Wednesday, April 2, 2008

County’s division season a sprint event

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Clarksburg could take a big step forward in the county and 2A ranks in its second season, thanks to athletes like hurdler Morgan Mott.
Dual meets and division titles have never been a primary goal for most of Montgomery County’s outdoor track and field coaches, who prefer to build up athletes for the season-ending championship meets. That may never be more true than this spring.

In the past, county teams had been divided into divisions based on the combined success of their boys and girls teams: Division I included the strongest teams, Division IV the least strong. This offseason, coaches chose to shuffle the deck. There are still four divisions, but arranged such that each should include the same competitive balance.

‘‘The way we were doing it before was almost unfair to the smaller schools,” Quince Orchard coach Seann Pelkey said. ‘‘Some of the coaches of those teams mentioned that getting to go to a meet against some of the top schools would be a good thing for them for motivating their kids and showing them what needs to be done.”

In effect, the county’s 25 public high schools were seeded, then distributed evenly; the top four programs are in four different divisions, as are five through eight, and so on.

In addition, the early spring break means the county’s entire ‘‘regular” season is contained within the 30 days of April. Coaches said they will be particularly careful not to overwork their athletes this month.

But it’s business as usual in one sense at Quince Orchard: distance, distance and more distance. The Cougars are coming off Class 4A boys state championships in cross country and indoor track. After coming on strong toward the end of his junior year, Neal Darmody has been a revelation as a senior in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, and the 4x800 relay team looks as strong as ever after a state indoor title.

‘‘Going for three titles is something that’s going to make this season a memorable one for the guys,” Pelkey said. ‘‘The coach in me wants to say, let’s do what we’ve always done. But at the same time, you have to have that little something extra to make the guys want to go out there and practice.”

The Wootton girls are the ascendant program in the county this spring, coming off a county-best third-place finish at the 4A state indoor meet this winter. Heralded freshman Olivia Ekpone won state titles in the 55 and 300 dashes, not to mention earning All-American honors at the Nike Indoor Nationals, March 13.

Ekpone put the icing on a team that already had stoppers in every event, with the exceptions of throws and hurdles. Coach Kellie Redmond thinks the positive vibe surrounding the girls team is good for the boys, as well.

‘‘We’re all part of the same team, so it’s great in that it sort of transcends into the boys, as well,” Redmond said. ‘‘I think the boys will be much more well-rounded than people probably see us as being right now.”

Gaithersburg lost its entire state-champion 4x100 team, three to graduation and one to lacrosse. So coach Adrian McDaniel turned to the basketball team for reinforcements, drafting forward Joey Skidmore for the jumps and guard Antoine Johnson in the sprints.

The story on the girls’ side is a little bit different: last year’s young team finished fourth in the county, and the sprinters who were the backbone of that team have returned. The Trojans could make some noise in the county if they get contributions in the distance events and throws.

Damascus is missing lots of familiar faces as well, from last season and the indoor campaign. The three Swarmin’ Hornets who earned All-Gazette mentions last spring in field events have graduated: high jumpers Jamal Currica and Chelsea Reinks and thrower Jacquelyn Adcock. Two All-Gazette indoor team members are gone to other sports: Evan Zedler (baseball) and Ryan Mullsteff (volleyball).

But Wil Zahorodny hasn’t gone anywhere. After twice setting the nation’s fastest high school 500 time during indoor season, Zahorodny is likely the best of the loaded field of 400 runners in the county. A large sophomore class of both boys and girls will step up to contribute this season, and work on becoming the program’s next generation.

Coach Beth Muehl is tempering expectations at Northwest, where several years of competing with the best have given away to a bit of uncertainty. The Jaguars have a lot of youth, especially on the girls side, though they also have some veteran leaders who should be able to score points in the distance events.

‘‘This year, I’m not tipping any hand, because I’m not holding much,” Muehl said. ‘‘In the past, I could say that I’d know what will happen. This could be a very different kind of year.”

Coming off a state indoor title and a second-place finish at last year’s 1A state outdoor championships, Poolesville’s girls look solid again. State indoor 1,600-meter champion Jenny Reid and 55 hurdles bronze medalist Olivia Durr will lead the way.

‘‘We’ve got a couple new additions to the indoor team,” Gazette indoor Coach of the Year Michael Trumbull said. ‘‘We’re just carrying things over from the way we finished. We didn’t back off at the end of indoor, and we hope we can peak at the right time in outdoor.”

