Christion Barker looks to be one of the stars of this meet. Here he is running the 300m hurdles and just missing the top 10 all time at the Christian Coleman Invitational
GWINNETT COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
(Boys by Chris Carter; Girls by Mike Demarest)
The number "3" seems to be a theme in this year's Gwinnett County T & F Championship. It appears to be a 3-team race, with Shiloh, Buford, and Mill Creek. And, for the first time, teams can enter 3 athletes in each event (Big thanks to the GHSA & the committee that got Georgia aligned with NFHS and virtually every other state in the country!). Thanks to the 3 entry-per-event limit, you can REALLY see where a team's strengths are, and it'll be a battle of strengths for the team title. Shiloh has one of the best hurdle groups in recent county history (along with some big distance points). Buford has one of the best sprint groups in county history (along with big points in the horizontal jumps). And Mill Creek has one of the best distance groups in recent history (along with big points in the pole vault and throws). How will the battle between the Mill Creek & Shiloh distance squads play out? Will other teams' stars play spoiler to Buford's sprint dominance or Shiloh's hurdle dominance? And, as always, will a dropped baton, clipped hurdle, false start, foul in a jump or throw, or missed height be a factor?
What will be a HUGE X-Factor this year is the new order of events and the aforementioned entry limits (along with the new rule that athletes can now compete in 4 events, including 4 individual events). Perhaps we all should've bought stock in Tylenol and Pepto-Bismol, as coaches' heads must be literally spinning trying to figure out which events to focus on and which events their competition will focus on. Plan on seeing several coaches with their pencils and heat sheets, calculating team points during the meet. Is this Track & Field or Chess?!? Either way, let the games begin.
SPRINT & HURDLES PREVIEW
We will see two powerhouse teams here, with Buford's collection of sprinters and Shiloh's collection of hurdlers. Both teams may see all three of their athletes make the finals in their respective events. Buford may pull the triple in the individual sprints, with Isaiah Bond and Tobi Olawole pretty clear of the field (1/2 a second or more) in the 100, 200, & 400. Can Isaiah Bond break 21-flat in the 200? Peachtree Ridge has a pair of sub-11 guys in Jeremiah Colbert and Tyre Tatum, and Shiloh has Christion Barker who has run 48.1 in the 400. For my money, the premier event here is the 400 (admittedly, my favorite event to watch), where we may have multiple athletes run under 50 seconds and not make the finals! In the 300 hurdles, Shiloh's Eric Barker & Christion Barker lead the way as the only athletes under the magical 40-second barrier (so far). Christion has run 36.75, which is the fastest time in the country this year! In the 110s, Shiloh may have all 3 hurdlers make the finals, led by Bryce Southerland's 14.32, which is the fastest time in Georgia right now.
The XC State Champion Mill Creek Hawks have a powerful squad aiming to rack up big team points here. The 3200 will be a key event for them, as they have 3 guys who've gone 9:30 or better already in Jacob Peters, Ethan Nordman, and Luke Kalarickal. However, they'll be challenged in the 3200 by Nahom Solomon, coming off a great XC season and already off to a fantastic start this Spring. Solomon is also the fastest seed in the 1600 and the 2nd fastest seed in the 800. Will he try the 8-16-32 triple?!? Big-time team implications here! Look for Archer's Steven McCartney, Collins Hill's Marc Petrucci, and Dacula's Chance Jones to be in contention, as well, trying to play spoiler to Mill Creek's & Shiloh's team hopes. One thing to keep an eye on: While we focus on the Big Dogs, will Shiloh's Andy Salgado pick up some important points for the Generals? That could be important in the team race!
Big team implications in the shot put, as Mill Creek has 2 throwers (Aidan Banfield & Brandon Akers) who've gone over 47 feet. South Gwinnet has a pair of shot putters, in Ethan Ramos and Alex Sheperd, who will score big points here, too. Keep an eye on Brookwood's Langston Jones, as he's a double threat in both throws. The battle between Jones & Sheperd in the discus will be exciting, as both are 15+ feet clear of the rest of the field. Look for Buford's Josiah Wyatt and Nathan Norys to try & pick up some big team points here.
