Courtney Mann had always strived to become the best at something. Growing up she thought maybe it would be jump rope or even basketball. But as she made the decision to give track and field another try and go out for the Howard track and field team in the winter of her freshman year, she started to realize the sport she loved was in front of her all along.
"One of the reasons I got into running was because I felt the need to find that one thing that I could be the best at; That I could separate myself from everyone else and I could be something," Mann said. "I was given a gift for that to be running and I am beyond blessed to be running. It's been quite an experience."
Mann certainly made a name for herself the past two seasons, running times that rivaled some of the best distance runners in the state. She broke out her junior year in cross country, running sub-20-minute times at the Howard County and 4A North region championship meets and continued her success in indoor and outdoor track.
But it wasn't until an early tri-meet around mid-March later that year at River Hill High School when Mann put the entire county — and state — on notice.
Lions' coach Tyler Wade pulled Mann aside prior to the race and told her it was her time to "make a statement." Mann responded by placing first and setting a personal record, which was also at the time one of the best times in the state.
"That was when the rest of county kind of picked up on her and said, 'OK, Courtney has arrived,'" Wade said. "It did kind of take a little bit of a push to kind of say, 'Alright now we got to really go,' but we knew it was something that was destined for her regardless."
Mann went on to place in the top-three in both the county and 4A North region championship meets in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters during the postseason that spring and qualified for the 4A state championships in all three events.
And this season the senior concluded her varsity track career by winning two county titles, two more 4A North region championships and finishing in the top-three in the mile at the 4A state meet with a personal best time of 5 minutes, 5.24 seconds.
All that success culminated into being named as this year's Howard County Times/Columbia Flier girls outdoor track and field Athlete of the Year.
"Placing well in the state, in the county [and] in the region is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world and [I do] feel like I am something," Mann said. "I have made my mark and I have become someone, and that is something I have always wanted since I was a little 9 year old running a 5k race."
Ironically, Mann, who started running competitively for the Howard County Striders in fourth grade, didn't enjoy track when she first tried the sport. She even quit after one year as a seventh grader. But after a successful freshman cross country season for Howard, Mann's teammates convinced her to skip basketball tryouts and join the indoor track team.
"I always tell people you never know what is waiting for you around the corner," Mann said. "In middle school I remember we were doing interval workouts and I was like, 'I hate this. I don't want to do this,'… And little did I know that there was a different plan for me and that track was my sport. I didn't know it until I started it again."
Mann surprised herself with the times she was hitting and started to realize her potential. With the progression she had made from freshman to sophomore year, she decided to quit jump rope and focus on becoming the best distance runner she could be.
"I realized that this was a gift I was given and I need to do something with it," she said. "I picked running because I fell in love with it more and I felt like could do so much within the sport and I didn't want to give that up yet. I felt the need to take it more seriously."
The decision paid off. After making a name for herself as a junior, Mann was ready to become the No. 1 runner in Howard County this season, starting with cross country in the fall.
She began the year strong, handily winning the Howard County Invitational by more than 25 seconds and was a heavy favorite heading into the postseason. However, a foot injury suffered mid way through the year derailed her season.
"I don't think I have ever worked so hard over the summer to achieve all the goals I had set for myself and out of nowhere I felt like it was just taken from me. It was really stressful trying to get back into it," Mann said. "After losing counties and losing regionals, two races that I was favored to win, I just felt like giving up and one of the things I have learned from running is that you can never give up."
Mann's goal heading into the 4A state race was to break the top-10, and although she was discouraged about how her injury hindered her chances at her first county championship and regional title, she wasn't going to allow it to affect her mentally in her final race of the fall. At a rigorous 5,000-meter course at Hereford High School, she placed eighth with a solid time of 19:41.3
"I told myself, OK, I can either give up and not care anymore or I can move on... and work hard to get back to where I was,'" she said. "And that is what I kind of did at states."
Back healthy, Mann was looking forward to another opportunity to earn a county championship title. So when she stepped up to the line to compete in the 1,600-meter race at Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex a few months later, Mann wasn't going to let the opportunity elude her once again.
