swept the county and 3A East region meets, but they each showed up on the biggest stage and put on one of their best performances of the year.
For Atholton, the relay team came in winners of six of its last seven postseason events, the only loss coming in the 2013 outdoor state meet when a graduation conflict interfered with the event.
“The girls knew coming in there were high expectations to defend their 4x800 title, and we had the horses. They were all healthy ... They’ve been stellar all year,” Atholton coach Ivan Alvarado. “I’ll tell you what – we came in looking to do damage. I was not expecting that, though. ... I didn’t expect it to be won so handily.”
Bleakney — the anchor of the relay team who ran her split in 2:16.62 — has enjoyed her share of individual success as an indoor state champion in the 800- and 1,600-meters, but Alvarado said he thinks she gets more joy out of helping her teammates earn gold than she does winning individual events.
“I hadn’t known which one she preferred – relays or individuals – until last year when they won,” Alvarado said. “She got very emotional. That’s when I knew she puts a lot of emphasis on the relays.”
For River Hill, the team is loaded with true 800-meter runners, and had been battling the Vikings for supremacy all postseason. Though the time wasn’t as quite as fast as the winning time a year ago, Moody said he is happy with how they finished, especially because it is the last time running the race together.
“The three of us – Liam and we were all coming back from a state championship win last year, and that team was special. We knew coming back would be at least that special, if not even better,” Moody said. “I don’t think our time was as good as last year, but our overall times improved. It’s just so exciting to be able to perform at this level and have confidence that we will win and to go out and do it. It was great.”
Moody said coach Paul Hugus has been instrumental in getting the four runners to compete together, while still having the ability to run well in the individual 800-meter races.
“(Hugus) has given us some insane training – a lot of speed work – and he told us from the start that we can go out and win a state championship in the 4x800, and we can still do well individually,” Moody said. “He’s been out with us and keeping us excited. ... He’s kept us motived – not like we needed too much motivation for a team like this. But he’s been a huge help.”
Moody added that running against Mt. Hebron gave the team extra motivation to finish well because of how well they each know each other.
Coburn only had two throws count — his first and third of six — but his third throw was enough to hold off the rest of the competition, albeit nervously.
“It was a pretty good throw. I’ve thrown better, but for today I think it was a really good throw,” he said. “All my work during the season — indoor and outdoor — just changing the way I spin from glide to spin, and to finally do it here and get gold, it’s awesome. ... It’s very exciting. Without coach (Alan) Dodds, I wouldn’t be where I am. It’s been a good ride.”
The Wilde Lake girls 4x200 relay team of Briyonna Carter, Jamila Brown, Faith Taylor and Londyn Tyler finished fourth (1:45.43), while the Atholton boys team of Walker, Jeremy Falwell, Eric Love and Carrington got fourth (1:30.51).
Long Reach seniors Bria Hill and Trishna Clarke finished second in the 3A girls triple jump (36-5) and sixth (35-3.5), respectively, while Reservoir junior Joey Benson got second in the 3A boys high jump (6-2).
River Hill junior Sophie Caplan tied for second in the girls pole vault (9-6), while Reservoir junior Katie Krutz cleared 9-0 to finish sixth.
Hawks senior Elizabeth Oldhouser finished fourth in the girls 3,200-meters (11:31.35), while Wilde Lake senior David Eisenhauer got fourth (9:42.25) and River Hill junior Trent Rose got fifth (9:46.51) in the boys’ race.
In 4A, Howard senior Taylor Scaife finished third in the girls discus (117), and the Lions 4x800 relay team finished fifth (9:48.61).
Howard junior Adeola Abdulkadir got fifth in the girls triple jump (36-10.75).
In team scores, River Hill sits in third in boys 3A (14 points), Reservoir fourth (12), Centennial fifth (10.5), Wilde Lake seventh (10), Mt. Hebron 10th (8) and Atholton 18th (5).
In 3A girls, Wilde Lake is in fourth (13), River Hill fifth (12), Long Reach sixth (11), Athtolon 10th (10) and Reservoir 17th (5).
The Howard girls are in third (15) in 4A.