Sprinter Sierrah Matthews has been chasing a singular goal since entering high school in September 2017.
“Being able to go to the college I want to,” Matthews said.
And what college would that be?
“Any,” she added. “I haven’t really chosen yet, but Division I is the range I’m looking in right now.”
Just a sophomore, Matthews has already established herself as one of the premier long sprinters in the state.
Individually, she secured four postseason titles during the indoor track and field season this winter, including at the 3A state meet, where she set a personal record to win the 500 meters and added a third-place finish in the 300. Team wise, she and senior Jaiden Ritter carried Mt. Hebron to its first runner-up finish at a state meet since 2011. And after the season, Matthews earn yet another honor: Howard County Times/Columbia Flier indoor track and field girls Athlete of the Year.
But as Matthews works towards her “end goal” of becoming a Division I athlete, these achievements, as well as those she’ll likely earn her final two high school years, will come secondary to doing whatever it takes to improve her best self.
“When you work hard at something and you’re doing something you love, you don’t always think about accolades,” Matthews said. “It’s just the fact that you’re doing something you love, and you know you’re setting the example. You never focus on titles; you just work hard, get the times and just make it to the college you want to go to.”
Matthews got into contact with Mt. Hebron coach Teyarnte Carter last summer, and before long the two were training together with Elite Track Club three times per week.
She was still fairly new to running at that point, so Carter spent a good chunk of time teaching her the basics of track and field. Eventually Matthews competed in a few meets. “She didn’t run well; she ran decent,” Carter said. But her coach stayed optimistic. Based on Matthews’ prior experience, growing pains were expected.
But once Matthews made the transition from Atholton — where she spent her freshman year — to Mt. Hebron, Carter noticed rapid improvement.
“For some odd reason it clicked,” Carter said. “Some kids ... are just young and they don’t understand and they have no idea what their potential is, and so I just started to see a change — a big change — from her.”
In both the 300 and the 500, Matthews lowered her times in almost every meet she ran following the Ed Bowie Invitational on Dec. 8 when she finished sixth in the former event (42.54 seconds) and 13th in the latter race (1 minute, 22.38 seconds).
In fact, by the county championships less than six weeks later, Matthews shaved about a second and a half off her time in the shorter discipline and more than three seconds off her time in the longer one. She captured league titles in both events in addition to helping the Vikings win the 4x200 and 4x400 relays.
“Just being able to know that I do have the ability to do this even if I am running against seniors or juniors or people older than me, and you can’t just doubt yourself even though people are older than you,” Matthews said of the obstacles she faced this season. “You just have to focus on the end goal, and whatever that end goal is to you, you basically just keep your eyes on the prize. You don’t focus on the people around you.”
In addition to developing her confidence, Matthews worked extensively with Carter on her running technique.
It’s not always about the intensity level of her training, Matthews said. It’s about running her phases, having good form, doing the right arm movements and correctly positioning her legs. To hone in on these factors, Carter and Matthews watched film together.
“If you do what you’re supposed to do, you’re going to excel, but those little key pieces, like eating right, making sure mentally you’re strong and make sure that you understand what you’re doing when you’re in competition,” Carter said. “A lot of people just run, but whether you are connected to your race comes down to a lot of mental preparation.”
Matthews’ impressive county showing set the tone for what she accomplished at regionals and states to close out the winter campaign. With a time of 1:21.81, Matthews earned the 3A East title in the 500. As for the 300, she ran a 43.89 to place third.
At states two weeks later, Matthews and Ritter, the 2018 indoor track and field girls Athlete of the Year, had a part in 42 of Mt. Hebron’s 43 points thanks to top individual and group finishes. For one, Matthews snagged third in the 300 in 41.16. She also teamed with her fellow sprinters to take second in the 4x200 (1:43.72) and the 4x400 (4:00.59).
However, no result was more impressive than Matthews’ 500 effort. Despite not hitting her objective of running around a 1:14.00, the sophomore standout ran well enough to win her first state championship in a personal-best 1:15.85.
“Once she started hitting times in practice and, to me, once she started getting closer to times guys were running at practice [towards the end of January, February], I said, ‘Woah, she’s rolling, she’s going to be pretty cool if she puts everything together physically and mentally,” Carter said.
As Matthews progresses towards the second half of her high school career, Carter would like to see her All-County athlete show even more belief in herself, break some school records and promote track in Howard County, which she’s already started doing thanks to last season’s results.
Oh, and do not forget about the Division I scholarship. Matthews is still laser focused on that possibility, too.
