The Conn-Madden Relays concluded on Saturday with a pair of first-ever Elite Mile Champions, a thrilling finish in the boys 400-meter hurdle race, and several new Relay qualifiers.
Said meet director Derrel Johnson, "one thing that helps us draw teams to this meet is that it's the last chance to qualify for The Relays (Relays, whose entry deadline is March 31).
Accompanied by a blue sky and 75-degree temperatures at Todd Stadium, the meet, sponsored by Newport News schools and named after famed Newport News High coaches Julie Conn and Thad Madden, turned out to be a great way to spend the first half of a resplendent spring weekend.
The first day of competition went well for the Menchville girls. The Monarchs scored mightily on Day 1, with Taylynn Blunt winning the 400-meter hurdles (1:06.46), and the 4x200 relay clocking a remarkable early season time of 1:45.53 for the win.
Grafton won both the boys' and girls' 4x1600 relays, while the Lafayette boys captured the 4x200 (1:31.37). The Rams also won the girls' 4x100 shuttle hurdles, while Bethel took the boys title.
The meet's most exciting race came in the boys 400-meter hurdles where Timothy Payne of Heritage, barely edged Burnell Pulley of Hampton by just .02 seconds to win with a time of 55.08.
The second day of action opened with the 300-meter hurdles, won by Lafayette on the boys' side (1:27.91) and Menchville, with Blunt and December Hutchinson, on the girls' (1:36.29). Ironically, the Monarchs' Danyetta Ruffin, not part of the relay, won the event in 45.55.
The Heritage boys (43.69) and John Marshall girls (50.96) took the gold in the 4x100 relays, while the Grafton girls, who won every relay of 1600 meters or greater (4x400, sprint medley, 4x800, 4x1600, distance medley), captured the 4x800 (10:35.54).
The Clipper boys almost duplicated the feat, winning four of the five distance relays, but were upended by Menchville in the 4x800. The Monarchs won in 8:33.62.
The featured races of the day were the boys and girls "Elite Mile," a first for this meet, which is in its 37th year.
The girls' race was won by Norfolk Academy standout Julia Lambert. Lambert cruised through the first two quarters in 75 and 2:33 to open up an early 10-meter lead, and she was not seriously challenged until the very end, when Menchville's Morgan Merritt kicked past Grafton's Kira Freedman and made a late charge. However, Lambert held on to win in 5:20.80, with Merritt in second (5:23.05) and Freedman third (5:25.91).
Lambert, a 5:01 miler who will be competing for William and Mary next year, was relatively pleased with her performance.
"I wanted to go out in 75 and 2:30, and hold on to a five-minute pace for as long as I could," said the senior. While breaking five minutes would be an understandable goal for Lambert, she admitted that as far as her goals for this, her final high school season, she is "not quite sure yet."
Grafton's Price Owens pulled away from a field of nine runners to take the boys mile in 4:30.60.
Owens, who had run the 1600 anchor leg in 4:40 for the Clippers' winning distance medley, took the pace out evenly, with a pair of 66-second splits to reach the halfway point in 2:12. From there, the junior cruised to a seven-second win over Cape Henry's Owen Richards.
For Owens, the day was more about gearing up for the rest of the season.
"This was great weather to run in. I had hoped to go out in 2:06 and run 4:16, but this was fun."
Owens, who briefly led the state rankings when he ran 9:21 indoors for 3200, will be a formidable force in both events this season. However, his goal for the spring is to break nine minutes in the 3200 and qualify for the New Balance Nationals in June.
The Menchville girls won the team competition, edging Grafton 41.5-37.25. Lafayette and Hayfield tied for the boys' title, with both the Rams and Hawks scoring 36. The boys' competition was unusually close, as Grafton (35), Bethel (34) and Heritage (33) close behind in the standings.
As part of the meet's events, five new members were inducted into the Newport News Track and Field Hall of Fame. They included Woodside's Brandon Burton and Majique Key, as well as Octavia James, Dontae Bugg, and longtime Coach Jacqueline Bateman from Heritage High.