Friday Events Preview For East Coast Invitational


A race by race preview of all the running events slated for Friday at the 2021 East Coast Invitational, which will be live-streamed on

Unseeded Girls 800m Run (8 AM)

Mia-Claire Kezal (Thornton Academy, ME) is making a return trip from Maine to Virginia and looking to add a fast 800 to her sub 3 minute 1K at VA Showcase.

The cut-off to make Saturday's top-seeded section of the girls 800 meters was 2:15 or faster leaving a total of 13 girls racing among the 4 sections on Friday to kick off the East Coast Invitational who have run under or seeded with times under 2:20 impressively.

Bullis School (MD) senior Ariana Wright leads the group for the unseeded sections as the top seed with a 2:16 personal best. Wright ran 2:24 to start her season at the Virginia Beach Club Opener back in December and her all-time best dates back two years ago at the University of Kentucky High School Indoor Invitational.

Grace Zamrowski, a senior at Padua Academy (DE), also has a personal best of 2:16 dating back two years ago and was a top-six finisher at last year's Delaware Indoor State Meet in the 400-meter dash.

The one might want to watch or pay attention to in the top section based on her performances from her last trip to Virginia Beach is Thornton Academy (ME) junior Mia-Claire Kezal. Kezal broke 3 minutes for the 1000 meter run at the VA Showcase with a runner-up performance of 2:58 in the unseeded division. She broke 2:20 three times during the 2020 indoor season including a state runner-up finish of 2:17 at the Maine Class A State Championships.

Grace Wills of Mountain Lakes High School in New Jersey has great endurance strength as a 5:03 miler, but the junior has also run 2:17 for 800 meters as a freshman outdoors in 2019.

Sophie Emin has mixed it up with some of the best half milers in Pennsylvania over the last few years including an eighth-place finish and PR of 2:17 at the 2020 PTFCA Indoor State Championships. The East Coast Invitational will be the Easton Area junior's first race this indoor season.

Another Pennsylvania runner to watch in the unseeded girls 800 on Friday morning is one of the state's three cross country champions this past fall in Olivia Haas. The Blue Mountain junior just missed out on running sub 5 minutes in the mile at the VA Showcase just three weeks ago at the same venue and will be looking to best her 2:18 PR in the 800 to go along with her recent PR's for the mile and 3200 (10:59) over last few months.

Like Haas, Loudoun Valley's Ava Gordon is a longer distance geared state champion runner but has shown the range to run fast at the middle distances. Most notably, Gordon was a runner-up in the 800 at the Grant Holloway Holiday Invitational nearly a month ago in Virginia Beach with a 2:19 personal best performance.

Unseeded Boys 800m Run (9 AM)

Dillon Leacock (Hillside, ME) has run a pair of PR's in his last two trips to Virginia Beach. Now turns his focus to 800 this weekend.

Believe it or not, the 1:55.80 personal best by Dillon Leacock was not fast enough to earn him a spot in Saturday's seeded section of the boys' 800 meter run at the East Coast Invitational. Leacock, a very versatile athlete and senior at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, North Carolina ran the time last summer and has shown his range this winter including a pair of PR's in the 200 (22.41) and 400 (49.30) at the 757 Showdown and another pair of his fastest ever at the VA Showcase in the 300 (35.48) and 500 (1:04.21). It is only fitting that now he chases after another personal best in the 800 next.

Loudoun Valley senior Matthew Smith nearly broke 2:30 for 1000 meters indoors last year as a third-place finisher in the VHSL Class 3 State Championships. Smith really has not run an open 800 since the 2019 outdoor season when he was a sophomore at Good Counsel in Maryland and ran his 1:57 PR. The 4:15 miler seems capable though of going much faster.

If Alexander Lombardo races as he did in rare "fall" track season in Maryland then he could potentially throw down the top time among the six unseeded sections of the boys 800 on Friday morning. Lombardo, a senior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick County, Maryland twice ran 1:56 this past fall for 800 meters in open track meets. He most recently indoors ran a PR of 4:24 at the VA Showcase last month.