Mann was a few strides behind the front of the pack rounding the last lap of the race, but with the result of the cross country county championship meet echoing through her mind, it gave Mann the extra boost needed to sprint ahead and earn her first league title.
"Counties for indoor was probably my turning point for the mile," Mann said. "I wanted to win counties in cross country so bad. That is all I wanted and not getting it hurt a lot… [but] you need things like that to kind of learn from and realize that not everything is going to go your way… finally getting that redemption at counties was really relieving."
Mann added two more county championship titles this spring, winning the 3,200 and 1,600, while also placing third in the 800. Then at the 4A North regional meet, she won both the 3,200 and 1,600, placed second in the 800 and also helped the Lions qualify for states in the 4x800-meter relay.
"Everybody knew what she was going to do and we had a lot of confidence and faith in her," said Wade, whose girl's squad won their fifth-straight county championship and a 4A North region title this spring. "It goes without saying how important she was. And again, not only just in the points and the times, things like that, but as a leader on the team."
To go along with all of her postseason accolades, Mann leaves the program holding three individual school records, along with being a part of the Lions' record setting 4x800- indoor and outdoor relay team. She is also the first Howard girls track athlete to win Athlete of the Year since Christine London in 2013.
"I am very, very proud of her. It is totally deserved," Wade said. "At the end of the day, high school sports is about the kids. It is about them doing their four years and getting enjoyment out of that and for her to get the recognition she deserves is very rewarding for me and very rewarding for her as well."
Also named to the all-county team:
Lola Alli, Reservoir junior.
Events: Shot put and discus.
Highlights: Alli placed second and fifth in discus and shot put, respectively, at the county championship meet. She won a 3A East region title in discus after throwing 104 feet, 3 inches and also placed second in shot put (32 feet, 5 inches). At the 3A state meet, Alli finished third in discus (107 feet, 5 inches) and eighth in shot put with a personal best distance of 33 feet, 11 inches.
Ada Beams, River Hill sophomore.
Events: 100- and 300-meter hurdles, pole vault and 4x100-meter relay.
Highlights: Beams won a county pole vault title after clearing a Hawks school record of eight feet. She added two sixth-place finishes in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles. At the 3A East region meet, she finished third in pole vault (7 feet, 6 inches) and fifth in the 100 (17.38) and 300 hurdles, where she finished with a personal best time of 48.76 seconds. She also helped River Hill to a fifth place standing in the 4x100 relay at regionals and at the 3A state meet cleared 7-6 in pole vault.
Janaya Cooper-Marshall, Reservoir senior.
Events: 100-meter hurdles, long jump and triple jump.
Highlights: Cooper-Marshall had top-four finishes in the 100-meter hurdles, long and triple jump at the county championships. At the 3A East region meet, she finished second in the 100 hurdles (16.63) and triple jump (34-3) and placed fifth in long jump (16-4). Cooper-Marshall qualified for the 3A state meet in all three events and placed seventh in long jump (16-11) and 11th in triple jump (33-6 ½).
Ogechi Elemuo, Howard senior.
Events: Long and triple jump.
Highlights: Elemuo was one of the best jumpers in the league, winning a county title in triple jump (34-7 ½), while also finishing fifth in long jump (15-11). At the 4A North region meet, Elemuo placed second in triple jump (35-10) and third in long jump (15-10 ½). She then had top-10 finishes at the 4A state meet, recording 35-11 ¼ in triple jump and a personal record 16-1 in long jump.
Alexandra Hargrett, Atholton sophomore.
Events: 800 and 1,600 meters, and 4x400- and 4x800-meter relays.
Highlights: Hargrett won a county title in the 800 meters (2:19.35) and placed second in the 1,600 meters (5:12.63). She won 3A East region titles in both events after running a personal record 2:17.86 in the 800, and 5:17.52 in the 1,600, while helping the Raiders to second-place finishes in the 4x400 and 4x800 relay. At the 3A state meet, Hargrett set a personal record 5:05.57 to earn second in the 1,600 and also placed fifth in the 800 (2:19.45). She also helped Atholton's 4x800 finish third.
Haley Kappey, Howard senior.
