Mervo coach Freddie Hendricks said he kept his faith in shot-putter Kelley Jackson, even as the senior spent the past several weeks stuck around the 54-foot mark.
At yesterday's opener of the Class 4A state track and field championship at UMBC, Jackson rewarded his coach's patience by helping catapult the Mustangs into prime contention for the team title.
Jackson's winning throw of 57 feet, 1 inch - a personal best by more than 3 feet - as well as a long jump victory by Frankie Wright and an all-classes state record by the 800-meter relay team has Mervo just two points off the lead.
Gaithersburg, runner-up a year ago, leads with 33 points, followed by Mervo (31) and Suitland (22).
In the girls competition, Western - buoyed by a state title in the 3,200 relay - sits in second place (18) behind Gaithersburg, with C. Milton Wright and Largo tied for third (16).
"I had said that we needed 35 points today to go forward and really feel good about our chances," Hendricks said. "We didn't come up with quite that many ... but we're still very much in it."
Jackson, who had thrown in the 53- to 54-foot range all spring, gave the Mustangs a welcome points boost.
"The weather's been horrible, so each time I said, 'Well, maybe if we get a warm day, he'll throw 56,' " Hendricks said. "I came prepared for anything. He promised me in the ninth grade that he was going to win a state championship, and he came through."
"I thought it was a low throw," said Jackson, who placed third last year. "After I let it go, they looked at me like there was something wrong, but it turned out to be 57."
While the 800 relay team of Frankie Wright, Ronald Wright, Damon Watson and Jabari Bush had a superior day, Hendricks said Mervo lost a chance for even more points with a sixth-place finish in the 3,200 relay. The Mustangs also lost potential points when high-jumper Andrew Hackett broke an arm at school Wednesday.
It was a banner day for other area teams, as well.
In the girls 3,200 relay, Western's Latosha Wallace, Rokesha Williams, Midchild Carter and Alicia Williams crossed the line in 9 minutes, 16.74 seconds - a personal best by two seconds and just one second off the all-time state record set by Eleanor Roosevelt last year.
The Doves, however, should get another shot at the mark next year. The team is composed of juniors, except for freshman Rokesha Williams.
In the boys 3,200 relay, C. Milton Wright's Will Murdoch, Pat Bailey, Aaron Smith and Jesse Slowikowski came from behind to edge Bowie at the finish.
Trailing around the final turn, Slowikowski, running the anchor leg, turned on the speed down the final straightaway to overtake Bowie's anchor leg and win by just over a second.
"I didn't know he had that kind of kick at the end. I was worried for awhile," Slowikowski said. "When there were about 10 meters left in the final turn, I knew it was over."
The winning time of 7:54.23 was a personal best by about seven seconds for the Harford County foursome.
"Coming in, the goal was to break eight minutes and just to do the best we could do," Mustangs distance coach Donnie Mickey said. "I'd say we did that."