Junior Sydney Robinson talks after the Hawks’ first-ever girls indoor track and field state title on Feb. 19. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)
Even before this indoor track and field season, River Hill coach Paul Hugus knew his girls team had the talent to win a state championship.
In addition to returning Jasmine Tiamfook, one of the best 800- and 1,600-meter runners in the area last season, the Hawks welcomed back Sydney Robinson, the reigning Howard County girls indoor track and field Athlete of the Year. After spending her freshman season with the Hawks, Robinson dominated at Mt. Hebron a year ago. She finished in the top four in the 300 and 500 at the 3A state meet and excelled in the 55-meter dash.
But Robinson transferred back to River Hill before the school year, giving Hugus an athlete he could rely on for plenty of points in the shorter distances.
These two upperclassman joined freshman Faith Meininger, a long-distance star who nearly won the cross country county title and finished fifth in the state meet in the fall. They combined to form a trio that could contend for invidiual titles in six of the 13 state meet events.
"We kind of knew going in that we had a talented core of girls and we just needed a couple of pieces here and there to complete some relays," Hugus said.
Well, all of the pieces fit together at the 2A state championship on Monday at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex.
The three-headed monster performed as well as, if not better than usual — its 58 combined points would have been good for second place. River Hill also got a better-than-expected finish from senior Olivia Island, who took second in the 55 hurdles, and scored in each of the three relays.
In total, the Hawks accumulated 75 points, enough to hold off South Carroll (60 points) and Hereford (47.5) and secure their first-ever girls indoor track and field state championship.
"Our three dominant people — Sydney, Jasmine and Faith — they're our rock," Island said. "They're scoring all of the points. ...They're beasts."
Of the county teams, Marriotts Ridge (10 points) finished 16th in large part because of senior Riley Murtha. She earned six points with a third-place mark in the 55 hurdles (9.09 seconds) and added two points by taking seventh in the shot put (30 feet, 9.25 inches). The Mustangs also received two points from senior Kealy Faughnan in the 1,600 (seventh, 5:25.64).
Oakland Mills' lone point came from junior Oluwaseun Sule, who snagged eighth in the 55 dash (7.47).
River Hill, which scored in all 10 track events, began its quest for a postseason sweep (county, region and state titles) with an eighth-place finish in the 4x800. The foursome of Raaya Khleif, Katherine Kitzinger, Annie Shi and Quillian Alewine set the tone for the Hawks with a time of 10:39.69.
Then, in the 300, Robinson bested the competition with a winning time of 40.88, which doubles as a personal best for the junior this season. She followed that up by taking third in the 500 (1:19.91) and topping another personal record with a 7.31 in the 55 dash.
Individually, Robinson accounted for nearly a third of River Hill's 75 points.
"I know Sydney has high goals, so going into the event, her mindset was 'Coach, I'm going to just win,'" sprints coach Donnie Richmond said. "She's a team player. Whatever the team needs, she was willing. Very selfless individual.
"And more importantly, just the effect she had on her teammates. They knew they had to run for her considering the load that was put on her. They all knew what they had to do to win a state championship, and they came together as a result of that."
In Meininger's case, River Hill was relying on her for top finishes in the 1,600 and 3,200, and she delivered just that. After winning county and region titles in the 1,600, she capped her stellar freshman campaign with a individual state title. Her time of 5:14.09 was more than three seconds better than her previous personal record.
And while Meininger could not keep pace with junior Nandini Satsangi (Poolesville) in the two-mile race, she beat out the rest of the field to place second (11:32.84).
"Going into high school, I didn't expect any of this. I just expected to be a part of the team," Meininger said. "And to have this much potential, it makes me feel good."
Tiamfook, meanwhile, joined the group of Hawks to earn personal records with her runner-up performance in the 1,600 (5:16.10). She wasn't as content with her second-place finish in the 800, an event she won at counties and regions, because she led for the majority of the race before fading into second with about 50 meters left.
