A Coaches Perspective on the Day at Walt Whitman
By Scott Silverstein
The wind whips across the track at Walt Whitman High School, changing direction seemingly every five minutes. It’s clear that conditions at the Viking Invitational won’t be as friendly to the sprinters as years past, when a searing heat led to blazing times. In fact, later in the day, the gusts knock out power to many businesses in downtown Bethesda a few miles away.
That doesn’t diminish the electricity already building by 7:45 a.m. Four of the best teams in Maryland — 4A indoor state champ C.H. Flowers, runner-up Northwest, perennial power Churchill and loaded Wootton — prepare to face off on the girls’ side, while Georgetown Prep, Walter Johnson and Churchill lead a distance-heavy boys’ field.
8 a.m.: Whitman’s Steve Hays convenes the coaches’ meeting and hands out a Timex watch as a gift to each team; maybe it’s his way of demonstrating his intent to finish on time. Hays, in fact, says he needs to catch a flight at 6 p.m., so he plans to run ahead of schedule if possible. A Saturday meet that ends by 3 p.m.? Unheard of.
9 a.m.: A tantalizing matchup: Churchill’s Katie Wolf vs. Northwest’s Olivia Ekpone in the 100 meters. With Wolf headed to Penn State next year, the Maryland Titans teammates — and perhaps the top two sprinters in Montgomery County history — don’t have more than a handful of meets left against each other. Wolf, who nipped Ekpone for one of the few times in her career in the event here last year, does her part in Heat 6 of the prelims, powering to victory by three-quarters of a second.
Ekpone, meanwhile … Wait. That’s not her. Northwest subs another runner into the heat. With the morning chill, assistant coach Lexi Knight says, the Jaguars aren’t taking any chances with their star sprinter, especially after losing Camry Torian to a bad hamstring pull last month.
9:15 a.m.: Even with Penn Relays on the horizon next week, it’s apparent from the bullpen before the 3,200-meter relay that the open events at Viking will be the priority. No Camille Bouvet for Walter Johnson. No Maryam Fikri for Churchill. Andrea Maxwell and Jessie Rubin are sitting out the event for Wootton, and teammate Grace Corbett and Northwest’s Britt Eckerstrom aren’t even here. Rising star Ashley Hayes, however, is running the anchor leg for Severna Park, and she erases a significant lead by WJ to win the event in 9:42.22.
The boys’ race is no different, with Walter Johnson, Georgetown Prep and Churchill fielding significantly reduced squads. That doesn’t keep the Wildcats from running an 8:05.97 with only Josh Ellis representing the “A” team that will take the track in Philadelphia on Friday.
9:45 a.m.: Wolf demolishes the field in 100, winning in 12.20. The 200 and a matchup with Ekpone await.
10:15 a.m.: With the top girls skipping the relay, nearly everyone’s fresh for the fast heat of the 1,600 meters. Still, none of the ladies want to push the pace, hoping someone else will break the stiff wind; Rubin and Emily Frydrych of St. Mark’s in Delaware lead a pack through 800 meters in about 2:38. Those two break away with Fikri, Bouvet and Sidwell Friends’ Kara Wilson right behind. Rubin outkicks Frydrych in 5:03:11, and the top five all come in under 5:11. Fast times for a cool day.
About 15 minutes later, Churchill sophomore Will Conway throws down a 4:29.78, a 14-second personal best, in the penultimate heat. With Sidwell’s John McGowan, Whitman’s Andrew Palmer, WJ’s Sean O’Leary and Archbishop Carroll’s Petros Welday about to take the track, that’s probably not going to stand up. Midway through, however, the pack trails Conway’s pace by about three seconds. McGowan breaks away, and only Palmer can stay with him on the final lap. The Syracuse-bound senior doesn’t have the speed to match the kick of McGowan, who pulls away in the last 200 for the win in 4:18.76.
11:30 p.m.: Ekpone makes her first appearance in the 400 meters. The junior, who won the 200 at the U.S. Youth Olympic Selection Trials in Arlington, Texas, earlier this month to earn a chance to run in Singapore this summer, looks a bit sluggish in beating teammate India Knight by more than a second in 57.21.
11:50 p.m.: No secret here: Rubin wants to break 11 minutes in the 3,200 meters, which means the meet record is in serious jeopardy. The wind and a moderate early pace quickly reveal that’s not going to happen, but the future Duke runner still smashes the meet mark by 10 seconds in 11:13.20. Whitman sophomore Anna Ryba runs her best 3,200 in 11:30.32 but can’t hold off speedy Northwest senior Alyssa Henshaw for second. In all, nine girls go under 12 minutes.
On the boys’ side, there’s no hesitation. The field blasts out, and it’s clear fairly quickly not all of them will be able to hold the pace. Soon, it’s down to a pair from St. Albans — Tom Harrison and Jamie Durling — and Sherwood’s Jackson Reams. Reams manages to split the pair, but Harrison wins in 9:30.23, leading a group of nine under 10 minutes.
12:15 p.m.: Perhaps the biggest upset of the meet: C.H. Flowers’ Lorraine Graham, maybe the best hurdler in the state, breaks the meet record in the 300 hurdles but loses by nearly a second. Carroll’s Kiah Seymour, who apparently transitioned into the event recently, wins it in 43.16.
12:50 p.m.: OK. Take 2. Wolf and Ekpone settle in the blocks. Ekpone has an edge off the curve and pulls away early on the straightaway. With about 50 meters left, Wolf starts to close, enough that Ekpone turns her head to see where she is. Both break the meet record, Ekpone in 24.58 and Wolf in 24.76.
1:25 p.m.: In the 800, the girls again don’t want to push. Fikri, who just missed breaking Churchill’s school record in the 1,600 earlier, knows the pace is too deliberate to break the school mark here. She breaks away entering the final lap, and only Hayes follows. Hayes takes the lead with about 200 meters to go and pulls away in the last 75 meters to get her second title of the day in 2:18.36. Fikri settles for the third-fastest time in Churchill history in 2:19.23.
There’s no holding back in the boys’ race, which features 10 boys seeded under 2:00, including Joseph Woiwode and Russell Hornsby from Georgetown Prep’s NSIC-winning 3,200-meter relay. The Little Hoyas push through the first 400 in 55 and might as well be running by themselves on the back straightaway. Woiwode finishes in 1:51.75 to break the meet record by nearly five seconds, and Hornsby follows in 1:53.31. How fast is the race? Conway runs a five-second PR in 1:58.91 and finishes seventh. Woiwode and Hornsby lie in the infield for a long, long time.
2 p.m.: Flowers wins the 400-meter relay in 49.17 to seal the team championship.
2:45 p.m.: The boys’ title remains undecided. Woiwode pulls himself off the turf to run the 1,600-meter relay, and Georgetown Prep sets another meet mark in 3:22.46, just enough to pull away from Walter Johnson in points.
3 p.m.: The final events, the boys’ long jump and girls’ triple jump, wrap up one of the more efficiently run meets in a long time. Seems Hays will make his flight after all.
Scott Silverstein is the former Deputy Sports Editor of The Washington Times and the co-head coach at Winston Churchill High School.