Oscar Smith senior Michael Cherry became the fourth fastest ever in US high school history at 500 meters indoors and the new Virginia high school state record holder in the event after running an incredible time of 1:02.61 at the Southeastern District Championships on Tuesday in Hampton at the Boo Williams Sportsplex. None have ran faster than Cherry before on a flat track as Cherry cruised through 200 meters in 23 seconds and 300 meters in 36 seconds and stayed even pace through 400 meters at 49 seconds after creating some separation from Western Branch's Corey Jones, who ended up running a big PR for second place in 1:05.06. The Florida State University signee Cherry powered home off the final curve keeping the 13 second per 100 meter pace for his historic final time and lowering his previous US #1 time by another second.
Cherry warmed up for his 500 meter race by running opening leg on the Oscar Smith 4x200 meter relay, which ran a season best time of 1:31.91 to finish second in the relay event behind Grassfield who clocked a swift 1:30.96 for first place. Grassfield ended the day with a meet record time in the 4x400 meter relay at 3:28.47. Oscar Smith will be in the team state title hunt in large part to Cherry, who expects to triple with the 500 and 300 as well as run a leg on their 4x400 meter relay which has one of the fastest times in the state at 3:25. Grassfield may one of the most well rounded teams in the state title hunt this season with numerous individuals in different events capable of scoring significant points and competing for individual state titles as well as their two sprint relays.
One of Grassfield's top individuals is freshmen Grant Holloway, who lowered his freshmen national record in the 55 meter hurdles last weekend at the Atlantic Coast Invitational with a 7.35 clocking. Holloway also is one of the state's best high jumpers as he dueled it out with another underclassmen in Oscar Smith sophomore Bradley Jones for the district title as both cleared their season bests of 6'6", but neither was able to clear 6'8" and earlier misses gave Holloway the win. Holloway was not as fortunate later in the 55 meter hurdles, which bypassed having a preliminary round due to lack of entrants for hurdlers to warm up with. In the section only-finals on time race, Holloway was upset and nipped at the finish line by Western Branch's Aaron Simpson with a 7.44 clocking for Simpson and Holloway 2 hundredths of a second back in second at 7.46. It will be interesting to see how the freshmen responds from his first hurdles loss since the Boo Williams Winter Break Invite against Simpson in the coming weeks at regionals and the state meet. With two wins over Holloway this season, the Western Branch senior Simpson has to have greater confidence about his chances of becoming a regional and state champion in the hurdles.
Simpson's win was the top individual highlight of the day among a collective team effort by the Western Branch boys to defeat Grassfield, a team which many see to be built well to win a state team championship this winter. The Byron Robinson and Michael Cherry match up did not happen at the district meet as Robinson might be the second best 500/300 runner in the state behind Cherry and is found in the Southeastern District as well. Robinson raced in the 300 meter dash, an event which he was the national and state leader earlier this season, and won in a time of 34.71 as teammate Corey Jones was a district runner-up twice in a 35.50 performance.
Josh Marriner was nearly a double district champion for the Western Branch. Marriner first won the long jump with a season best mark of 22'9.50". With a personal best of 23'9" in the event, Marriner could make a huge different for the Western Branch boys being a serious player in the state team title discussion if he is able to win a state title in the event. Marriner then made the previous US and state indoor leader Vincent Lowe of Grassfield work hard for a district title in the 55 meter dash as the runner-up in a 6.48 season best clocking. Lowe, who was the first in the nation to dip under 6.40 this season, was not far off his second sub 6.40 with a 6.43 victory on Saturday. Lowe also ran key legs on Grassfield's 4x200 and 4x400 meter relays at the district meet.
The times may have not been fast, but the race was exciting in the boys' 1600 meter run with numerous lead changes and surgers by the front pack of runners before Western Branch's Nick Richardson was able to roar back in the final 100 meters to overtake Grassfield's James Broom (2nd, 4:32.26) and Hickory's Andrew Eason (3rd, 4:32.30) in a 4:31.32 win. Hickory's Micah Ellington made an attempt at trying to run a state auto time by himself and was right on pace through the first 1600 meters, but slowed up in the final mile for a winning time of 9:55.29 as he finished 15 seconds ahead of the next runner. Grassfield's Alex Midkiff already has the state auto time in the 1000 and ran under it again in leading wire-to-wire with a first place effort of 2:35.29.
A bad day for Grassfield thrower Andrew Hines and he is still 5 feet better than his closest competition in the shot put. The Group AAA #1 ranked thrower with a season best of 57'2.50" this winter, Hines was nearly 5 feet below his personal best on Tuesday, but hopes that the bad meet is now out of his system for his final two meets in his hopes of becoming a regional and state champion in the shot put.
This year's Western Branch girls squad may seem down and lack the star power and depth of most recent teams, but do not tell that to the rest of the Southeastern District schools as the Lady Bruins once again hoisted the district team championship trophy with a team score of 179 points to place them well ahead of runners-up Grassfield. Milan Parks was the Western Branch's top individual performer as she won two district titles with personal best performances including a 8.16 clocking in the 55 meter hurdles and leap of 18'8.50" in the long jump. Western Branch girls built a lead in the field events over the district, especially thanks to a sweep of the top four places in the high jump competition led by a 5'2" clearance from event champion Ashley Coles. Another district individual champion for Western Branch was found in the triple jump with Funyalo Oluwole (relation to former state champ Tosin Oluwole?) improving a remarkable four feet from her season best with a mark of 37'8.25".
The Western Branch girls had no other winners on the track beyond hurdles champ Parks, but the 500 meter dash was an event which they piled on points taking places two through five with Ebony White (2nd, 1:18.67), Jayde Kemp (3rd, 1:18.93), and Faith Ross (4th, 1:19.37) all breaking 1:20. Western Branch can certainly put together a formidable 4x400 meter relay this season as they have more than 3 girls who can break 1:20 in the 500 meter dash.
The Southeastern District girls' 500 meter dash was won by Indian River senior Andrea Wright was a double champion on the day in the 500 meter dash with a personal best time of 1:17.30 and later victorious in the 300 meter dash over Nansemond River freshmen Brandee Johnson (40.76) in a time of 40.37. Johnson earlier claimed her first of likely many future district titles in the 55 meter dash finals against Wright (3rd, 7.28) and Gabrielle Snipes (2nd, 7.26) of King's Fork with a 7.24 clocking for arguably the state's fastest freshmen sprinter. In between her two individual races, Johnson ran a leg on the Nansemond River 4x200 meter relay which rolled to the state's third fastest time in a 1:44.20 performance.
Distance runner Carolyn Cunniffee helped Grassfield start to close a little bit of the huge gap which existed between her team and Western Branch after the field events and hurdles as Cunnifee ran away from both the 1600 and 3200 meter fields in times of 5:22.90 and 11:44.76 respectively. Teammate Monica Schroeder made it a clean sweep of the distance races for the Grassfield girls as she had a ferocious kick on the last lap to win by four seconds in the 1000 meter run with a 3:14.89 personal best effort. The Lakeland program, not known for its middle distance or distance runners, had a great moment in winning the 4x800 meter relay with a time of 10:37.64.