Events: 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Highlights: Kappey placed second in the 3,200 meters (11:35.28) and finished sixth in the 1,600 (5:27.06) at the county championships. She produced another second-place finish in the 3,200 at the 4A North region meet, clocking in with a time of 11:53.82. She also placed fourth in the 1,600 (5:27.00). Kappey qualified for the 4A state meet in both events, finishing in 5:34.90 in the 1,600 and 11:39.12 in the 3,200.
Riley Murtha, Marriotts Ridge junior.
Events: 110- and 300-meter hurdles, high jump, long jump and triple jump.
Highlights: Murtha won the 100 hurdles (15.55) at the county championships, placed fifth in triple jump (32-11 ½), and second in the 300 hurdles (47.96) and high jump (5-0). She won a 2A West region title in the 100 hurdles after finishing with a personal record of 15.54. She also placed third in triple jump (33-10 ¼) and second in the 300 hurdles (48.15) and high jump (5-2). She qualified for states in all four events and set personal records in both high and triple jump with distances of 5-4 and 34-3 ½ to earn second and sixth place, respectively. In the 100 and 300 hurdles Murtha finished third and fifth, respectively, after recording times of 15.58 and 46.44.
Jaiden Ritter, Mt. Hebron sophomore.
Events: 100, 200 and 400 meters, and 4x400-meter relay.
Highlights: Ritter won a county title in the 100-meter dash (12.67) and placed second in the 200 and 400 meters. She helped the Vikings win a 4x400 relay 3A East title, and came in second in the 100, 200, and 300 races with times of 13.05, 26.13 and 58.41, respectively. At the 3A state meet, Ritter placed fourth in the 400 (58.36), fifth in the 200 (25.67) and eighth in the 100 (12.74).
Bayli Smith, Howard senior.
Events: Shot put and discus.
Highlights: Smith added two more county championship titles in shot put and discus, recording distances of 35-8 and 121-3, respectively. She then won a 4A North region title in shot put after throwing 36-3 and finished her varsity career with a second-place finish in the same event at the 4A state meet, recording a distance of 37-0.
Mik'yla Stephens, Oakland Mills senior.
Events: 100 and 200 meters, and 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays.
Highlights: Stephens placed third and fourth, respectively, in the 200- and 100-meter dashes at the county championships. Along with helping the Scorpions to a 2A West title in the 4x200 relay, and second-place finish in the 4x100 relay, the senior won an individual title in the 100 (12.88). She also placed second in the 200 (25.79). At the 2A state meet, Stephens placed fourth and sixth in the 200 and 100, respectively, while helping Oakland Mills to state championship titles in the 4x100 and 4x200 relay.
Jasmine Tiamfook, River Hill junior.
Events: 800 and 1,600 meters, and 4x800-meter relay.
Highlights: Tiamfook placed third in the 1,600 at the county championships while setting a school record of 5:21.97. She finished second at the 3A East region meet in the event (5:23.11) and finished seventh in the 800 (2:30.31). She also helped the Hawks to third place in the 4x800 relay. At the 3A state meet, Tiamfook recorded a time of 5:23.28 in the 1,600 to place 11th and was also a part of River Hill's 4x800 relay team, which finished eighth with a time of 9:58.76.
Satori Valentine, Mt. Hebron freshman.
Events: 400 and 800 meters, and 4x400- and 4x800-meter relays.
Highlights: Valentine placed second in the 800 meters (2:20.04) and in the top three in the 400 at the county championships. At the 3A East region meet, she finished third in the 800 (2:22.83) and fifth in the 400 with a personal record of 58.77. She also helped the Vikings to region titles in the 4x400 and 4x800 relay. Valentine placed third in the 400 (57.99), fourth in the 800 (2:18.77) and also aided in her team's second place finish in the 4x800 at the 3A state meet.
Asha Washington, Atholton junior.
Events: 100 and 200 meters and long jump.
Highlights: Washington won a county title in long jump with a personal record 17-1 ½ , placed fifth in the 200 with a personal record 26.05 and third in the 100 meters (12.86). She earned 3A East region titles in the 100 (13.03) and long jump (17-1). Washington placed 10th in long jump (15-9 ½) at the 3A state meet.
Deanna Yancey, Wilde Lake senior.
Events: 300-meter hurdles, high jump and triple jump.