On a day where the spotlight simply wasn't big enough for all the stars, it was the overall depth of two well-rounded teams that stole the show yesterday at the Howard County Track Championships.
The Wilde Lake boys team earned gold in only one event - Andrew Heath in the pole vault - but filled its pockets with silver and bronze until they nearly overflowed, earning enough points for a 155-122 win ahead of Oakland Mills.
And while the Long Reach girls grabbed gold a bit more often (Shayle Moore won the triple jump, Anya Clarke won the 300 hurdles, and Angie Watkins won the 400), it was a commanding presence in every event that allowed the Lightning to cruise to its second straight county title with 143 points, well ahead of Atholton, which grabbed second with 97.
"It's been stressful, it's been tough, but it's a pretty good feeling right now," said Long Reach coach Leslie Thomas. "We had a lot of good things happen today and a lot of people perform. We've had such high standards the last couple years that our kids come out really focused to win."
Wilde Lake managed to sneak under the radar a bit, despite taking a first-day lead. Oakland Mills came into the meet as a slight favorite, even without All-American sprinter Kyle Farmer, who is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury. And while the Scorpions got excellent performances from Chris Barksdale (1st in 100, anchored a meet record 400 relay), Stephan Pastor (1st in the 200 and 400) and Izudin Memedovic (1st in the 3200, 3rd in the 1600), the Wildecats simply won out with depth, failing to place someone in the top three in only three of the 18 events.
"We're a team that's focused on peaking at the end of the season," said Wilde Lake coach Charlie Shoemaker. "This is a very good team. If people don't recognize that, I think something's wrong."
Equally as tight and spirited however, was the battle that raged for top individual honors. Lee McDuff and Shane Stroup of River Hill were dominating as usual, but really no more so than Howard's Ryan Blackwell and Atholton's Ashely Wall.
Stroup, who won the Ironman Award, set a county record in the 800, running a blistering 1:52.6; set a meet record in the 1,600, running 4:13; and ran the anchor leg on the Hawks' 3200-relay team, which earned gold.
McDuff was first in the 1,600 (5:18) and 3200 (11:32), fourth in the 800 (2:25), and helped set a meet record in the 3200 relay. But Wall, who shared co-Ironwoman honors with McDuff, was just as good, winning the high jump (5-7) and long jump (17-8), and finishing third in the triple jump (37-2), all personal bests. Wall also finished second in the 100 hurdles.
Blackwell accomplished the rare feat of winning four individual gold medals, capturing the long jump, triple jump and the 110 and 300 hurdles. In all likelihood, the only reason Blackwell didn't share Ironman honors with Stroup was that the balloting was done before the results from the triple jump were in.