JUMPS & POLE VAULT PREVIEW
Gwinnett has a rich pole vault tradition, and this year is no exception. Dacula's Tyler Farris and Hebron's Owen Anderson( have both vaulted 14-feet or higher. Keep an eye on Mill Creek, as whoever took over for the legendary Rik Moore is doing a fantastic job. Mill Creek may have 2 vaulters score, as Timothy Lamb and John Pennebaker have all vaulted over 12-feet. In the High Jump, it'll likely take a jump of 6-feet to score, with Brookwood's Braden Deal and Discovery's Maurice Thomas leading the field at 6-6. The Triple Jump is a huge event for Buford's title hopes, as they have 3 jumpers who've gone over 42-feet. Look for Meadowcreek's Michael Tatnall, however, as he's jumped 45-5, the 3rd longest jump in 7A this season. In the long jump, it'll be Shiloh's Christion Barker and Buford's KJ Bolden battling for the title, with BIG team implications here. Key here is this - In which events will Barker compete? Will it be the 110s, 300s, long jump and 1 relay? Will he focus on 2 individual events so he can run 2 relays? Did I mention that Advil & Pepto-Bismol thing?
How will coaches strategize with the 4x200 now part of track & field championships in Georgia? Now that both the 4x2 & 4x8 have finally been added, will coaches prioritize some relays over others? Will depth play a role, with a team scratching out a point or two in these relays, possibly leading them to the team podium? Or, will the elite relays rule the day?
Perhaps the most exciting relay event in Gwinnett history will be the boys 4x1. Buford's boys recently crushed Georgia & Gwinnett records, running 40.05 which is the fastest in the state by a second-and-a-half and the fastest in state history. I heard a rumor that the track surface at Westlake melted and had to be replaced. But, 10 points is 10 points, no matter the margin of victory, and Shiloh will look to score important points here, having the 3rd fastest seed in the 4x1 & 4x2. If Shiloh can rack up 12-16 points in these two relays (Buford is also the favorite in the 4x2), they'll limit the damage Buford can do here. Shiloh will attempt to reverse the order-of-finish in the 4x4, as they've run a very quick 3:20 (Buford is the 3rd seed here at 3:24). Mill Creek's boys ran a very fast 7:59 in the 4x8 at one of their many home meets. How fast can they run? More importantly, those 10 points will be important to the Hawks' team title hopes.
On paper, this appears to be an absolute route for the Lady Broncos of Brookwood as they are projected to score nearly 100 points higher than the remaining top 6 in Peachtree Ridge, Archer, Mill Creek, Greater Atlanta Christian, and Parkview. Brookwood has power in every event (on paper) except the throws. They are set to dominate in distance, sprints, hurdles, and relays. With all of that said though, we know that there are squads who have yet to race their athletes in critical events. Has everyone run their true A-squad 4x800m yet? Are there sprinters who just wrapped up their indoor season at Adidas or New Balance Indoor Nationals (spoiler alert: Yes)? Is there a vaulter, thrower, or jumper who just recently discovered talent they never knew they had and are set to take Gwinnett by storm at County? All of this can have huge team championship implications. As Coach Carter said already, the new order of events along with the new entry limitations truly makes championship-style meets a chess match, and it may take some teams not just this season but several seasons to figure out a strategy that works best for them. Either way, let's get to it!
