Last year, one of the most captivating stories of the Nike Indoor Nationals was the sheer domination of the girls’ relay events by the Blazin’ Raiders of Maryland, a virtuoso performance in which they won an unprecedented four stick battles, took second in a fifth, and set three meet records. Stung by the graduation of key contributors, the 2008 version of the Blazin’ Raiders (Eleanor Roosevelt MD) wasn’t quite as dominant as last year, but late Sunday afternoon they entered the closing event of the weekend with something to prove and an anchor in the final indoor race of her high school career.
In a scintillating 4x400 relay that put a cap on the meet, Blazin’ Raiders anchor Tasha Stanley took the baton nearly ten meters behind Landstown VA’s Cierra McGee and seemed destined for second before a final turn surge that woke up the echoes. Stanley's last-gasp effort down the homestretch brought the meet-weary crowd to its feet and carried her team to a 3:46.43 victory which evened the score on an earlier loss to Landstown in the 4x200.
Afterwards, a breathless Stanley spoke about what the moment meant.
“I was pretty upset after the 4x2, how they got us at the end. I did it for my team…caught her and held on. This is my last race at Nike Indoor Nationals, so even though it hurt bad, I dug deep.”
That was the story for so many of the champions at this year’s Nike Indoors, whether it was their first trip to Nationals—as it was for freshman phenom Chelsey Sveinsson and senior high jump winner Victoria Lucas—or their last national meet after years of excellence—as it was for multi-star Ryann Krais and Stanley—the approach was the same: even though it hurts bad, dig deep.
Big PRs in the throwing ring
One of the first athletes to dig deep on the girls’ side was PA throws standout Karen Shump. Engaged in a tight battle with US-leader Becky O’Brien in the morning’s shot put final, Shump seemed likely to finish second after O’Brien opened with a big PR 51-05.00 to establish a new US#1 and seize the lead. But in the final round, on her next to last throw, Shump unleashed a monster 52-04.00 which proved to be the winner and gave Shump the final word in a season-long seesaw match of marks between these two senior greats.
“I knew I really had to put one together,” Shump said afterwards. “I just focused on my technique and settled in.”
Across the infield from the shot skirmish, Texan Victoria Lucas was soaring to a title in the girls’ high jump. Lucas, a seasoned leaper competing in her first indoor national meet, was the sole competitor to clear 5-09.25, before taking three tantalizingly-close attempts at a meet record 6-1.
“I was so nervous,” the lanky Texas-bound senior revealed after securing the title. “Last night I got like three hours of sleep, but today I was feeling really good when I was jumping…I like the indoor atmosphere, it’s really neat.”
Distance vets deliver, and a star is born
One athlete who’s no stranger to the indoor circuit is Southern Regional NJ junior Jillian Smith. The prohibitive favorite in the mile, Smith has torn through an indoor season that includes convincing mile wins at Millrose and the Boston Indoor Games. In Landover, she was in control of the mile the entire way, marking top challenger Madeline Morgan of Mountain Brook AL through an opening 800 of 2:28, then surging sharply and blasting to the 4:53.68 victory. Morgan came home second in 4:56.01, the only blemish on an otherwise sterling weekend for the Alabama star. While Chelsey Sveinsson TX ran a superior 4:49.37 in the girls Freshman Mile the day before, that effort was considered a separate event for purposes of scoring, and Sveinsson’s time didn’t figure into the order of finish for Sunday’s mile final.
Sveinsson, however, found another way to get noticed on Sunday. She decimated a very good 800 field with a wire-to-wire effort that was long on guts, if somewhat short on strategy. Opening with a 29.7 in the first 200, and a 60.3 through the 400, Sveinsson seemed committed to a suicide pace, but the field appeared willing to let her go. Although the ambitious fractions eventually caught up with the Greenhill TX neophyte, she still managed to hang on for an improbable 2:11.52 win over a hard-charging Tasha Stanley (Blazin’ Raiders MD), who finished runner-up in 2:12.24.
“I was shooting for 1:31 at the 600,” a spent Sveinsson said in the post-race paddock. “That was my goal. I felt like I could keep the momentum, but the last 200 my legs cramped and I had nothing left. I felt like I was walking.” Ambitious, even in her exhaustion, Sveinsson spoke of pursuing the marks of a runner who has become synonymous with the HS 800, Chanelle Price. She said she wasn’t concerned about the competition in Sunday’s final. “I was just running my own race,” she said. “It feels good to win.”