Korey Pratt has one of the fastest recent indoor times in the 800 in the field among unseeded sections. The Hillside (Durham, NC) senior just last weekend at the Virginia Sports Center in the 757 Showdown ran a 1:57.55 PR for a fourth-place finish.

Girls 200 Meter Dash Prelims (10:00 AM)

Madison Whyte looks to use her freshmen year success to slingshot into an even faster sophomore year.

A total of 22 preliminary heats of the high school girls' 200-meter dash on Friday morning to determine who will move onto Saturday's finals. The field will include four girls seeded under 24 seconds and many others knocking on the door as well as prime to do it on the hydraulic banked track at the Virginia Beach Sports Center.

Hannah Douglas is entered as the top seed at 23.8, while is currently ranked US no. 11 at the event with a 24.42 season-best. She has a wind-aided personal best of 24.06 from a prior outdoor season. The senior from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida competed at the VA Showcase and clocked swift times of 7.06 in the 55-meter dash and 39.01 in the 300-meter dash.

The fastest performer in the field based on season-best times and national rankings would be Heritage (Newport News, Va) sophomore Madison Whyte at US no. 6 clocking of 24.21 from her third-place showing at the VA Showcase. White had one of the more remarkable freshmen indoor seasons last year including a 37.81 victory in claiming the VHSL Class 4 state title in the 300. 

It has been a while since her last sub 24-second performances as Western Branch (Chesapeake, Va) senior Na'Taja Ballard had a dominant 2018 outdoor campaign in the event leading to becoming the VHSL Class 6 state champion in the event with a 23.87 best. Since then, Ballard has turned her focus into becoming one of Virginia's greatest hurdlers all time taking away from her progression in the sprints like the 200 meters.  Coming off a big win last week at the 757 Showdown against Jada Pierre in the 60 hurdles finals, Ballard will mix it up this weekend starting in the 200.

One of the top returning sprinters in the state of Texas, Taejha Badal will be making her third trip to Virginia Beach for a meet this indoor season. Badal is currently ranked 10th fastest in the country this season with a 24.39 best at the Coach O Invitational. Badal was a runner-up at the Virginia Beach Club Opener and Grant Holloway Invitational, so is hoping to enjoy a first-place finish for once in the 200.

A local rooting interest belongs to Landstown's Mia O'Neil and Tallwood's Zamia Stelly. Both seniors running for the Virginia Beach Flames seeded with times in the mid 24-second range. Stelly won the 200 at the Grant Holloway Holiday Invitational, while O'Neil broke 40 seconds for the first time at 300 meters in the VA Showcase. 

Boys 200 Meter Dash Prelims (11:00 AM)

Jaylen Slade could join only 8 other past high schoolers to break 21 seconds indoors for 200 meters.

Three of the top 10 ranked sprinters in the country will be at the East Coast Invitational including one ready to take over the leaderboard and potentially be the first nationally under 21 minutes in the 200-meter dash. Friday's prelims including a total of 22 heats will be a great preview of what to expect in Saturday's finals.

That individual would be Jaylen Slade of IMG Academy in Florida. Slade currently sits US no. 2 with a 21.13 win at the Galleria Games back in December at the Birmingham CrossPlex. In his last trip to the Virginia Beach Sports Center, Slade clocked a US no. 2 all-time performance of 32.77 in the 300-meter dash at the VA Showcase. He has been knocking on the door of sub 21 seconds for two years dating back to a 21.03 clocking at the Georgia Meet of Champions during the 2019 outdoor season. Only 8 high school athletes in U.S. history have broken 21 seconds indoors, so if Slade achieved the feat then would easily insert himself among the top 10 all-time. The junior Slade will be in the very first heat of 22 in the boys' 200 prelims.

Another immensely talented non-senior sprinter will be featured in the boys 200 in Archbishop Carroll (DC) sophomore Nyckoles Harbor. Harbor ran the seventh fastest time in the country with a third-place clocking of 21.46 at the VA Showcase. Harbor also ran PR's of 6.37 in the 55-meter dash and 35.19 in the 300-meter dash at the VA Showcase.

