Wednesday, April 2, 2008

County’s division season a sprint event

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Senior distance runner Alex Bodaken is one reason for optimism on the Einstein track and field team this spring.
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.

Blair was one of the more well-balanced teams in the county last season, with both the boys and girls finishing in the top-10 of the county championship meet. The girls can no longer count on massive points from graduated Halsey and Ashlyn Sinclair, but a mass of incoming freshmen gives the team potential. The boys will be led by sprinters, with the 4x200- and 4x400-meter relay teams chasing state titles.

‘‘I had over 80 kids come out; for Blair, that’s quite a bit,” coach Ralph Penn said. ‘‘I think maybe it’s because we had some success the last couple years, and they’re on board with winning.”

If you haven’t heard of Solomon Haile yet, get ready to. He moved to the United States in October from Ethiopia, enrolled in the ESOL program at Sherwood, and won the Nike Indoor Nationals 5000-meter championship on March 15. The Warriors also boast the defending state champion in the girls discus, Arleigh Rose. Beyond that, they have a relatively inexperienced bunch.

‘‘We have a lot of new kids, young kids who hopefully will develop,” coach Dan Reeks said. ‘‘What happens at Sherwood, it’s such a sports-nut school, they try some of the team sports first and find they’re riding the pine more than they’re on the field. ... Some of them get interested, and that’s how you sustain a program.”

Across Olney at Good Counsel, all the buzz is about the boys team that put in a solid third-place performance at last year’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference meet. Junior Caleb Porzel (100 dash) and the 4x100 team won titles at last weekend’s Florida State Relays to only heighten the expectations, but coach Buddy Crutchfield is excited about a young group of girls.

‘‘There’s a lot of talk about the boys, but I’m very pleased with my girls,” he said. ‘‘We have some phenomenal freshmen.”

The Springbrook boys look to follow last year’s success with the same formula: strength in the middle distances. Gone is last year’s All-Gazette 400 and 800 first-teamer, Jordan Sawadogo, but senior Sharif Kronemer and sophomore Rodney Kizito look to step into his spikes. The girls again lack headliners, but should be deeper and strong in the relays.

Lynette Hopkins is reaping the benefits of Paint Branch’s strong athletic program this season, with an influx of football and basketball players. The most prominent member of that group is senior Ashleigh Council, a state champion in girls basketball who also placed in the sprints at last spring’s 3A West Region meet. Hopkins is setting targets for the girls of top-five finishes at the county and state meets, and a run at the regional title.

‘‘I try to encourage athletes in other sports to come out,” she said. ‘‘If they don’t do lacrosse or anything else, why not run track? It benefits them, it keeps them in shape for their other sport.”

All-Gazette performers Shakira Raheem and Salifu Cham helped Einstein’s girls and boys, respectively, finish in the top half of the team standings at last year’s county meet. Both have graduated, and the girls team doesn’t include a single senior. But a number of Titans performed well in the indoor season, and first-year coach Eric DaSilva has them gearing up for another run at the championship meets come May.

‘‘I think we’re like most of the down-county schools, in that we’re not that big in terms of numbers, but have got some talent,” DaSilva said. ‘‘We’re not that worried about dual or tri-meets. We’ll go to get some experience; the same at invitationals. We want to be peaking in mid-May.”

There’s an efficiency study underway at Kennedy, where seventh-year coach Kevin Monroe is viewing lower-than-usual participation numbers philosophically.

‘‘The thing is, the ones we have out are the people who are going to do the scoring for us anyway,” Monroe said. ‘‘Some teams will have 60 kids, but you have to realize, only maybe 15 of those are going to score. So it’s no big deal.”

Most of the team’s athletes also participated on the Cavaliers’ indoor team, and a number narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet. They enter the spring looking to change that.

Magruder has depth on the girls side and balance on the boys side this season. 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.

‘‘We’re still looking up at the Woottons and Churchills,” Timm said. ‘‘I think it’s tough for the girls to believe, ‘I can run with them.’ ... They can. It’s just a matter of getting that confidence.”