Nearing the end of year two, Clarksburg has the look of an emerging power in several sports, and track and field may be among them. The Coyote boys finished second at the 2A state meet during indoor season, and welcome back a number of strong athletes for the start of the outdoor campaign.

‘‘Right now, we’re healthy; if it stays like that, I expect a good year,” coach Scott Mathias said. ‘‘We’re way ahead of where we were last year. ... A couple of guys stepped up and did good things in the [indoor] state meet. That was new for them. Now, they can go into the next championship with confidence.”

Double indoor champion Avery Graham headlined the boys effort, but Petros Bein and the 4x800 team also scored at indoor states. On the girls side, the Coyotes boast a roster of 45 and ‘‘about 1,000 freshmen,” Mathias said. All-around athletes Paige Harris and Turquoia Johnson lead the way while the youngsters get their feet wet.

Magruder has depth on the girls side and balance on the boys. After placing in all three jumping events at last season’s 4A West Region meet, Darius Ray could be a point-scoring machine this spring. He and freshman Anthony Winter, both two-sport athletes, give the Colonels strength in the sprints, but they have good athletes across the board. It’s the girls, though, who have the numbers, and coach Nathan Timm says only self-confidence stands between them and the county’s top tier.

Seneca Valley co-coach Randy Bosnic is using the word ‘‘consistency” a lot this preseason. It’s year three of his effort to rebuild the program, along with Jessica Threadgill, and the Screaming Eagles will rely on a bevy of steady, if mostly unspectacular, performers.

Graduation hit Watkins Mill hard, in both the boys and girls ranks. There will be a lot of new faces, but the sprint teams should again lead the way.

‘‘We are young, but all of them are working hard,” coach Kevin Watson said. ‘‘We had some practices over spring break, and most of the kids were there and ready to work.”

That will be a key for many teams in this abbreviated season.

Fast Facts

Clarksburg Coyotes

State classification: 2A

County division: III

Head coach: Scott Mathias, 2nd year

Last boys state title: None

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: 16th

’07 girls county meet finish: 17th

Boys athletes to watch: Avery Graham (sprints, throws), Petros Bein (jumps), Morgan Mott (hurdles)

Girls athletes to watch: Paige Harris (jumps, sprints), Turquoia Johnson (field)

Damascus Swarmin’Hornets

State classification: 3A

County division: IV

Head coach: Robert Youngblood, 10th year

Last boys state title: None

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: 6th

’07 girls county meet finish: 9th

Boys athletes to watch: Josh Francis (hurdles, throws, jumps), Wil Zahorodny (middle distance)

Girls athletes to watch: Ryann Brickley (middle distance)

Northwest Jaguars

State classification: 4A

County division: II

Head coach: Beth Muehl, 9th year

Last boys state title: None

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: T-10th

’07 girls county meet finish: 2nd

Boys athletes to watch: Chris Onuigbo (middle distance), Managi Biggers (middle distance, distance)

Girls athletes to watch: Brit Eckerstrom (distance), Kathy Aherne (middle distance, distance), Becca Stinner (middle distance, distance)

Poolesville Falcons

State classification: 1A

County division: IV

Head coach: Michael Trumbull, 1st year

Last boys state title: 1968 (2nd)

Last girls state title: 2003 (1st)

’07 boys county meet finish: 21st

’07 girls county meet finish: T-12th

Boys athletes to watch: Zach Etheridge (sprints), David Wilson (distance)

Girls athletes to watch: Olivia Durr (hurdles), Jenny Reid (distance)

Seneca Valley Screaming Eagles

State classification: 3A

County division: IV

Co-head coaches: Randy Bosnic and Jessica Threadgill, 3rd year

Last boys state title: 1994 (1st)

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: T-22nd

’07 girls county meet finish: T-20th

Boys athletes to watch: Dontrell Chase (sprints)

Girls athletes to watch: Michelle Rodriguez (sprints, hurdles), Emily Weiner (jumps, hurdles)

Watkins Mill Wolverines

State classification: 3A

County division: II

Head coach: Kevin Watson, 8th year

Last boys state title: None

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: 15th

’07 girls county meet finish: T-20th

Boys athletes to watch: Will Adams (sprints), Chris Kaczmarek (distance)

Girls athletes to watch: N⁄A