The decision for many athletes this year was hard. Go to Nike Outdoor Nationals, our sports high school track and field champion, or take their talents to Ohio and compete at the USATF Junior National T&F Championships and try to make the world team. Both meets fell on the same weekend this year, so athletes had to make a choice. Well, it turns out many of the top athletes across the country want their shot to make Team USA and the Junior National meet is loaded with talent. See who's got a shot to make the team.
USATF Junior National T&F Championships (OH)
The USATF Junior National T&F Championships offers high school athletes a unique experience, often pitting them against athletes that are freshmen in college. This year's Junior Nationals will have a nice mix of prep and college athletes, with strong prep contingents in a variety of events.
Perhaps the strongest event for the high school boys is the decathlon. The top three ranked athletes, Ben Davies (Brentwood Academy, TN), Curtis Beach (Albuquerque Academy, NM) and Daniel Gooris (Cibola, NM) all have great shots to make the squad. Last year Davies performed the third best decathlon mark ever as he earned a U.S. #1 ranking with his 7379 effort. This year Davies looks to make a serious run at the national record of 7417. Close on his heels Beach and Gooris will follow, each having very strong strengths. Beach tends to perform very well in the sprints and jumps, while Gooris is exceptional at the pole vault and throws. Last year Beach finished at U.S. #2 and Gooris at U.S. #5, so both should feel that they have a shot to be national champ.
Three other deep field events that stand out are the triple jump, long jump and high jump. Both the long and triple jumps have four of the top prep athletes in their respective fields, while the high jump has three. Leading the way in the triple jump are Christian Taylor (Sandy Creek, GA), Omar Craddock (Killeen, TX), Bryce Lamb (Chandler, AZ) and Will Claye (Mountain Pointe, AZ) (pictured left by Margot Kelly). For Taylor Junion Nationals is what he's been shooting for much of the year. Peaking for this meet and the world championships has been a long-term goal that started last year after he finished fourth at this meet. Craddock meanwhile comes off of a great Caribbean Scholastic Invitational performance last weekend which saw him leap over 51 feet to win the event. Lamb and Claye know each other well and seem to feed off each other's energy, as both athletes cleared the 52 foot barrier at their state meet while competing against one another.
The long jump will see Taylor, Lamb and Claye, as well as Texas star Marquise Goodwin (Rowlett, TX). Goodwin lept 26-01.50 at his state meet, and while the mark was wind-aided, that is still incredibly impressive. In the high jump Ohio's finest of Ryan Fleck (Napoleon, OH) and Erik Kynard (Roger, OH) will challenge for the win. Both athletes have cleared 7-00 numerous times this season, with Fleck leading the two with his mark of 7-02, which he accomplished just last weekend at the Midwest Meet of Champions. Both athletes will be pushed by New Hampshire's Dwight Barbiasz (Milford, NH), who's gone over 7-00 just as many times as the other two and is really rounding in to late-season form nicely.
On the track the deepest event is the 800m dash. From top to bottom this event has shined in 2008. The depth and talent are simply outstanding and a quartet of athletes look to make their mark in this event. Blake Shaw (Cypress Falls, TX), Zachary Mellon (Buffalo, MN), Dylan Ferris (East Forsyth, NC) and Elijah Greer (Lake Oswego, OR) are all capable of running under 1:50 and all four have looked strong all season long. Shaw (pictured right) leads the seasonal PR list with his 1:49.41 effort from early on in the track season, while the junior Mellon ran 1:49.69 only two weeks ago to win his state championship. Ferris meanwhile has set up his season to peak for this meet, running 1:50.81 a few weeks back in Atlanta, while Greer ran 1:50.60 to win his state title last month.
Elsewhere, Wayne Davis (SE Raleigh, NC) and William Wynne (McEachern, GA) look to shine in the hurdles. Davis is entered in the 110m hurdles and has a chance to place top three, while Wynne is the defending national champion in the 400m hurdles, where last year he blazed the third fastest time in the history of the event in 49.70. The national high school record of 49.38 is in serious jeopardy with Wynne competing so well lately.
Back in the field events, Geoffrey Tabor (Ardmore, OK) looks to compete in the discus and push the 220 foot barrier. Last season Tabor finished as the national leader, but after Finley's 222-01 earlier in the year Tabor knows he has some catching up to do. Finley was originally scheduled to compete in Ohio, but scratched out last minute to compete at Nike Outdoor Nationals. Conor McCullough (Chaminade, CA) is another athlete to watch. The junior became the third best all-time in the event last year as a sophomore with the 12lb. instrument, where as this time around he'll be competing with the 6kg. instrument.