As I mentioned earlier, we will have some kids making their season debuts at County, and we'll kick things off with the 100m and 200m. The two favorites in this event are teammates by club but foes by school. Tamiia Fuller of Peachtree Ridge and Nia Wilson of Greater Atlanta Christian have both done little to nothing outdoors so far, but that is set to change this weekend. Both performed well at Indoor Nationals representing ATL Zoom and will now represent their schools. By seed, Fuller is 11.77/23.8 while Wilson is 11.8/24.3. These easily supersede the rest of the field. Knocking on the door though is yet another "Zoomer" in Timika Scarlett who also runs for GAC and just won the 60m dash in the rising stars division at New Balance. You think she's motivated to come in and keep riding the hot streak? I'd think so. In case of fatigue though, look out for some of the ladies who have already dropped some solid times in Outdoor this season. Athletes like Karsen Phillips of Mountain View, Janai Jones, Madison Campbell, and Serena Tate of Brookwood, Princess Okoye of Archer, and Kayce Darby of South Gwinnett could try and make splashes in the short sprints should any of the three favorites not perform at their peak. In the 400m, watch out for a myriad of other girls who have already gone sub-60 in Daylin Gibson (Peachtree Ridge), Njeri Butts (Grayson), Kyla Ramey (South Gwinnett), and Ellison Chadwick (Providence).
The 100m hurdles is set to be a dog fight. Carson Moore of Parkview and Veajah Hylton of Brookwood are separated by a mere .02 on the season in the 100m hurdles. Hylton has gotten more "live reps" this season than Moore, so perhaps that could be a factor? Hylton is also doubling in the 300m hurdles while Moore is not - meaning she is being utilized elsewhere in relays and the jumps. Remember, we need to consider the all-important maximization of points in championship style meets. Ron-Niah Wright of Peachtree Ridge, Jordan Fort of Shiloh and Camryn King of Archer are also doubling in the 100m and 300m hurdles, so a W for Moore in the 100m could help offset some points.
I know, I know, I know... the 800m isn't supposed to be considered a "distance" event, especially when the 800m favorite is a sprinter. The majority of sprinters I've come into contact with are terrified of the event, so I'm going to lump it in with the distance. Shots fired, I suppose. Sydney Augmon of Peachtree Ridge is the favorite coming in, and she's shown that she's not afraid of the 800m. In addition to being a strong 400m runner, Augmon has already run 2:18 this season which matches her career best. She's been a little inconsistent in the event historically though, so watch out for some other contenders to put her into some trouble if she's off. Macy Felton of Brookwood has seemingly made a huge jump and could really make life difficult for Augmon. Teammate Allie Wardle is no stranger to big time meets and appears to be in good shape. Morgan Collins of GAC, Trinity Thurman of Brookwood, Jaimie Chen of Parkview, Sabrina Mejia of Duluth, and Sacha Brickey of North Gwinnett are all podium threats in this event which could be wide open depending on which stud emerges. In the 1600m, we have 9 girls who have broken 5:30 this year. From a career perspective, we've got 5 sub 5:20 girls in the field. On paper from this season though, it seems to be a battle between Emily Cragin of Archer and Felton of Brookwood. Both enter having run 5:17 this season. We all know though that those times aren't safe when considering the talent in the field. Haley Primm of Parkview is set to make her debut after battling an injury, and rival Wardle has a 5:10 to her name. The same can be said for the aforementioned Collins of GAC who has the fastest career PR of 5:09 coming in. Throw in ladies like Brooke Browning and Ellie Brewer of Hebron, Gwinnett Daily Post Cross Country Runner of the Year Emma Geaney of Parkview, and Emily Guy of Mill Creek, and we could have a pretty nasty 1600m. The same can be said about the 3200m. Defending champion Primm is entered and will be joined by a host of talent including Brewer, Guy, Browning, Cragin, and Kyra Andrews of Norcross. These distance events could be major "swing" events if anyone is going to down Brookwood in the team standings.
