As a hurdle crew went about their business setting up the 300 hurdles, track and field coaches Scott Mathias and Robert Youngblood chatted easily in the Col. Zadok Magruder High School infield, showing no signs of the animosity that typically goes hand-in-hand with a rivalry between the top two teams in the county, Mathias' Clarksburg and Youngblood's Northwest. The only coach missing of Montgomery County track's Big Three was Thomas S. Wootton's Kellie Redmond, who was idling by the finish line, waiting for Sylvia Deppen to claim her expected gold in the 300 hurdles.
Last week, it was Mathias' boys who edged Youngblood's at the county championships and it was Youngblood's girls who pulled off a one point squeaker over Redmond's. This week for the 4A West regional championships, the qualifying grounds for the state meet next week at Morgan State University, the Big Three would finish much the same, with just a slight shakeup in the standings.
Clarksburg's boys took the top spot again, beating Northwest 142-127 while the Jaguars edged Clarksburg and Wootton in the girls events 107-81-76, respectively.
“A lot of kids stepped up, a lot of kids stepped up,” said Mathias, who was without hurdling dynamo Paul Joseph due to a hamstring injury. “Our field event guys did a fantastic job. We had a lot of kids make some breakthroughs today and it was important…. I'm pretty proud of them. I think it speaks to the character of the team, I really do.”
While Wootton relies mostly on starpower for its points, leaning heavily on Deppen and standout Gwen Shaw, who combined to win six events (they both ran on the winning 1,600-relay team) and 65 points, Northwest is much the opposite, picking up points throughout 16 of 18 events with girls scooping up seconds through eighths. Senior Hayley Henshaw was the lone Jaguar to take home a gold, winning the high jump with her clearance of 5 feet, 1 inch.
“I think the girls — I'm feeling really confident because of last year, they didn't win counties,” Youngblood said. “And I think that really boosted their morale a lot. Now they know they just got to focus on the individual events that they did make it in and we'll see how it plays out.”
Shaw, despite battling a flu-like ailment that had her gasping for air and laboring through her finishes in the 400 and 1,600 relay leg, still had a gold rush, winning the 100 hurdles (15.20 seconds), 200 (24.83), 400 (57.43), and aiding the winning 1,600-relay team (3 minutes, 58.66 seconds).
“I just want to qualify because I know I'll feel better next week,” she managed to croak out before her final in the 400. And she made good on qualifying for all four of her events, though in times that would normally be considered a slight disappointment, but at regionals the bottom line is making it to Morgan State and not so much hitting personal records.
Much to the contrary of Shaw, Deppen, who won the 100 (12.29) and 300-hurdles (44.62), and the Wootton girls, Northwest relies very little on first-place finishes, rather gathering points throughout a wide range of events through middle finishes just as they did last week during their county championship victory.
Two hundred meter runner Tiara Wellman walked past Youngblood, clearly disappointed with her final in the event, but she still qualified for states, and still scored points.
“You're in Tiara,” Youngblood called over. “You're in.”
That's all that matters for Northwest.
“They've been our rivals for a while,” Deppen said. “They have more diversity in all their events. We didn't score any points in our jumps or our throws I don't think so that makes things a bit more challenging.”
Clarksburg's boys, meanwhile, have a healthy mix of favorites and dark horses, leaning on the state's top high jumper, Kaos Williams, distance specialist William Bertrand and sprinter Tavis Holland for much of their points while adding some depth throughout the majority of events, such as the triple jump, in which they swept second, third and fourth for a 19-point boost.
“Clarksburg is just powerful,” Youngblood said. “It's like, they have a desire that I got to instill in our guys who don't have that. It's like 'I got to get that other point, I'm going to kill myself to get it.' Our guys just don't do this yet and we'll get it.”