Catonsville track coach Sandra Gallagher-Mohler has to worry about getting around 80 kids their proper workout instructions at practice, but two athletes she doesn’t have to focus on are senior Myla Abernathy and junior Hallie Shepard.
Both are two of Baltimore County’s top contenders, with Abernathy specializing in the 800 meters and Shepard featured in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Both competed for the first time this season Saturday at the Baltimore County Public Schools Class 4A/3A Divisional Opener at Dulaney, featuring eight boys teams and seven girls teams.
Shepard won the 3,200 meters in a time of 11:36.41, well ahead of second-place Anna Wendt of Towson (12:55.90). She didn’t compete in the 1,600. Abernathy won the 800 meters in a time of 2:21.78.
In addition to being ahead of the pack on the track, the pair are quiet leaders.
“They do a really nice job in leading the pack and showing it as work,” Gallagher-Mohler said. “They don’t take themselves too seriously and that is really a lovely trait. They don’t separate themselves as elitists in any way. They demo their work, they are good teammates.”
Shepard runs for Gallagher-Mohler’s IRunTons in the offseason and, after Catonsville’s indoor track season ended, she went to Virginia Beach and won the 1,500 and 3,000 elite races in the 17-18 age division at the AAU Indoor Nationals.
She won the 1,500 on Friday night in 5:03.67. On Saturday morning, Shepard rolled to victory in the 3,000 in a time of 10:45.99, well ahead of runner-up Madison Henderson (11:26.97).
It was the first time she ran on a banked track and she was unaffected by the lesser distances.
“It feels like you are running the same race, but it’s a whole lot faster just because you are also running less,” Shepard said. “I went into the AAU meet like, ‘This is fun, this is more experience.’ I was excited, but I was nowhere near expecting to place as highly as I did.”
“I knew she had some faster times within her that we hadn’t seen, it was just getting it all together at the right time and it came together beautifully,” Gallagher-Mohler said. “As she develops, she’s going to continue to develop at the higher distances. I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes up to the 5K or 10K in college. She has a really large range which is one of her greatest assets.”
Shepard, who won the Barnhart Invitational and was sixth at the Class 4A state cross country meet, is focused on improving during the Comets’ outdoor season.
“I have specific goal times that I want to hit and definitely PRs is what you look for every day and there are always going to be bad days and bad meets, but I definitely want to come out of this season with PRs,” she said. “I’m excited just to keep building toward the season and then work toward my senior year to really break through. It will be exciting.”
Shepard has already been on a college visit to the University of Tennessee and is planning to look at some colleges in California.
“In my opinion, she will eventually hold records in the 3,200 and the mile,” Gallagher-Mohler said. “There is room for growth and she really demonstrates that well. She doesn’t pretend that she has it all together. She’s like, I’m human too and it’s great.”
Shepard also hopes to compete in some 4x400 and 4x800 relays with teammate Abernathy.
“We do the same 4x400 race. We did that last year,” Abernathy said. “I would pass the baton off to her or she would pass it off to me, it was great.”
Abernathy’s main focus will be the individual 400 and 800 meters.
The same weekend Shepard was in Virginia Beach, Abernathy was at The Armory in New York for the New Balance Nationals.
In the Rising Stars division, Abernathy finished fifth in the 800 in a personal record time of 2:16.69.
She did it on the same track she will run in college next year when she attends Columbia University.
“It was great, they went out super fast,” said Abernathy, who competed unattached under the tutelage of her offseason coach Paul Whitaker. “What I thought about was just to stay with them and don’t think.”
She still has unfinished business for the Comets in her final outdoor season.
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“I’m definitely interested in winning states this year, that is kind of my whole kind of goal,” she said. “I have already exceeded the state standard for the 800 and I know my 400 time has gotten pretty fast, so I’m really excited to have some pretty fast times.”
Last spring, Abernathy placed fifth in the 800 at the Class 4A state meet in 2:21:55.
In addition to the dynamic duo, Gallagher-Mohler is looking forward to her team’s depth and some emerging athletes on the horizon.
“We are fielding athletes in every event,” she said.
Freshman sprinter Micaela Blair is one of those future prospects for the girls. On the boys side, sprinters Gabe Rawson, Andre Wilson, Josiah Bumbry and Anthony Cruz are ones to watch, along with distance runner Danny Gundlach.
Wilson was second in the 100 (11:84) at the season-opening divisional meet.
In the 4x100 relay, the quartet of Wilson, Bumbray, Kavon Pearson and Chris Price-Burnett was second (48.92).