From top to bottom the women's field at the Friday through Sunday competition is looking great. Nearly every race has high school talent entered, which should make for quite an interesting weekend in Ohio. An added bonus is that no fewer than five high school records are in jeopardy, simply adding more drama to an already action packed meet.
The best grouping of events are the throws. The shot put, discus, javelin and hammer throws should all be entertaining and at least one prep rank right up in the top three. The discus and javelin national records are very vulnerable as Anna Jelmini (Shafter, CA) and Hannah Carson (Dobson, AZ) take to competing for a national championship. Jelmini threw the discus 183-11 earlier in the year, good enough for a U.S. #4 all-time mark. Since then she's thrown in the 170 range numerous times. Meanwhile, Carson enters with the goal being to break the national record of 176-05. She hasn't had the chance to throw the javelin much this season since Arizona doesn't contest the event, but she should be primed and ready after being able to focus solely on the event for the past few weeks.
The shot put is also an interesting event. U.S. #1 Becky O'Brien (Greely, ME) enters the meet riding a wave of momentum after her performance at the New England Outdoor T&F Championships. O'Brien threw 51-06.50 to capture the nation's top spot and improve her outdoor personal best. Her performance also ranks her U.S. #12 all-time. However, O'Brien will be challenged by junior Daniella Bunch (Mahomet-Seymour, IL) who threw over 51 feet earlier this season and her chief rival Karen Shump (Penncrest, PA). Throw 1 Deep club teammates Allison Horner (Lovett, GA) and Lauren Chambers (Kell, GA) should be mixing it up in the hammer throw. These two have heaps of talent and being able to focus on their primary events since state should mean some big personal bests in Columbus.
On the track Jacquelyn Coward (Knoxville West, TN) (pictured left by TennesseeRunner.com) will be going for double gold in the 100m and 400m hurdle events. After placing third in both events last year, Coward returns with the goal of winning both events this time around. The Tennessee starlet has a U.S. #1 mark in the 100m hurdles, while having a U.S. #2 mark in the 300m hurdles. Coward will be challenged in each race however by seniors Vashti Thomas (Mt. Pleasant, CA) and Ryann Krais (Methacton, PA). Thomas and Coward are the second and fifth fastest 100m hurdlers ever, and both will be looking to go after a sub-13 clocking. Meanwhile, Krais is ranked U.S. #3 for the 300m hurdles and 400m hurdles. Thomas is also the top prep in the long jump and triple jump.
Elsehwere in field event action, Rachel Laurent (Vanderbilt Catholic, LA) and Shade Weygandt (Mansfield, TX) both have the opportunity to not only qualify for Team USA, but they have a chance to break the national pole vault record of 14-01.25. Laurent already cleared the 14-00 barrier earlier this season, while Weygandt cleared 13-10 to set a new junior class record. The LSU-bound Laurent and the Texas Weygandt have met many times before and both will be pushing to break the record.
The other two events that could be lowered are the 100m dash and 1500m run. Victoria Jordan (Fort Worth Dunbar, TX) is entered in both the 100m and 200m dash events. Earlier this year she ran 11.16 for the 100m dash, a time that ranks her in the U.S. top five all-time. The high school record is 11.11, which is certainly not out of reach for Jordan.
The 1500m run is another story. Last weekend at a small last chance meet in Southern California, Christine Babcock (Woodbridge, CA) broke the national record in the event by winning the race and qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 4:16.42. That record could be shattered this weekend if Jordan Hasay (Mission Prep, CA) (pictured right) has her way. Last year Hasay peaked well for Junior Nationals and ran 4:16.98, good enough for U.S. #4 all-time. This year she's peaking for this meet and it would not be over the top to think she can run at least a second faster than last year. Hasay is also entered in the 3,000m run, where she'll face in-state rival Laurynne Chetelat (Davis, CA), who barely lost to Hasay in the California State 3200m run, which saw the two stars run the U.S. #2 and U.S. #3 times ever in the event.
The 400m dash should be an interesting event to observe as well. Freshman sensation Akawkaw Ndipagbor (Long Beach Poly, CA) is currently ranked U.S. #3 in the event with her 53.35, with senior Meshawn Graham (Bowsher, OH) being ranked one spot ahead with her 53.30 clocking. Both athletes will be looking to crack the 53 second barrier and finish first in the event, which could lead to a historic race.