In some years, distance runners rule the Howard County indoor track and field landscape. In other years, sprinters dominate the competition. Field athletes have had their time in the spotlight, too.
But rarely is there consistency among the disciplines like county coaches have seen entering this season’s Howard County indoor track and field county championships, held Tuesday at Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex. Phil Rogers, who is in his 15th season coaching at Reservoir, calls it the year of “really a lot of key individuals.” In each event, there are a few athletes that have separated themselves from the pack.
It’s this diversity of excellence, league coaches say, that should make for a fiercely competitive and unpredictable county meet.
“There’s all of these small groups of parity and I’ve never seen that before,” Rogers said. “So it’s unique in the sense that you’re not going to see any one team dominate, I don’t think. Across the board, it’s really going to be a question of who has the most-complete team that’s going to win. I think that’s what it kind of boils down to.”
The league contenders on both the boys’ and girls’ sides seem to be the same four teams: Howard, Mt. Hebron, Reservoir and Atholton.
For the girls, each of these programs have unique strengths.
Leading Howard is the distance trio of juniors Amanda Eliker and Emily Gorny and sophomore Sara Kindbom, who carried the Lions to the cross country county championship and their first 4A North region title in the fall. There’s also two-time shot put state champion Chinenye Iloanya — who currently has the second-best throw in Maryland at 38 feet, 11.25 inches — as well as Sydney Parham, who should be strong for the Lions in jumping events.
Mt. Hebron, meanwhile, is centered around its sprinting quartet of seniors Jaden Ritter and Blaire Ridgely and sophomores Sierrah Matthews and Garcelle Pierre. Together, they already set the county record in the 4x200-meter relay with a time of 1 minute, 42.10 seconds at the Hispanic Games in New York on Jan. 5.
Ritter is the reigning girls indoor Athlete of the Year and 3A state title contender in the 55-meter dash and 300. Ridgely isn’t far behind, posting top-10 times in the 55, 300 and 500 among girls’ 3A runners around the state. As for Matthews (300 and 500) and Pierre (55 dash), they’re a part of a group of underclassmen poised to make their mark this winter.
“I see a lot of kids believing in themselves a lot younger than they usually tend to do, like when people would do OK their freshman year and then shine their senior year,” Mt. Hebron coach Teyarnte Carter said. “You see a lot of the girls being a lot hungrier.”
Reservoir’s Adaobi Tabugbo represented that mantra as a sophomore last season. She won the 55 hurdles at the 3A indoor state meet, then bested the competition in the 100 hurdles and finished third in the 300 hurdles at the state championships that spring. This season, she’s currently the best 55 hurdler in the 3A classification by more than a tenth of a second.
All-County distance runner Annabel Cortez is also back and will provide valuable contributions for the Gators in events such as the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
“We’re showing lot of depth and range in different events,” Rogers said. “As of right now, depending how I do the lineup, we’ll score one if not two people in a lot of events.”
Atholton also boasts a deep and versatile squad, with sophomore Morgan Nasir leading the sprinters and seniors Camryn Streib and Gabriella DeGrezia pacing the distance crew. But perhaps the Raiders’ greatest strength will be in the field events. Ciara Wainwright and Morgan Young (shot put), Cassidy Bunyard (high jump) and Madison Garrigus (pole vault) are all among the best 3A athletes in the state in their respective events. Nasir is also the best long jumper in county right now.
“All four teams are really, really strong,” Howard coach Tyler Wade said about his group, Mt. Hebron, Reservoir and Atholton, “and Tuesday is going to come down to maybe the last event.”
Other girls’ athletes to keep an eye on include River Hill senior Sydney Robinson, who earned girls outdoor Athlete of the Year last spring and should be strong again in the 55 dash, 300, 500 and long jump. There’s also the senior duo of Cora Blount and Alison Betler at Centennial, who have the top-two mile times in the state at 5:22.64 and 5:23.73, respectively. In the triple jump, look out for reigning county champion Oluwaseun Sule (Oakland Mills) and junior Kimayah Faye (Reservoir).
Another one of the county’s best athletes, River Hill sophomore and All-County distance runner Faith Meininger, will not run this winter due to an injury.
The boys’ side appears to be even more wide open, with Howard leading the pack after a historic county meet last winter. The Lions put up 162 points, which was the most by a program since the Howard County Times began keeping records of the event in 1983.
This year’s league championships will be much closer. Sure, Howard still has its top-level athletes like senior sprinter Max Meyers — who is among the best in the state in the 300, 500 and 800 — as well as Eric Okoye (55 dash and long jump), Jayo Adegboyo (sprints), Alex Strawley (distance), Ibra Khariat (triple jump) and Collin Greene and Brian Quainoo (shot put). They’re also deep, which was especially important in their indoor and outdoor county championships last season.
However, there are other athletes from around the county who have been just as successful. Should senior Tyler Levons recover from his injury by Tuesday, Reservoir would have one of the best sprinters in Maryland. Plus, the Gators have a promising 55-dash runner in Ayomide Agbayewa and a dominant 300 and 500 performer in Talon Campbell, who is currently in the top-five of both events in the state and first in both in the 3A classification. Both athletes will make the Gators dangerous in the 4x200 and 4x400 relays, too.
“I would say Howard is pretty strong … and Reservoir is pretty strong,” Carter said. “I think after that, it’s kind of even across the board.”
Mt. Hebron does not have the elite firepower of Howard or Reservoir but has a lot of athletes capable of scoring in multiple events. Sophomore William Jones looks to be a 3A state contender in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, while seniors Sam Iseman and Joel Evans have also performed well in their respective distance events. The Vikings should also have strong relay teams. Among 3A boys’ programs, the Vikings currently have the sixth-best time in the 4x200, second-best in the 4x400 and third in the 4x800.
Atholton should bode well, too, especially with Andrew English running suberb in the 800 and Nick Weber and Jake Perret continuing to excel in the 1,600 and the 3,200. The Raiders are also expecting quality postseason efforts from Kamau Richardson (triple jump) and Dorian Coates (high jump).
Elsewhere around the county, Deon Breland of Oakland Mills and Osita Smith of Wilde Lake should battle for the county title in the long jump, Anthony Matthews of Centennial should challenge Richardson in the triple jump and Loick Amouzou of Hammond should again be the county’s best 55-meter hurdler. Expect reigning boys cross country Runner of the Year Anish Nanjappa (River Hill), Graham Dilworth (Glenelg) and Cameron Hindle (Long Reach) to also have success in the distance events.
“I think there’s a lot of teams that in contention … but I think it’s so close to make anything definitive,” Rogers said. “This could be one of the more competitive county championships we’ve had in a number of years on both the boys’ and the girls’ side.”