10th Nike Indoor Nationals
March 15-16, 2008 at Prince George's County Sportsplex, Landover MD
By Elliott Denman, National Scholastic Sports Foundation
| Ryann Krais is a be-cool, be-confident, bemedaled veteran of the local, state, national and international track and field wars.|
And she won’t be 18 until next Friday - five days after her last event in the Nike Indoor Nationals.
All going according to plan, she’ll have three more NIN medals to show to family and friends at the birthday party. But only if someone really, truly insists that she trot them out - the word "I" is probably the last word this Methacton (Norristown, Pa) High School senior ever puts to use.
Methacton High coach Rob Ronzano, though, effuses praise every time her name comes up - and it comes up frequently these days, given Ryann’s reputation as probably the most gifted all-around athlete in U.S. girls scholastic track and field.
"She’s just someone very special," said Ronzano, a week before heading off to the NIN meet in Landover, Md.
"Amazing." "Formidable." "Inspirational." They’re all words that come up frequently, too.
And an even more important one - "gracious."
The Pennsylvania state finals took place at Penn State’s state-of-the-art Horace Ashenfelter indoor track facility on March 1st.
A less motivated athlete than Ryann Krais might have scrapped the whole idea of the trek to Penn State. After all, she’d been battling a strength-sapping bronchial virus attack for a week.
But nothing in the world was going to keep her home. This, after all, was her senior-year finale to her state’s biggest indoor meet and she was determined to (a) go out in a blaze of glory, and (b) not let her teammates down.
"I wasn’t feeling too great," she admitted, after all the results were posted. "I would have liked to have done better."
Just look at what she did anyway - a meet-record performance of 8.54 winning the 60-meter hurdles final (after an 8.79 in the first round and an 8.65 in the semis); a second place in the long jump (spanning 18 feet, 3 1/4 inches); a fifth place in the 200-meter dash final (25.13), and a digging-deep-down anchor carry for the fifth-place 4x400 relay team that ran a 4:00.38.
For all this, Krais was presented the meet’s outstanding athlete award. And - most importantly - Methacton’s 31 points ranked fourth of the 74 schools that broke into the scoring column.
"I was really surprised that she made it through the whole meet," said Ronzano. "Sick as she was, that was incredible."
This is Ronzano’s 11th year at Methacton, and the outdoor season will be his fifth at the helm after serving as an assistant for the previous five. He’s seen the team get "better and better and better"- with the presence of Krais a most important factor.
The Suburban One League in Eastern Pennsylvania has long been known for its track and field prowess - with such teams as Wissahickon, Lower Merion, Upper Dublin and Cheltenham always fielding strong squads. Now, though, Methacton is right in the mix with those traditional powers, and the rest of the state, too.
Powered by 30 Krais points - 10 each for a state-record 13.73 in the 100 hurdles, a third straight state 300 hurdles crown, and a second straight long jump win - Methacton netted 36 points to win last June’s PIAA Class AAA girls outdoor team crown.
Krais’s work ethic has become contagious to her teammates,
"She’s the captain of our team and she works so hard that all the others are beginning to follow her example," said Ronzano. "They can see the results. They all want to be better athletes, too."
From the easy jogging, stretching and drills that precede every Metahacton workout, Krais is always there as a team leader.
At Landover, Krais will battle it out with some of the nation’s top all-arounders in the pentathlon on Saturday (aiming for her third straight NIN win and the national record of 3,924 points), then turn her attention to the individual 60-meter hurdles and long jump on Sunday. She’d have liked to run a leg on the 4x400 relay team, too, but the meet’s revised time schedule just doesn’t allow it.
She’d never done the indoor pentathlon before the 2006 NIN at Landover - and still won it with a score of 3,670 points. By the 2007 meet, she’d upped her winning total to 3,715, the meet-record total.
Krais stars in the classroom, as well, and is a National Honor Society member who, with a 94.5 average and 1,260 SATs, ranks in the top 20 of her graduating class of 450 at Methacton. Armed with these academic and athletic credentials, she was besieged by scholarship offers. Such schools as Texas, Stanford and Virginia were making serious pitches but, in the end, her decision was UCLA.
UCLA head coach Jeannette Bolden, obviously, was convincing, and the presence there of Bobby Kersee as a volunteer assistant coach was one more selling point. And, oh yes, Bobby’s wife - the redoubtable Jackie Joyner-Kersee - the greatest heptathlete/all-around trackwoman the world has ever seen - has been known to make an occasional appearance trackside at UCLA, too.
Bolden will be head coach of the USA women’s team at the Beijing Olympic Games but the heptathlon will not be one of her American team’s strong points. Team USA has lagged in the "hep" ever since the great JJK called it a career.
But the 2012 London Games remains a realistic objective for Krais. She is, after all, the American under-18 record-holder in the heptathlon - with the 5,377-point performance that got her second place (back of Southern Cal collegian Shana Woods) in last year’s USATF Junior Nationals in Indianapolis. Despite the intense heat, she wrapped up the 5,377 total with a solid 2:16.96 win in her section of the 800.
From Indy, Krais went on to the IAAF World Junior Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where she earned a gold medal, running the 300-meter leg on the victorious American team in the 100-200-300-400 sprint medley relay final (which outran Jamaica and Canada for the top spot on the podium), and a bronze with her 57.50 third in the 400 hurdles, just back of American teammate Dalilah Muhammad (57.21) and Romania’s Andreea Ionescu (57.33.)
Not long after her graduation from Methacton, Krais hopes to be packing her bags for another big international assignment - the IAAF World Junior Championships, scheduled July 8-13 in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The USATF National Juniors in Columbus, Ohio will serve as the qualifying meet.
Outstanding as she is in the outdoor "hep" - as well as the indoor pentathlon - she still considers the 400-meter hurdles (which is not included in any of these multis) as her favorite event. And, oh yes, always the team athlete, the 4x400 relay.
Heading into last April’s Penn Relays, Krais was not one of the top-seeded entrants. But she stunned all her domestic and international rivals - the 2-3-4 places went to Jamaicans - with a stirring 58.93-second triumph, which to this day ranks close to the top on her all-time track and field thrill meter.
The 2004 and 2005 Penn Relays titles in the 400 hurdles had gone to another Keystone Stater - Nicole Leach of Philadelphia’s West Catholic. And Leach, now a junior at UCLA, has already made the USA senior team, running at the 2007 Outdoor Worlds in Osaka, Japan.
"Running with Nicole at UCLA, that’s going to be pretty exciting, too," said Krais.
Given her obvious talent in the heptathlon’s "explosive" events - the 100 hurdles, long jump, high jump and 200 - and her 400 hurdles ability, which should translate into a solid 800-meter performance, it’s the shot put and javelin throw she’ll really have to master to become a world-class "multi" performer.
"My best in the shot right now is something like 33 feet, the javelin about 111 feet, nothing really great" she said. "That’s where I’ve got to put in the work. And that’s where I know I can really improve."
Just as you’d expect, praise for all her starring deeds has been amassing.
"She’s arguably the best prep ever to step foot on any neighborhood track," wrote Don Seeley in the Pottstown Mercury.
"She likes to attack challenges the way (Phillies slugger) Ryan Howard attacks inside fastballs." wrote Rise Magazine’s Ryan Canner-O’Mealy.
"Krais is already one of the best track and field athletes ever in Southeastern Pennsylvania; she could be - that’s could be - one of the best female athletes ever," wrote The Daily News’ Joseph Santoquilito.
"She rises to the level of the competion," bottom-lines coach Rob Ronzano. "It’s the competitive spirit in her. It doesn’t matter what it is, she wants to win."