HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Mt. Hebron junior sprinter Jaiden Ritter and her coach, Teyarnte Carter, have made a habit of mapping out short-term and long-term goals.
"We work goals long term," said Carter, herself a standout University of Maryland sprinter in the early 2000s. "'Hey, who are are the fastest kids in the nation? OK, who are the fastest kids in the state of Maryland?' And then we'll break it down to our county. And then week by week, it was 'OK, what events are we going to attack."
With Ritter so focused on one objective — returning to the New Balance Nationals after qualifying for the freshman 100-meter dash in 2016 — Carter said breaking down that ultimate desire helped Ritter set realistic goals during the indoor and outdoor seasons
And while Ritter recently got back to the pinnacle of high school track and field, running the 60-yard dash at New Balance Nationals Indoor in New York on March 11, she also posted plenty of other noteworthy results along the way. She won county titles in the 300 and the 500, then secured a regional title in the former event. At states, she earned top five finishes in two individual races and helped two Vikings relay teams place in the top three of their respective events.
Behind these efforts, which brought plenty of medals and accolades, Ritter capped her 2017-18 campaign with another honor: Howard County Times/Columbia Flier indoor track and field girls Athlete of the Year.
"Coach Carter always told me that I was capable of doing it," Ritter said of becoming a state championship contender. "But I don't know, I don't think it really clicked for me until it actually happened that I was capable of doing it."
Carter first watched Ritter compete as a goalie on the Mt. Hebron freshman soccer team in the fall of 2016. And upon seeing Ritter bounce around the six-yard box, Carter could not help but wonder why the Vikings put a player with Ritter's speed and agility in net.
So, after the match ended, Carter approached Ritter with a proposition.
"I told her, 'Hey, I want you to try and come out and run indoor and outdoor track for me,'" Carter said. "And to me, very early I noticed she had talent if she would put in the actual work."
Ritter "latched onto track and field," Carter said, and used the traits that made her a quality goalkeeper — specifically her aggressiveness and fast-twitch muscle fibers — as a foundation for her track career. She quickly emerged as one of Mt. Hebron's top sprinters, competing primarily in the 55 dash and 300 during the indoor season and in the 100, 200, and 400 in the spring.
In addition to qualifying for freshman nationals in the 100 during the outdoor campaign, Ritter finished the school year with top-12 state finishes in the 200 and 400.
The latter is a race sprinters typically "do not like to run," Carter said, but Ritter willingly ran that distance, both in practice and in meets. In fact, she accepted any workout Carter came up with.
"Once I realized mentally that she was willing to attack every workout, willing to run any race, I think to me that's when I said, 'If she's going to put in the time, I'm going to put in the time to get her where she needs to be,'" Carter said. "She wasn't afraid to actually do the workout that people don't really want to do."
Ritter opted against playing soccer that next fall so she could focus all of her efforts into her new passion. But early in the 2017 indoor season, an injury limited her abilities.
She strained her hamstring around November and said she did not feel fully healthy until early in the summer. She attended physical therapy for three months. During that indoor campaign, she ran in individual events at just five meets yet still earned top-10 county finishes in two races and won the 3A East region title in the 300.
Ritter's success continued into the outdoor season. In the county meet alone, she won the 100 in 12.67 seconds and finished runner-up in the 200 and 400.
Still, she could not stop thinking about the lingering hamstring "twinge" that was limiting her from reaching her utmost potential. It had taken a toll on her mentally.
"A lot of the time, I knew I should have been in a better position than I was in as far as the times that I was running," Ritter said. "And my other teammates were doing so well, and sometimes I just felt like I wasn't able to perform the way I wanted to perform."
But with the constant reassurance of her parents, her trainer and Carter, Ritter eventually forgot about the injury as the summer wore on and prepared for what would become a dominant junior campaign.
Ritter began her postseason tear this winter at the league meet, where she bested River Hill junior and reigning Athlete of the Year Sydney Robinson in the 300 and the 500 to secure her first two career individual indoor titles. Those unexpected victories, Ritter said, served as a few of the best moments of this season.
And after winning the 300 at the region event a few weeks later, Ritter surprised herself again with two medal-worthy runs at the state meet. She anticipated she would earn some hardware in the 300 — which she did by running a personal-best time of 40.53 seconds to place fifth — but nabbing second in the 55 dash (7.12 seconds) was a "pleasant surprise," she said. She also helped the Vikings' 4x200 team place second and their 4x400 group take third.
