A bit of gamesmanship is underway by the coaches of prominent teams in New England. The meet rules for the New England Championships state that an athlete can only be entered in four events including relays, and several coaches have their top tier athletes slated for the maximum allowable amount. The fact that an athlete can even qualify in four events is a testament to their impressive talent, but the likelyhood that it will actually happen is slim. As we enter the next couple weekends of regional and national level competition, athletes are often forced to chose a specialty because the quality of the field demands a focused effort.
So the coaches have hedged their bets, entering their athletes in everything that they qualified for. An intense examination of the performance list will most likely result in a reduction of the actual events competed by some of the region's elite, thus dramatically changing the dynamics of events hours prior to their scheduled start. Coaches are not angling for team points since a team score is not recorded; rather, they are trying to position their athletes to achieve the most attainable level of success possible.
La Salle Academy of Rhode Island has established themselves as one of the dominate teams in the region, but they accomplish that feat largely on the backs of their distance runners. Madison Meehan, McKenzie Meehan and Molly Keating are all scheduled to compete in four events, and the trio usually combines to make impressive 4x400m and 4x800m relay teams.
Regardless of the final strategy used, some extremely fast times will be posted on the banked oval of the Reggie Lewis Center. Meet records may fall in everything from the field events to the relays, and track fans will not leave disappointed. Below is a look at each event group and the interesting matchups contained within.
Sprints and Hurdles
No championship conversation is complete without mentioning Precious Holmes of Hillhouse, Connecticut (pictured right). Holmes currently holds the #1 time in the nation at 400m (53.53) and will be attempting to capture titles in the 300m and 600m. She is clearly the most dominant sprinter in the region, but that is not to say she will be without challengers on Friday.
Rebecca Robinson of Arlington (MA) is the defending 300m champion and may pose the most formidable challenge to Holme’s legendary season. Last week she won the Massachusetts All-State Championships in 39.51 and has spent the majority of the season largely untested. Holmes is the top seed with a US#3 time of 38.56 and the two should battle at the break. Both traditionally get off the line very fast and may blow-up the field, but lurking in the #3 seed is Royal Cheatham of Hope High School (RI). Cheatham is 13 time Rhode Island State Champion and is no stranger to quality competition. Robinson’s meet record of 39.08 will most likely be overtaken and we may see all three athletes run under that time.
Holmes will be attempting to win the 300m after a potentially record breaking performance in the 600m. She also enters that event as the top seed, with a US#1 time of 1:31.23. Laurie Femmel (Natick, MA) is over three seconds back as the second seed, and Holmes will operate somewhere between her and the 1:30.87 meet record set back in 2006 by Samantha Gawrych of Westerly High School (RI). The remainder of the field will put together a tremendous battle for the podium with Laura Williamson (Wachusett, MA), Sarah Burke (Bishop Guertin, NH), Erica Johnson (Bay View, RI) and Camila Isern (Lexington, MA) all with seed times under 1:36.
Cheatham will face the daunting task of battling a tremendous 300m field, coupled with trying to navigate the multiple rounds of the 55m. Mollie Gribbin of South Burlington (VT) is the reigning champion and the top seed at 7.08. She always seems to rise to the occasion when challenged in championships. Cheatham enters the meet as the second seed at 7.11, and the battle for the center of the track in the finals will involve ten girls that enter the meet with sub 7.30 qualifying times. An all-out effort may be needed to even make the finals, increasing the difficulty of effectively executing multiple events on the day.
The 55m hurdles is poised to be another record breaking affair with Vanessa Clerveaux entering the meet with a seed time that surpasses the current record of 8.07 set in 1997 by Keisha Haughton of Hillhouse (CT). Clerveaux successfully defended her state title in 7.98, but will have to hold off Jen Esposito of Mansfield (MA) for the second week in a row to successfully defend her New England title. New Hampshire rivals Betsy Garnick (Bishop Guertin) and Hillary Holmes (Exeter High School) should flank Clerveaux and Esposito in the finals, but both should avoid overlooking Nicole Genard of Sommerville (MA). Genard had an off day at the Massachusetts All-State Championships –finishing 6th in 8.33 – but the former state record holder has never had a problem making a comeback.
Waterville (ME) distance sensation Bethanie Brown has spent all season leading the New England rankings in the 2 mile (10:48.35) following her dominant performance at the Dartmouth Relays. She won three distance events at the Maine Class B Championships (mile, 2 mile, and 800m) but has fixed her sights on the mile for the New England Championships. Nobody in the field enters the meet with a seed time under 5 minutes, but several have the talent to do so, including Brown.
Molly Keating (pictured right) ran 5:01.20 to finish 9th at the New Balance Grand Prix on the Reggie Lewis Center track and she holds the fastest season best time of the group with that mark. Brown is not far behind at 5:01.97, and multi-event star Maddy Berkson (Classsical, RI) sits in third with a season best of 5:02.77. All three will battle for the top spot and the pace should be in the mid 4:50 range if someone is assertive in the first half.