“Confidence is key,” Matthews said. “Basically if you believe you can do something and you keep working at it, you’ll surprise yourself and you’ll do things you never even thought you were capable of doing. And I feel like that’s what I’ve done this indoor season.”
Also named to the All-County team are:
Alison Betler, Centennial, senior
Events: 800, 1,600, 3,200
Highlights: Betler earned indoor track and field All-County honors for the second straight year thanks to her aptitude in multiple distance events. She won the 1,600 at the league meet in 5:23.03 and improved on that time a month later, running a personal-best 5:14.34 to place third at the 3A state championships. In the 800, she took second at counties and eighth at states. She also added a fourth-place county finish in the 3,200.
Cora Blount, Centennial, senior
Events: 800, 1,600, 3,200
Highlights: Blount served as the other half of the Eagles’ distance duo, winning the 3,200 at the county meet in 11:51.22 while placing second in the 1,600 (season-best 5:28.86) and fourth in the 800 (2:31.16). In her lone individual event at states, Blount ran a personal-best time of 11:37.89 in the 3,200 to finish fifth.
Cassidy Bunyard, Atholton, senior
Events: High jump
Highlights: Bunyard was the county’s premier high jumper this winter. She won the event at three meets, including at the counties by clearing five feet. Her other postseason results included finishing second at regionals and sixth at states with a mark of 4 feet, 11 inches. Her best jump of the season came at the District V Challenge on Jan. 8 when she jumped 5-2.
Madison Garrigus, Atholton, junior
Events: Pole vault
Highlights: Not many pole vaulters were better than Garrigus this winter. At counties, she matched a season record by clearing 9-6 before winning the event at the 3A East meet, too, by clearing 8-6. She capped the season with a 9-6 to take fourth at the state championships.
Morgan Nasir, Atholton, sophomore
Events: 55 dash, 300, long jump, 4x200, 4x400
Highlights: Nasir is the only underclassmen to make the girls All-County team thanks to her widespread success this winter. Her best event was the long jump, which she won at counties (17-5), but she also secured top-seven finishes at all three postseason meets in the 300. She also helped the Raiders earn runner-up in the 4x200 and 4x400 at the county championships.
Jaiden Ritter, Mt. Hebron, senior
Events: 55 dash, 300, 4x200, 4x400
Highlights: Last year’s indoor track and field girls Athlete of the Year turned in another All-County worthy campaign in her final winter season. In addition to winning the 55 dash and the 300 at the 3A East region meet, she snagged second at counties (7.31) and third at states (season-best 7.30) in the former event and third at counties (41.86) and fifth at states (season-best 41.74) in the latter race. Ritter’s performances went a long way to helping the Vikings finish second at the state meet.
Sydney Robinson, River Hill, senior
Events: 55 dash, 300, 500, long jump
Highlights: The reigning outdoor track and field girls Athlete of the Year earned All-County honors for the third straight year. She won a county championship in the 55-meter dash (7.36), a region championship in the 300 (season-best 40.98), and placed second at counties in the 500 (season-best 1:21.46) and in the long jump (season-best 16-11). At states, her best finish came in the 300 when she placed second (41.54).
Camryn Streib, Atholton, senior
Events: 800, 1,600, 4x400, 4x800
Highlights: Streib paced Atholton’s distance group this winter and proved integral to the Raiders’ county championship. She won the 800 with a personal-best time of 2:25.90 at the league meet and finished third in the 1,600. Later in the season, she was a part of the Raiders’ 4x800 team that finished third at states.
Oluwaseun Sule, Oakland Mills, senior
Events: 55 dash, high jump, long jump, triple jump, 4x200
Highlights: In her second-straight indoor track and field All-County campaign, Sule bested the county competition in the long triple jump (33-8) and also placed fifth in the long jump.
Adaobi Tabugbo, Reservoir, junior
Events: 55 dash, 55 hurdles, 4x200
Highlights: Tabugbo finished second in the girls Athlete of the Year running because of her expertise in the 55 dash and the 55 hurdles; events she won at the county championships with times of 7.30, a personal-best time, and 8.51, respectively. She padded her resume at the 3A East region meet by winning the 55 hurdles and securing third in the 55 dash, and then capped her tremendous campaign with a hurdling state title in a personal-best 8.27.
Morgan Young, Atholton, senior
Events: Shot put
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Highlights: Young saved the best shot put performance of her high school career for the county championships this winter. With a distance of 36-2, Young beat out teammate Ciara Wainwright to capture the league crown. Her top-notch efforts continued into regionals, where she won with a throw of 35-5, and then into the 3A state meet, finishing fifth.