With the dust barely settled on one of the best years by a runner in Carroll County history, Manchester Valley junior Aiden Neal is already thinking about what’s next.
By sweeping the county titles in the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter runs this year to go along with taking home a pair of state titles, Neal secured himself the distinction of being the 2021 Times Boys Track Athlete of the Year. He doesn’t plan on stopping there.
“I have some big goals for next year,” Neal said. “I want to add as many state titles as I can in every season. I want to break some Maryland records too. I don’t just want to be the best runner in Maryland, I want to be one of the best nationally.”
His performance this spring certainly has him on the right trajectory to accomplish those goals.
At the county championship meet, Neal set meet records with his victories in the 800 and 3200. His time of 1:55.29 in the 800 bested the record of 1:55.66 that was set by North Carroll’s Kody Wilson in 2011. In the 3200, Neal set a new meet record by nearly 10 seconds, finishing in 9:28.82. The old mark of 9:38.20 was set by Westminster’s Jason Santucci in 1999.
“That was a great feeling,” he said. “Last year, I wasn’t anywhere close to the times I ran this year. It was just pure bliss — I was just really happy with the result.”
Neal also helped his team take home a county title in the 4x400-meter relay. He and his teammates later would repeat the feat at the state championships on June 19.
At the state meet, Neal ran the first leg of the relay and helped the team get out to an early lead and cross two seconds ahead of Oakland Mills with a time of 3:23.36.
“We worked hard, and it ultimately paid off,” he said. “That was one of the races I’ve been most excited about in my life. It was really fun getting to experience that with a few of the guys and just the happiness that ensued after we won.”
He continued his dominance individually at the state meet as well, adding a state title in the 1600-meter run to go along with the regional and county titles he had taken home in the event earlier in the season.
After a grueling and compacted season, Neal decided to give himself what he considered a lengthy rest. After a week off, he was right back at it.
His lofty aspirations start with hard work in the offseason.
“This summer I decided I didn’t want to do too many national events,” he said. “I really wanted to just take a break from racing and just focus on getting a big training block in because I haven’t gotten one in for a while. I really want to focus on being that much better next year. I have some big goals for next year and it is going to take a lot of hard work to reach them. This summer is really where it counts.”
Manchester Valley coach Jim MacDonald marveled at Neal’s work ethic after the junior was named the Cross Country Athlete of the Year earlier in the spring. He explained how his dedication to running is infectious and makes other team members work harder to try to compete at his level.
“He’s a great runner, even better person,” MacDonald said. “He’s great to coach because he works so hard.”
With the Summer Olympics just around the corner, one would wonder if Neal’s long-term plans include going for gold at the Games.
“You never know. I’m just taking it one step ahead ... that is really far away,” he said, noting the tremendous amount of work it takes to compete at that level. “Making the Olympics would be awesome someday, but I haven’t thought that far. I am really excited. I can’t wait for [The Summer Olympics] to happen.”
FIRST TEAM ALL-COUNTY
Tommy Nelson, Liberty, junior
Jack Heefner, Westminster, sophomore
Ian Mullen, Westminster, senior
Carter Knox, Manchester Valley, sophomore
Hayden Hebert, Century, senior
Aiden Neal, Manchester Valley, junior
Trent Taylor, Liberty, senior
Cameron Rucker, Westminster, sophomore
Aiden Michael, Century, junior
Mason Breeze, Liberty, senior
Justin Condon, Westminster, junior
Eliezar Jimenez, Liberty, senior
Justin Sheetz, Liberty, senior
Peyton Thomas, South Carroll, junior
Ben Treat, Liberty, senior
SECOND TEAM ALL-COUNTY
Century: Peyton Dill, Hunter Rose. Francis Scott Key: Matthew Watkins. Liberty: Colin Appelaniz, Ben Hiebler, Jesse Jason, Seth Lassiter, Luke Petenbrink. Man Valley: Nathan Kreit, Marcel Montgomery. South Carroll: Nathan Fields, Brady Keeley, Joseph Zolkiewicz. Westminster: Davindra Lewis, Anders Madsen.