It would be easy to say running is Atholton's Jen Bleakney's second-favorite sport. After all, the Syracuse University-bound field hockey player was the Howard County Player of the Year for that sport. But when it comes time to trade cleats for spikes come Nov. 15th, she's all in.
She proved that at the Howard County Indoor Track & Field championships at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex on Jan. 31 as she swept the 800 and 1600 meters, and anchored the winning 4x400 meter relay.
"I'm really happy," Bleakney said. "I was really rusty coming into counties because I haven't been able to race a lot this indoor season, but I'm really happy with how I did today."
The Howard girls' team tracked down Long Reach in the final stretch to take the team championship with 95 points for the second time in three years, while Mt. Hebron held off Howard and Reservoir to win the boys title with 101 points – also for the second time in three seasons.
Bleakney had to outduel Oakland Mills rival Brit Lang, who finished fifth in the 2A state cross county meet this fall and beat Bleakney in an early-season race.
In the 1600, Bleakney and Lang battled from start to finish, with Lang on her heels the entire eight laps. In a sprint to the finish, it was Bleakney who edged out the win in 5 minutes, 9.40 seconds, less than two seconds ahead of Lang and good enough for a meet record.
In the 800 meters, Bleakney and Lang were battling it out again.
Bleakney, who set the meet record in the event last season, pulled out ahead but had to kick it up a notch in the sprint to the finish to hold on to beat Lang by .41 of a second.
"She's amazing. She kind of came out of nowhere last year and we were all kind of watching her like, 'wow, where did you come from?'" Lang said. "She's an amazing competitor. It's a lot of fun running against her ... I've only raced her like three times this year, but we've been so close. Especially today in the 800 ... all of our races are pretty fun to watch and be in."
About 40 minutes after winning the 800 meters, Bleakney anchored the 4x400 relay and completed the perfect day with her teammates. The relay team finished in 4:20.63, ahead of second-place Howard (4:21.78).
Atholton's girls coach Ivan Alvarado says Bleakney is the best all-around athlete he has ever coached.
"What can I say, she's an absolute beast. She got it done today," he said. "She puts in the time and work, she's very dedicated, and you see the results."
Wilde Lake's David Eisenhauer dominated the 1600 meters and the 3200 meters, but it was a little bitter-sweet for the senior.
River Hill's Chris Heydrick, Eisenhauer's rival in cross country, indoor and outdoor track, has been nursing an injured leg for the past two weeks and was not able to compete. He is expected to be a part of River Hill's relay team at the regional meet on Feb. 3.
"It definitely helped me win because I didn't have to deal with him," Eisenhauer said. "But it made it a whole lot harder to run, not having someone else there."
Eisenhauer won the 1600 in 4:22.09, more than seven seconds ahead of Alec Vaughn of Mt. Hebron.
In the 3200 meters, he ran as if someone was chasing him down. He finished in 9:29.48, beating the meet record by about seven seconds.
"I looked at that time right before running the race, and I was like, I'm getting this time," Eisenhauer said. "(Getting that time) was like my last resort. If nothing else went right, I'm getting that time."
It looked as if Long Reach would take the girls championship entering the final events, but Howard knew it wasn't out of reach, especially with one of their best events, the 4x400 meter relay, still to be raced.
As it turned out, Howard third-year coach Tyler Wade knew the county championship would be determined by how his girls performed in the relay. He failed to mention it to his girls, however, because he didn't want them "freaking out."
"It was neck and neck pretty much throughout. It came down to the 4x400 (meter relay)," said Wade. "I felt pretty good about it, our girls have been working hard all year and they went out and ran a season-best by about four seconds. ... We knew going in if we beat Long Reach (in the relay), we were going to win."
The Lions relay team team of Teanna Jules, Ty Reid, Ashley Matus and Christine Caulker came in second to Atholton, but finished about 13 seconds ahead of the Lightning to capture the team title.
While Howard won only two events – Taylor Scaife, who won the shot put by nearly six feet, and the team of Taylor Jaranyi, Emily Hawkins, Emily Magoon and Gabby Rayner pacing the 4x800 meter relay – in a meet with dozens of events among the track and field, the championship would be handed to the most consistent team.
"We scored in a lot of events," Wade said. "I think there's only three events today that we didn't score in. We put somebody in place to get points in every event, and that was big – our team depth."
In the boys' title race, it was a battle until the final event. Mt. Hebron held the lead throughout the night, but the Vikings were able to hold off a final rally from the Lions and Gators.
"To be honest with you, discipline, dedication and determination. These kids work extremely hard and we are a family," said Mt. Hebron coach Teyarnte Carter. "We all worked together as a team to make sure that we keep morale going."
The Vikings final points of the night came in style, as the 4x400 meter relay team of Nicholas Wardell, Preston Hogue, Andrew Humm and Darnell Pratt set a meet record of 3:29.31, beating the old record set by Mt. Hebron in 2012 and faster than Glenelg, which also beat the old meet record.
"These guys were the JV kids and now they're the seniors, so they've worked really, really hard to stay on top and keep the tradition going at Mt. Hebron," Carter said.
Vaughn won the 800 meters for the Vikings, and Wardell, Pratt and Humm finished 1-2-3 in the 500 meters, but it was the unexpected contributors that helped the Vikings the most.
"We had kids in the shot put that never score, score and step up," Carter said. "The list goes on and on."
Reservoir's Matthew Mercer was also a double winner, jumping a personal best 6 feet, four inches to tie the school record and the meet record set in 2001, and starting off the winning 4x200 relay team.
"I just love high jump, I started out freshman year, I couldn't clear a thing. Sophomore year, cleared 4'10", junior year 5'10", and this year starting out with 6'4", and I'm just going to keep going until the end of the season and even more if I can," Mercer said.
Mercer said he was so shocked he cleared 6'4" that he wasn't sure how to celebrate.
"You didn't see me jumping around or anything, I was just like, 'did I really just clear that? I don't know if I cleared that.'"
As for the relay, Mercer was very pleased with how he set the tone for his teammates.
"I set the tone, and my team helped me. I love my team, I'm thankful."
The Long Reach girls couldn't capture the team title, but the 4x200 meter relay team broke the meet record by .01 of a second, finishing in 1:47.00.
Trishna Clarke also won two events for the Lightning, taking the high jump (5 feet) and triple jump (34 feet, 6.75 inches) titles.
Atholton's 4x400 girls relay title almost wasn't because only 20 seconds prior to the third leg of the race, Isabelle Price was completing her final leap in the long jump.
As it turned out, Price's second jump of 16 feet, 1.5 inches was enough to win the event, and she helped the Raiders win the relay by 1.15 seconds.