At some schools, it could be difficult to coach a runner as fast as Tori Valentine.
A girl with her times in the 400-meter dash and 800-meter run wouldn’t usually have a teammate to push her in practice.
However, Mt. Hebron head track and field coach Teyarnte Carter doesn’t have that problem. The deep Vikings have senior Jaiden Ritter, a quadruple winner at both counties and regionals, Sierrah Matthews, the 2018-19 indoor Athlete of the Year, and other talented young runners.
Valentine, who is also a basketball star for the Vikings, said her teammates were a big reason she won three gold medals at the state meet and is the 2019 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier outdoor track and field Athlete of the Year.
“The people around me have definitely instilled the work ethic in me to never be too comfortable,” Valentine said. “Everybody is so close off the track. It’s great. Off the track is where the relationships can grow. By the time we get to the meets, we have each other’s backs.”
Carter, who has coached at Mt. Hebron for 11 years, said Matthews and Valentine, specifically, have improved one another in practice. The two sprinters both run the 400, with Valentine winning gold at counties and states and Matthews taking first at the Class 3A East regional.
“Each week, both of them were at the same time or dropping just a little,” Carter said. “Sierrah didn’t have that training partner in indoor, and Tori doesn’t do the same events as Jaiden, so she’s been on her own so far in her career. This year, having a training partner has helped them both. They feed off each other. They also help each other mentally and calm each other down.”
“It’s been really beneficial to have her by my side in practice and in the meets,” Valentine added. “Now, the meets feel just like practice.”
Carter said Valentine’s impressive season doesn’t surprise her. In fact, Carter has known of her talent for nearly 10 years — since Valentine came out to run for Elite Track Club in the summer.
“I’ve been working with her since she was 7 or 8 years old,” Carter said. “She’s very special.”
Valentine said she learned one of her best life lessons — about the importance of preparation — as a young runner.
“When I was little, I thought I was really fast,” Valentine said. “I was winning all the local meets. Then I went to nationals, and I expected to get a medal, and I didn’t. I got schooled. I was humbled, but I knew I had to get there. Then in eighth grade, I did place at nationals. After years of trying, I finally got that.”
Carter credits Valentine’s parents, Craig and Kacy, for instilling the right values in their daughter.
“I think academics and athletics is extremely important to that family,” Carter said. “Those two work hand in hand to keep the kids busy. I think we need to go back to that as a generation.”
Valentine’s parents both played collegiate basketball — Kacy for Georgetown and Craig for Towson.
“My parents have been so supportive,” Valentine said. “They’ve always been there for me, both in basketball and track.”
Valentine’s stellar postseason started with three gold medals at the Howard County championships. She won the 400, 800 and ran a leg in Hebron’s winning 4x400-meter relay team. She also won a silver medal in the 4x800.
At regionals, Valentine won gold medals in the 800 and the 4x400 and silvers in the 400 and the 4x800. She then led all Howard County athletes at the state championships with three gold medals. After finishing fifth in the 4x800 relay on May 24, Valentine won the 400, 800 and 4x800 relay the following day. She ran the final leg in Hebron’s Class 3A record-setting 4x400 time of 3:50.68, which beat the previous record held by Central-PG in 1982. She also posted personal best times at the state meet, finishing the 400 in 55.49 seconds and the 800 in 2:15.82.
“I’m happy, but I’m not content or satisfied,” Valentine said. “I still have a lot of work to do.”
Valentine’s season didn’t end at states, though. She qualified for the New Balance Nationals held in Greensboro, North Carolina, in mid June, where she broke Mt. Hebron’s program record in the 400. Her time of 55.34 seconds surpassed the best time of Michaela Wilkins, a 2012 graduate who went on to become a four-time All-Big East runner at Villanova.
“I think (Wilkins) was someone (Valentine) looked up to,” Carter said. “When Tori was young, Michaela was on the summer team with us, and she looked up to her. We have pictures of those two together.”
Valentine recognizes there could be young runners looking up to her the way she looked up to Wilkins.
“I never got to train with her, but I always looked up to her,” Valentine said. “I know we have little ones now in our club program who are looking up to us.”
Carter said the most difficult aspect of coaching Valentine is that she only has the talented runner for three months of the year because of the point guard’s basketball duties.
“I think she’s done a really good job with the two and a half months she has,” Carter said. “Last year, she ran a 2:17 (in the 800) and a :56 (in the 400), and now she’s at 2:15 and 55 (seconds). It’s special to see her continue to drop her time. I just always think, ‘What in the world could this girl run if I had her for six to eight months?’ She’s very special.”
Valentine doesn’t know which sport she prefers yet and said she will “keep all options open for as long as possible” in terms of her college commitment. She scored 19.9 points per game and led the county in assists this past season on the basketball court.
“I just try to throw myself into whatever I’m doing at the moment,” she said.
Carter said she’s proud to see the type of person and runner Valentine is becoming — and this past season was a glimpse of her talent as a runner.
“It’s been really cool to see her develop as a young woman,” Carter said. “When I look into her eyes before a race now, I know she’s good to go.”
