See also: Mocorunning's Boys 3200m Story
The Northwest boys team's four year winning streak was on the line and plenty of doubters predicted their demise. See Mocorunning's pre-meet poll as evidence.
Maintaining that winning streak was important for senior AJ Woods who has been a key contributor to the team since his freshman year. In addition to carrying the burden of the team's legacy, Woods was heavy-hearted over the loss of former teammate, Tray Dawkins, who was shot and killed just three weeks ago. Dawkins was a hurdle specialist and one of the team's primary point scorers as a senior last year.
Said Woods, "It means a lot to continue that legacy, especially for one of our fallen teammates, Tray...He came out here last year and gave it his all. It's sad that he's gone and we wanted to dedicate the rest of the season to him."
The Northwest boys won their fifth consecutive outdoor track county title with 143 points. It was the second most points ever scored at the Montgomery County Championship Meet. The Northwest girls won their third consecutive team county title with 120.5 points.
Woods is one who lets his actions speak louder than words. He won the 100-meter dash in 10.90, took second in the 200-meter dash in an auto-timed personal best 22.08, and anchored the winning 4x100 relay to a time of 42.25, the #2 time in meet history.
When asked how he felt about splitting the 100 and 200 with Paint Branch's Chukwumdi Osuji, Woods said, "I'm hungry for more. I want to win."
Northwest's top point scorer of the evening was Clarence Foote-Talley who broke the all-time county championship meet record in the triple jump on his first attempt. Unbeknownst to most, he had been dealing with nagging injuries since the indoor season. He had one week of total rest leading up to Wednesday night.
Said Foote-Talley, "I've been getting injured and healing throughout the indoor season and outdoor season. Last week I took a break and so I allowed myself to heal and I think that's why I did what I did today...It was a groin injury and my hamstring. It started indoor and it was like halfway through outdoor and I just got better."
While he breezed through the triple jump with a meet record of 49-05.50 on his first attempt and passed after his second attempt, the schedule proved difficult for him to finish out the meet. The high jump, 4x100 relay, and long jump all essentially happened at the same time.
In the high jump, he cleared five-foot-ten and six-feet with no misses. He checked out of the high jump to run the third leg on the 4x1, which Northwest dominated. By the time he returned to the long jump, the air was chilly and his legs were beat.
"I wasn't able to get my best jump for the long jump, which was a twenty-two-six, but I was able to get second, and I got a twenty-one-four (21-04.50)...I was catching cramps in my legs and so it was pretty bad."
He returned to the high jump near the very end of the meet to learn that his earlier jump of six feet won the competition. He raised the bar to six-foot-six but did not clear it. The schedule, and possibly the weather, will be more favorable at the regional and state championship meets in the coming weeks.
"For regionals, I hope I can get a fifty [in the triple jump]," said Foote-Talley. "And for states I hope I can get a fifty-one and break my state record."
Senior Taylor Wright was honored by coaches with her fourth consecutive James DeMoss Award, the Montgomery County Championship Meet MVP honor. It was the second time that she won four solo events at the county championship meet and it raised her all-time outdoor county title count to a record 14. Between indoor and outdoor track, she won a record 22 Montgomery County individual track titles.
Wright won the high jump, triple jump, 100-meter dash, and 200-meter dash on Wednesday.
"My goal was to win all four. My expectation was just to do my best," said Wright at the end of a long evening.
As with Foote-Talley, the schedule and weather presented challenges for Wright. Arguably her best event, the triple jump, was at the very end of the evening, after the 200-meter dash, as the temperature was dropping.
"With the other events that I had," said Wright, "It was just not for today. [After 4 events] I was feeling pretty tired actually, but it wasn't actually that bad. It was just mainly the weather that was throwing it off and it was hard to keep staying warm."
She still managed the #6 performance in meet history in the triple jump (38-04.50) and the #3 performance in meet history in the high jump (5-08.00), but she was hoping for better in both, particularly after jumping 41-05.50 at the Mullins Russell Invitational just four days prior.
I asked her to reflect on four years of county championship meets.
"I'm going to remember that it was a lot of fun. I've had a lot of fun here my past four years. I've always been with a great team and it's just been a really great experience to compete with everyone instead of just my classification. And the county's really good so I've had a lot of fun competing."
Look at Garrett Suhr's athlete profile and you can see that he has been a prodigy when it comes to cross-country and indoor track. Two years ago, he was the New Balance Indoor Nationals champion in the freshman mile. But look closely at his stats and you will see: until this season, the Richard Montgomery junior never ran a race for his high school outdoor track team.
It wasn't because he didn't want to run outdoor track. He suffered everything from a back injury to plantar fasciitis to a seriously nasty spider bite. He surely felt snake-bitten this January when he stood up from relaxing on his couch and he could not walk.
"It was in my heel," said Suhr. "One day I was just doing a comfy run. Then I come home and sit on the couch. Like four hours later I try to get up: my foot is just in so much pain and every step makes it worse. I think it was something like my ligament or something...That took me out January and February. We went to a doctor twice; we just didn't know what it was. I thought it was a stress fracture. Luckily it wasn't. I just wanted to take time off and try to be healthy for outdoor for the first time."
March came around and guess what? Shin splints. Still, he won the Cougar Relays mile in 4:27.8 and the Viking Invitational 1600 in 4:17.98 off of base training.
"Early on I had shin splints so I was just doing easy runs every day," said Suhr, "and then I ran the 4:17 off of that so that was a lot of confidence."
On Wednesday evening, he said that he split 1:54 early in the meet when Richard Montgomery took second place in the 4x800 in 8:11.47. After that, he would have been happy just to run for the win in the open 800m, but with pressure from his opponents, he decided to lead and push the pace.
"I didn't really want to lead it but then off the start I could feel somebody was coming and it wasn't just one person so if I let them lead I would have got boxed in and not been in good position, so I just took it. And I heard everybody on me with 200 to go and I just left it out there."
He added, "I forgot how much I liked the 800. I'm not touching the 32 again."
He won the race with a new personal best of 1:55.02. It was the sixth fastest 800-meter performance in meet history. He came back on short rest and anchored his 4x400 team to the county title with a time of 3:26.57.
Said Suhr, "This season I'm just going for it: trying to run fast so colleges see my fast times. I'm trying not to sit and kick anymore like I used to because it doesn't really matter that much. Times really matter."
Paint Branch's Kaya Rae Dunbar needed a rust-buster in the hurdles for no other reason than she had not raced in a meet in a few weeks. The county championship served as just what she needed to tune up for the regional championship next week. Her 100-meter hurdles performance of 14.69, while victorious, was short of her expectations.
"I honestly haven't hurdled in a while," said Dunbar, "So I feel like that was a pretty good race for me getting back into it...I did hit a couple hurdles so I guess probably [I will] focus a little bit more so that doesn't happen as much."
When the 300-meter hurdle event rolled around a few hours later, there were no signs of rust in her performance. She flew to a personal best 45.62 in her "weaker" event. It was a personal best by over a second.
"It actually means a lot to me because the 300 has always been my iffy race out of the two hurdles, and I honestly just got out stronger than I normally do and the start just set up the rest of the race for me."
Blake High School obliterated the county meet records in the girls 4x100 and 4x200 relays. The 4x1 time of 47.47, fittingly shaved .47 seconds off the old meet record of 47.94. The 4x2 time of 1:39.27 shaved 1.82 seconds off the old record of 1:41.09. Both records were previously held by Blake from the 2015 county championship meet. Both times rank as the #2 performances all-time by an MCPS team in any meet in history.