In total, Ritter scored more points for her team at the state meet (26) than any other county athlete.
Ritter has three seasons of track and field left in her high school career, but she already has her sights set on running at a Division I program, preferably somewhere south of Ellicott City. And to further lower her times, she's continued to rely on Carter's advice.
"Making sure I'm keeping my form through the line," Ritter said. "Running like a sprinter. Getting my feet in front of me. Trying to get my feet down as quick as possible."
Also in the back of Ritter's head are the times Carter ran at Long Reach High School, where she was named the All-Metro girls track and field Performer of the Year in 2000. Ritter guesses she's closest to beating Carter's time in the 400. As for the 100 and 200, well, Ritter admits there's "some work to do."
For Ritter, it represents the latest challenges in a career full of successes.
"Some people have that light, and she just has it," Carter said. "When I say light, meaning just her energy. When she comes to practice, you can tell she wants to be there. Anything that she may be going through and in that day, she gives me those two hours everyday. She lets everything go."
Named to the All-County are:
Alison Betler, Centennial. Betler, a junior distance runner, thrived in the 1,600-meter race, where she finished third at the county meet (5:27.25) and eighth at the state championships. She also was a part of the foursome that swept the 4x800-meter relay at the county, region and state meets.
Kailee Bunyard, Atholton. Bunyard won the county title with a time of 8.95 seconds in the 55-meter hurdles. The junior then set a personal record of 8.75 seconds to finish runner-up in the same event at the 3A East region meet before taking ninth (8.94 seconds) at the state meet.
Chinenye Iloanya, Howard. Iloanya won county and 4A state titles in the shot put for the second straight season. At the county championships, she won with a distance of 38 feet, 2.5 inches. And after coming in second at the regional competition, she threw a personal-best of 39-8.5 to secure back-to-back state championships.
Olivia Island, River Hill. Island secured her first county title in the pole vault by posting a height of 8 feet, 6 inches and then bested that mark during her second-place finish at the region meet. In the 55-meter hurdles, she made steady improvements from the county race (fourth, 9.44 seconds) to the state championships (second, personal record 9.08).
Faith Meininger, River Hill. Meininger continued to build on her standout freshman cross country campaign. She won the 1,600 and 3,200 at the county meet, while finishing second in the 800 behind teammate Jasmine Tiamfook. Meininger capped her first high school indoor season with a state title in the 1,600 and a runner-up finish in the two-mile race.
Riley Murtha, Marriotts Ridge. Murtha's success came in the 55-meter hurdles and the high jump. In the hurdles, she finished second at the county meet (9.25) and third at the 2A East region (9.32) and state (9.09) meets. Meanwhile, she won the county title in the high jump by clearing 5 feet, 1 inch, a personal-best during her indoor track and field career.
Sydney Robinson, River Hill. Robinson, who was named Athlete of the Year last season, again achieved top state finishes in multiple events. The junior's 55 dash time of 7.31 seconds at the state meet was a personal record and good for second place, and she set another personal record in winning the 300 (40.88). In the 500, she snagged third place (1:19.91).
Oluwaseun Sule, Oakland Mills. Sule is the current county champion in the triple jump after posting a personal-best distance of 34 feet, 8.5 inches. She also took fourth in the county in the long jump (15-7.5) and represented the Scorpions at the state meet in the 55 dash and the 4x200.
Jasmine Tiamfook, River Hill. The reigning girls cross country Runner of the Year put together a solid final indoor campaign as well. At the county meet, she won the 800 (2:24.49) and was the runner-up in the 1,600 (5:23.17), helping the River Hill girls team win the league title. In the state competition about a month later, she ran personal bests in the half mile (second, 2:22.31) and the mile (second, 5:16.10).
Adaobi Tabugbo, Reservoir. Tabugbo spent part of the indoor season visiting family in Nigeria, but the month-long absence did not stop the sophomore hurdler from wowing the competition at states. First, she finished in 8.46 seconds in the 55 dash prelims, about two-tenths of a second faster than the runner-up, before improving on that mark during the finals. Behind a personal-best time of 8.43, Tabugbo was one of the few county athletes to win an individual state title.
Asha Washington, Atholton. Washington won the 55 dash at the county meet, crossing the finishing line in a personal-best 7.20 seconds. She followed that up with a win at the region meet (7.24) and a fifth-place finish at the state championships (7.34). Other highlights from the senior included a runner-up county meet result in the long jump (17-0.25) and a 10th-place finish in the 300 at the state competition