Also named to the All-County team:
Jaiden Ritter, Mt. Hebron, senior
Events: 100, 200, 4x200, 4x400
Highlights: Ritter was a quadruple winner at both the Howard County meet and the Class 3A East region meet. She won gold medals at both meets in the 100, 200, 4x200 relay and 4x400 relay. At the state meet, Ritter won gold as part of the Vikings’ record-breaking 4x400 relay team and silvers in the 100 and 4x200. She also finished fourth in the 200-meter dash. Her fastest postseason time in the 100 was 12.17 seconds at counties, while her best time in the 200 was 25.02 seconds at regionals. Ritter was an indoor all-county selection this season and was the 2017-18 indoor track and field Athlete of the Year.
Adaobi Tabugbo, Reservoir, junior
Events: 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 100, 4x100
Highlights: As the best girls hurdler in Howard County, Tabugbo was one of the top performers at the state meet. Tabugbo won the 100 hurdles (14.71 seconds), finished second in the 300 hurdles (45.75 seconds) and third in the 4x100 relay. The junior also finished fifth in the 100 (12.59). She won three golds in the same events at regionals, while she won two gold medals (100 hurdles and 300 hurdles) and a silver medal (4x100) at counties. Tabugbo was also a 2018-19 indoor track and field all-county selection.
Faith Meininger, River Hill, sophomore
Events: 1,600, 3,200, 800, 4x800
Highlights: Meininger joined Ritter as a quadruple winner on regional weekend. The sophomore won gold medals in the 1,600, 3,200, 800-meter run (2:22) and 4x800-meter relay. At states, she took home silver medals in the mile (5:06) and two mile (11:28) and a bronze in the 4x800 (9:47). Meininger also finished second in the mile at counties.
Amanda Eliker, Howard, junior
Events: 1,600, 3,200, 800, 4x400, 4x800
Highlights: Eliker led a strong group of distance runners at Howard in the Lions’ county championship-winning campaign. The junior won the mile and two mile at counties and also placed second in the 800 (2:22) and third in the 4x800. At regionals, Eliker won gold medals in the mile, two mile and 4x800 and a bronze in the 4x400. Eliker also took home silver medals in the mile (5:02) and two mile (11:05) and competed in the 4x400 relay at states. Eliker was the 2018 girls cross country runner of the year.
Madison Garrigus, Atholton, junior
Events: Pole vault, high jump
Highlights: Garrigus was the best pole vaulter in Howard County this year. The junior easily won titles at counties and regionals before taking home a silver medal at the state meet. Her best vault of the postseason was 10 feet, 3 inches at the 3A East region meet. She also qualified for the high jump at states. Garrigus was also a 2018-19 indoor track and field all-county selection.
Morgan Young, Atholton, senior
Events: Shot put, discus
Highlights: Young was one of three Raiders field athletes to win silver medals at the state meet. The junior won the shot put at counties and regionals before placing second in the event at states. She also took home bronze medals in the discus throw at counties and regionals and qualified in the event at states. Her best distance in the shot put was 36 feet, 9.75 inches at the state meet; in the discus, her best throw was 100 feet, 8 inches at the 3A East regional. Young was also named to the 2018-19 indoor track and field all-county team.
Oluwaseun Sule, Oakland Mills, senior
Events: Triple jump, long jump, 100, 4x100
Highlights: As one of the best girls jumpers in Howard County, Sule qualified in four events at states and scored in two. The senior finished sixth in the triple jump (35-10.25) and fifth in the long jump. She also finished fifth in the 4x100 relay (49.32) and competed in the 100. At the 2A South region meet, Sule finished second in the long jump (17-4), third in the triple jump and third in the 4x100. She also won the triple jump and earned a bronze medal in the long jump at the county meet. This is the second straight all-county selection for Sule, who was selected to the team after her efforts during the indoor season.
Cassidy Bunyard, Atholton, senior
Events: High jump
Highlights: Bunyard won gold in the high jump at counties and regionals before taking home a silver medal in the event at the state meet. Her best jump of the postseason was 5 feet, 4 inches at both regionals and states. Bunyard also made all-county for her efforts during indoor season.
Sierrah Matthews, Mt. Hebron, sophomore
Events: 400, 200, 4x200, 4x400
Highlights: Matthews joined Valentine and Ritter as a member of the Vikings’ record-breaking 4x400 relay team. Matthews also won a silver in the 4x200 (1:40) with Ritter, finished fourth in the 400 (56.34) and qualified for the 200. At regionals, Matthews won the 400, 4x200 and 4x400 and got a silver medal in the 200 (25.47). At counties, the sophomore won the two relay events, finished second in the 400 and third in the 200. Matthews was the 2018-19 indoor track and field Athlete of the Year.
Sydney Robinson, River Hill, senior
Events: 100, 200, 400, 4x100, 4x200
Highlights: Robinson was the only Howard County athlete to win the maximum amount of postseason medals (12). At the state meet, the senior finished second in the 4x200 (1:42) and third in the 100 (12.56), 200 (25.64) and 4x100. At the 2A South region meet, Robinson placed second in the same four events, while at the county meet she won the 4x100 (48.53), finished second in the 4x200 and 200 and third in the 400 (58.89). Matthews was also an indoor track all-county selection this past season.
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jcalvinmeyer