Defending 1000m champion Sarah Gillespie of North West Catholic (CT) has been impressive in the event all season long. She enters Friday with the top seed of 2:53.01 and remains at US#10 with that mark. She will chase the meet record of 2:52.54 set back in 1999 by Jill Laurendeau of Manchester Central (NH) and will drag a massive group of girls out in sub 3 minute pace. Abby Markowitz of Greenwich (CT) is the second seed at 2:56.74, but then a pack of 12 others create impressive depth; all with times under 3:02. La Salle Academy teammates McKenzie Meehan, Madison Meehan, and Molly Keating are part of that group and would have a tremendous advantage in bridging the gap to Gillespie if they worked as a team, but it is yet to be seen if all three will race.
With Brown out of the 2 mile, the field becomes a wide-open battleground. Reid Watson of Glastonbury (CT) has the only seed time under 11 minutes, but there is plenty of talent in the field. Massachusetts Division 2 Cross Country Champion Jordan O’Dea sits as the second seed at 11:04.23, but Courtney Hawkins of Milford (NH) and Kellie Davis of Hillhouse (CT) are lurking in the field. Hawkins ran three events at the New Hampshire state meet –eventually winning the 2 mile—and should truly benefit from a single race effort. Davis just returned from the Brooks PR Invitational where she finished third in the 800m with a US#7 time of 2:12.89. She remains dangerous with that foot speed, but will the field allow her to maintain contact?
Dakota Dailey-Harris of La Salle Academy headlines this group with a US#2 qualifying mark of 5’10” set at the Rhode Island State Championships. The Ocean Sate star has steadily improved on her state record all season and took three very good attempts at 6’0” two weeks ago. The meet record is 5’10” --set in 1994 by Heather Francis of Dartmouth (MA)-- and that mark may fall if Dailey-Harris can quickly become comfortable with the jumping surface. Three inches back is Amy Collins of Wachusett (MA). She won the Massachusetts All-State Championships with a season best leap of 5’7” and leads a massive group of athletes at 5’4”. A podium spot will come down to clean early clearances, and opening height strategies may play a big part in taking home a medal.
As mentioned earlier, Mollie Gribbin is scheduled to attempt four events on Friday. She may drop one, but the field should plan on having her compete in the long jump. She is the top seed at 18’9” and has become a master at juggling the logistics of 55m preliminary heats and early flights of the long jump. Hillary Holmes (pictured above) is seeded second at 18'6.25 and also has a full schedule of events planned.
Because the seed list is generated off performances at the various state championships, it can sometimes be misleading. Maddy Berkson is currently listed as the 9th seed at 17’7.5” but she actually has the top season best mark of the group at 19’0.25”. A similar situation is true for Royal Cheatham (18’11.25), and Besty Garnick (18’1”), indicating that a jump over 18’6” may be needed to make the podium.
The girls shot put has a dominant top seed in Cherraine Davis of Southington High School (CT) and then a wide-open field that will battle for a top ten finish. Davis leads second seed Stephanie White of Billerica (MA) by over two feet on paper (42’4.5” to 40’1.0”), but Isabella Stuopis of Souhegan (NH) actually holds second place in the New England rankings at 41’0.25”. White will have the distinct advantage of familiarity with the Reggie Lewis Center facility after winning the Massachusetts All-State meet last weekend, but Stuopis will most likely improve on her 39’00” qualifying mark from three weeks ago.
Three teams should be in the hunt for the 4x200m relay crown and one can almost guarantee that this race will come down to the last 100m of the anchor leg. Hope High School (RI) leads the trio with a 1:42.20 qualifying time and season best. Bloomfield (CT) is seeded second at 1:44.30, but Brockton (MA) actually has a season best time that is slightly better at 1:44.15. Hope is the clear favorite, and the fact that the event is early in the competition should help their cause. Royal Cheatham has a big day planned, but this event will be a priority for the team.
The 4x800m is another instance where the performance list does not tell the entire story. La Salle Academy (RI) enters the meet as the 5th seed (9:34.77), but they actually have the fastest time in New England by a significant margin. The Rhode Island State Champions ran 9:16.68 at the Yale Track Classic, and the fact that the 4x800m is the first event of the day will have them chasing that time again. Following La Salle Academy will be a pack of teams from Massachusetts led by All-State Champions Lincoln-Sudbury. The Warriors posted an impressive 9:23.14 for a decisive win over cross country power Hamilton-Wenham (9:28.15). Seeded in 10th place is Hillhouse (CT) who ran a qualifying time of 9:41.58. This is of note because they are currently ranked NE#5 with their 9:31.32 from the Yale Track Classic, but their team of four does not list Kellie Davis who recently ran 2:12.
Wachusett High School (MA) put together one of the most tenacious performances of the meet last Sunday in the 4x400m relay at the Massachusetts-All State Championships. They gave US#13 Newton North all they could handle that day, but fell just short in the final 100m. Their efforts did earn them the second fastest time in New England this season, and has them entering Friday as the top seed at 3:57.29. Hillhouse (CT) should join them in the sub 4 minute club, with Acton-Boxborough (MA), Wellesley (MA), and Mansfield (MA) in tow. One thing is certain, your team had better create a big lead before Precious Holmes gets the baton.
More from the New England Championships..........
State Meets: CT | MA | ME Class A | ME Class B | NH | RI | VT