However, she did not allow her disappointment in a single race to hinder the feeling of concluding her high school indoor track and field career as a state champion.
"Senior year, and to win, it means the world to me," Tiamfook said. "You put in all of this work, three seasons every year, and when you finally come out on top, it's everything."
Rounding out the Hawks' top performers was Island, who took an unorthodox path to becoming one of the best hurdlers in the 2A classification.
While she runs the 300 hurdles in the spring, she had yet to run the 55 version before this season. So, at first, she set attainable goals. She wanted to finish under 10 seconds and then under 9.6. She concerned herself more with shaving time off than earning a certain place at meets.
But it wasn't until Island altered her race plan — she started taking three steps between each hurdle — that she realized her overall potential. And as she honed that technique, she continued wowing her coaches and teammates. She ran a 9.44 at the county championships, good for a fifth-place finish. She then dropped her time to 9.10 at the 2A East preliminary heat before running a 9.28 in the event final to take second.
At the state meet, she again bested her previous mark by finishing in 9.08.
"She has a lot of technical deficiencies, but the deficiencies that she has on the track, she makes up with a lot of heart," Richmond said. "She's an athlete."
Richmond and Hugus agreed winning the county meet played a significant part in the Hawks' overall success this season. Not all state champions win their respective county championships, Hugus added, but he believes that league title helped his athletes understand all they could accomplish if they performed as expected.
And Monday night, that outlook became a reality.
"The county meet really set the stage, and the girls realized that they could be team champions moving forward," Hugus said.
"Today was a celebration."
Girls scores: 1. River Hill (75 points); 16. Marriotts Ridge (10); 27. Oakland Mills (1).
River Hill senior Jasmine Tiamfook discusses the Hawks’ league title on Jan. 29.
Oakland Mills, River Hill boys finish in top 8
Oakland Mills and River Hill put together solid showings at the 2A indoor track and field championships on Monday.
The Scorpions (30 points) finished in a tie for sixth and the Hawks (26 points) placed eighth. Century won the event with 50 points, while Middletown and New Town rounded out the top three.
River Hill boasted the only two event winners from the county. In the first boys event final of the meet, Anish Nanjappa, Evan King, Chase McGeehan and Brendan Fitzgerald won the 4x800 for River Hill with a time of 8:12.37. It marked the first time this season the quartet ran this race together.
"On Friday at practice, Anish told our coach that the top-seeded time was only like 8:27, and we thought we could easily contest with that," Fitzgerald said. "And we did."
The other victory came courtesy of Nanjappa, who ran the 3,200 in 9:40.29, nearly seven seconds faster than the runner-up.
Nanjappa did not break his personal record of 9:37.74 that he set at the Montgomery Invitational on Jan. 13, but the two-mile region and state champion thought he ran "a solid race."
"Winning a state title individually means a lot to me," he said. "It's a big confidence booster."
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, finished fourth in the 800 (2:02.77), and McGeehan earned a point for taking eighth in the 500 (1:09.70).
In the 55 dash, Oakland Mills senior Cameron Vereen (6.449) ended up on the wrong side of a extremely tight race, finishing five thousandths of a second behind Jordan Cofield (New Town) for the title.
While disappointed, Vereen helped the Scorpions take third in the 4x200 relay (1:34.75).
"That was amazing," Vereen said. "Everybody ran their greatest. That was a PR for us, so I'm really happy for my teammates. It was really great."
The Scorpions also received points thanks to senior Jared Nguyen (fifth, 800), junior Wenler Lopez (fourth, shot put), the 4x400 (sixth, 3:40.87) and the 4x800 (fifth, 8:27.97).
Hammond's points came from senior Jordan Lomax, who finished runner-up in the high jump (6-03), senior Aaron Powell (fourth, shot put) and sophomore Loick Amouzon (eighth, 55 hurdles). Glenelg received an eighth-place finish from sophomore Matt Leavitt in the 800 (2:07.03).