After the first mile and a half of the girls 2 Mile, Oak Knoll NJ senior Katie McCafferty was running her own race as well, racing the clock in an attempt to better her own US#2 mark and perhaps take down Emily Jones’ US#1 time of 10:30.41. After hitting the bell lap at 9:48, McCafferty guaranteed she’d have a very good chance to do exactly that, and powered home with a new nation-leading mark of 10:24.53.
“I took it right before the second mile and went with it,” McCafferty said afterward. “I didn’t want to put myself in the position of getting outkicked at the end.” There was no danger of that happening, as McCafferty’s closest pursuer was Melanie Thompson (Voorhees NJ jr), well-back but still home in a US#3 10:30.95. Slowed by anemia last year, McCafferty has rebounded this year to put together a stellar fall which included a berth in the 2007 Foot Locker Finals and a great winter campaign. “I trained really hard this summer, built up a good base, and I’ve felt really strong all season.”
Sprinters and jumpers rule the straights
Just as the distance events showcased a mix of established winners and compelling newcomers, the dashes and hurdles revealed a combination of expected champions and surprising first-timers. Seasoned sprinter Brittany Long of Georgia sizzled to the 60m dash title in 7.44, while fellow veteran Jackie Coward (Track Knoxville TN sr) blew through the 60 hurdles to collect her expected gold there, turning back top challengers Jasmin Stowers SC (8.44) and Ryann Krais PA (8.57). The 200 and 400 introduced some relatively new faces to the US prep scene, as junior Marlena Wesh of Landstown VA (who’d burned the Blazin’ Raiders with her blistering 4x200 anchor the previous day), unleashed a 24.46 effort in the 200 final, and Briana Nelson (JL Mann SC so) seized the 400 from the break and never looked back en route to a 55.33 win in that race.
“My strategy was to get them on the break,” Nelson confirmed later. “So the only thing in front of me was the finish line, that’s what I was going for. I‘m so happy, but also sore. Sore and happy at the same time.”
As the sprint wars were being waged on the track, a pair of field events was winding down on the infield. The girls pole vault, expected to be a heated contest between frequent US leaders Shade Weygandt TX and Rachel Laurent LA, took an unexpected turn when Weygandt recorded three misses at 13-02.50 and had to settle for third place. Pennsylvania’s Abby Schaffer, third up until that height, made a first-attempt clearance at 13-02.50 to establish a new PA state record and set up a duel with Laurent for the title. Laurent was able to slide over the next bar, at 13-08.50, on her second attempt, while Schaffer took three game but unsuccessful attempts. After setting the bar over 14 feet and taking three strong tries, Laurent reveled in her second national title of the weekend, pairing the NIN win with her NSIC gold from New York.
On the next runway over, despite the presence of several leapers with 19-foot credentials, the girls’ long jump failed to produce the sort of big mark fireworks that typified some of the other field events. The competition concluded with Jacinda Evans (Southern Durham NC sr) taking the title with a span of 18-11.75, followed by Brittany Porter (Towers GA jr) at 18-05.75.
Fireworks in the final events
The final two events on the track were the 4x800 and 4x400 relays, and there were plenty of fireworks there to bring the meet to an explosive conclusion. Mountain Brook AL, which had missed a meet record in the distance medley relay on Saturday evening, reversed that trend with a gutsy 9:04.80 meet record in the 4x800. Battling Irish Road TC of Pennsylvania through all four legs, Mountain Brook rode the 2:11.3 anchor of freshman Catherine Diethelm to an 8-second victory and punctuated a stellar weekend for the distance power from down South.
“We weren’t thinking about records,” Diethelm said as the team celebrated the win. “We were just trying to run our best…we were just competing.”
The Blazin’ Raiders, following a similar tact of competing hard and letting the time take care of itself, capped the day with their superlative tangle with Landstown VA in the 4x400, bringing an appropriate close to the 2007 Nike Indoor Nationals, and the indoor careers of a number of familiar senior faces, Tasha Stanley among them.
Like she said, This is my last race at Nike Indoor Nationals, so even though it hurt bad, I dug deep.