In its first varsity season last spring, Northwood had one realistic hope of scoring points: the boys 4x400 relay. The program is still building, but Derrick Powell and Giovanni Reumante combined to sweep 2A state indoor titles in the 300, 500 and 1,600, providing a firm foundation. The girls will enjoy help from the Gladiators basketball team, which contributed both junior Flora Amayo and freshman Le’Quisha Parker to the cause.

‘‘On our roster, we have close to 50 kids; last year, we had about 25, so we doubled our numbers,” coach Mark Brown said. ‘‘My goals are the same as last year, as far-fetched as some people might think they are: I want a state title. At least on the boys side, they believe they can do it.”

Rockville coaxed longtime coach Peter Wade out of retirement after one season, and what he came back to was a roster of 22 athletes, all but three of whom are freshmen and sophomores. But the Rams are looking to send a solid contingent of distance runners to the regional and state meets.

It’s a tale of two genders at Wheaton, where the boys have no standouts but lots of depth, while the girls have 3A indoor high-jump state runner-up Ashley Dabney and a total of just five other athletes.

‘‘[The early spring break] is nice in 3A, since our indoor season ran so late,” Knights coach Eric Ellingson said. ‘‘At least it gave us a chance to give the kids some rest and get them back into training again.”

That will certainly be a key in this abbreviated spring season.

Fast Facts

Blair Blazers

State classification: 4A

County division: II

Head coach: Ralph Penn, 1st year

Last boys state title: 1979 (5th)

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: 7th

’07 girls county meet finish: 6th

Boys athletes to watch: Jonathan Haughton (sprints), Mohamed Mansaray (sprints), Louis Varella (sprints, middle distance)

Girls athletes to watch: Johanna Gretschel (middle distance)

Einstein Titans

State classification: 3A

County division: III

Head coach: Eric DaSilva, 1st year

Last boys state title: 1981 (1st)

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: T-8th

’07 girls county meet finish: T-12th

Boys athletes to watch: Alex Bodaken (middle distance, distance), Sebi Devlin-Foltz (distance), Joseph Kelly (sprints)

Girls athletes to watch: Katy Rebois (hurdles), Sisi Reid (distance)

Good Counsel Falcons

League affiliation: Washington Catholic Athletic Conference

Head coach: Buddy Crutchfield, 2nd year

Last boys league title: 1984 (7th)

Last girls league title: 2005 (10th)

’07 boys league finish: 3rd

’07 girls league finish: 5th

Boys athletes to watch: Caleb Porzel (sprints), Mark Hamilton (middle distance), Cory Boatman (throws)

Girls athletes to watch: Stephanie Bardon (middle distance), Jade Whitaker (middle distance), Teju Adewole (sprints)

Kennedy Cavaliers

State classification: 3A

County division: I

Head coach: Kevin Monroe, 7th year

Last boys state title: None

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: 18th

’07 girls county meet finish: 10th

Boys athletes to watch: Eddie Kamara (middle distnace)

Girls athletes to watch: Thea LaFond (sprints, hurdles), Rachel Mzengi (throws)

Northwood Gladiators

State classification: 2A

County division: III

Head coach: Mark Brown, 2nd year

Last boys state title: None

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: T-22nd

’07 girls county meet finish: T-23rd

Boys athletes to watch: Derrick Powell (sprints, middle distance), Giovanni Reumante (middle distance)

Girls athletes to watch: Flora Amayo (middle distance), Le’Quisha Parker (sprints)

Springbrook Blue Devils

State classification: 4A

County division: III

Head coach: Compton Godette, 2nd year

Last boys state title: 1992 (3rd)

Last girls state title: None

’07 boys county meet finish: 5th

’07 girls county meet finish: 22nd

Boys athletes to watch: Zach Boodie (sprints), Uchenna Ahaghotu (throws)

Girls athletes to watch: N⁄A