Archer continues to show strength in the field events as they've got 3 entered who can score big points including individual favorite Christianne Akintayo. Her thrust of 43-11 is currently 9th in the country and 1st in Georgia. She's not bad at the discus either as she's 13th in GA winging the superhuman frisbee. The shot put is easily her better event though, and it's going to take a lot to take her down. A threat is Sha'nyia Woolery of Berkmar who has a shot put best of 41-4 this season which is nothing to stick your nose up about. Watch for her to bully her way in if Akintayo struggles. In the discus, Kameryn Hannon of Grayson is currently top 50 in the United States with her 131-0 throw and has won 6 of her 7 attempts in the event thus far in 2022. The duo of Autumn Clark and Alana Thomas of GAC aren't too far behind though, especially Clark at 130-4. That is also nationally ranked in the top 50. Will Hannon and Akintayo extend the tape even further and therefore rise up the national ranks?
Chloe Perryman of Brookwood at 18-8.5 is a foot clear of the next best competitor for this season. This mark is top 50 nationally at the moment, and it shows me that she could get dangerously close to 20 feet by the time Outdoor Nattys rolls around. She's going to have to be off her game to be caught in this event. Potential suitors Adaora Tagbo of North Gwinnett, Trinity Sumlin of Peachtree Ridge, Carson Mooreof Parkview, Ellison Chadwick of Providence, and Malia Melton of Hebron. Tagbo, Moore, and Melton look to also be threats in the triple jump, but they've got a ways to go to catch the favorite in the event: Mill Creek's Madison Aiken. Her 38-7.5 (albeit indoors) clears the field by nearly 2 feet and was the National Championship-winning mark at Adidas Indoor Nationals. I bet she can get close to this come this weekend. I always see the high jump as a bit of a crapshoot as you almost always have a bunch of girls in the event who can jump anywhere from 4-10 to 5-2 on any given day, so it's almost impossible to call. This year is quite different though as Dacula's Danah Nembhard has gone 5-8 which won her the Jerry Arnold invite and is currently tied for 8th in the United States in 2022 Outdoor. Yeah... that's pretty dang good. The likes of Georgia Piper (Hebron), Mya Hines (Peachtree Ridge), Julisa Acosta (Mill Creek), Jade Weathersby (Parkview), Zora Rowell (Central), Oliviah Muffuletto (Collins Hill), Kennedy Logan (Parkview), Christalyn Johnson (Brookwood), and Zaria Hurston (Norcross) will try the best they can to keep pace, but they may be watching for 30 minutes or more as that bar continues to rise for Nembhard. For the pole vault, Libby Jackson of Hebron ranks out as the favorite at 11-0 and is closely followed by Emmy Miner of Archer, Victoria Freeland of Mill Creek, and Emilee Easley of Parkview. There are a myriad of jumpers at 9-0 or higher that could contend should any of the favorites falter.
With the addition of the 4x200m this year and the 4x800m last year, we now have 4 relays contested at championship track meets. That is a ton of points at stake, and it really does bring more of a team-feel into the equation. In the 4x100m, 4x200m, and 4x400m, your usual suspects of Brookwood, Peachtree Ridge, Greater Atlanta Christian, Collins Hill, and South Gwinnett make appearances. We have to assume the likes of Tamiia Fuller (Peachtree Ridge), Nia Wilson (GAC), Timika Scarlett (GAC), Karsen Phillips (Mountain View), Janai Jones, Serena Tate, Madison Campbell, Elle Bass, and Chloe Perryman (Brookwood), Princess Okoye (Archer), Kayce Darby (South Gwinnett) , Breona Issac (Collins Hill), and Delilyah Pelham (Mill Creek) all make appearances scattered across the various sprint relays. How teams decide to divide these ladies up will be ever-important in a meet like this. How many role players will step up as studs to lead their teams to critical points? In the 4x800m, The trio of Brookwood, Mill Creek, and Parkview stand out, and it's possible that a couple of these squads have not yet run their true A-squad. County could be a great place to experiment while also chasing the W.
Overall, as usual, the Gwinnett County Track & Field Championships look to be among the best late March meets on the calendar. Come on out to Collins Hill to watch some of the best in the business showcase their talent as we get closer and closer to the true "competition" phase of the 2022 Outdoor season. See you there!