Shamali Whittle is the defending New Jersey Meet of Champions winner in the event and coming off a swift win last weekend at the 757 Showdown with a 21.52 personal best and should be in the mix with Slade and Harbor as one of the fastest performers in Friday's preliminaries of the 200-meter dash.

Girls One Mile Run (12:00 PM)

Taylor James went 4:49 for a full mile last year on an oversized 300-meter track. What can she do on a hydraulic banked 200-meter track on Friday?

A very deep seeded section field of the girls' mile has been assembled for the East Coast Invitational including nine girls entered with times under the 5-minute mark. The Stanford University commit Taylor James leads the field making the trip all the way from Niwot, Colorado for her second appearance at the Virginia Beach Sports Center this winter. She finished fifth (2:12) in the invitational 800 meter run at the VA Showcase, while also running 1:16 in her first 500-meter race ever.

James ran her personal best mile time of 4:49 on the oversized 300-meter track at the University of Washington last indoor season. She has great closing speed if ends up being a race down to the end having bests of 54 seconds in the 400 and 2:05 in the 800.

The next closest challenger to James will be by way of New Jersey in Camryn Wennersten. The high school junior competing for the Garden State Track Club is the current highest ranked miler nationally in the field at US no. 6 from her fifth-place finish of 4:56 at the VA Showcase. Wennersten has a faster personal best from a year ago when she earned a spot in the Millrose Games and ran 4:51 to take eighth place. 

One of Tennessee's fastest in Sofia Rutherford of Brentwood is also entered in the girls' mile run at the East Coast Invitational with personal bests from last indoor season of 4:53 for the full mile and 2:13 for the 800 meters. Traveling even further to get to Virginia Beach is Sophie Novak from Lake Orion High School in Michigan. Novak went 4:51 for 1600 meters indoors last year at SPIRE in Ohio. 

Two of the best Virginians in the field are Ava Gordon of Loudoun Valley and Aniya Mosley of Ocean Lakes. Moseley seems ready for her first sub 5 minute race and has great speed as well as range. Moseley won the 800 last weekend at the 757 Showdown in a 2:12 personal best and is the defending VHSL Class 6 state champion in the 1000 meter run.

Gordon slated also to run in the unseeded girls 800 with short rest, so remains to see if she does both events. Last indoor season, Gordon won the VHSL Class 6 state title in the 1600 meter run with a 4:57 meter personal best. She has already rolled to 10:42 best for two miles this indoor season and won the mile in the first meet ever at the Virginia Beach Sports Center back in early December at 5:03.

Boys One Mile Run (1:10 PM)

Marcus Reilly will be chasing after freshman national class record (4:15.43) in the mile.

Could we see another freshman national class record on Friday by Marcus Reilly? Reilly this season has already broken the freshmen national class record in the 800 and 1000, while he was painfully close to the mile record still held by Lukas Verzbicas at 4:15.43.

At last week's 757 Showdown, Reilly broke his own freshman national record in the 1000 with his first sub 2:30 minute performance at 2:29.99 finishing fourth place. On the next day of competition, the ninth grade phenom from Massachusetts took runner-up honors in the 800 with another freshman national record at 1:54.65 besting the prior record by a near full second.

Reilly missed the mile national record by 8 hundredths of a second at the VA Showcase last month when he recorded a time of 4:15.41 for fourth place. While Reilly has been chasing these records lately in Virginia Beach, another thing that has more eluded him or been tougher to come by has been the first place victories being pulled along to faster times by upperclassmen.

He will have a great opportunity to experience a win on Friday in the mile run, but it will not be easy despite being the top seed when checking out the field. A very intriguing entrant in the event and meet as a whole in Alaska state champion Tristian Merchant. Merchant ran some scorching 5K times this past fall cross country season including a 14:41 best to help earn him a scholarship to one of nation's top college programs at Northern Arizona University. He only has a 4:21 best for 1600 meters, but his fitness this fall indicates he is ready for a breakthrough well under 4:20 making the long trip from Anchorage.

Other out of state stars expected to be in the mix include Myles Plummer from New Jersey, Declan McDonnell from Delaware, Aiden Barnhill from Pennsylvania, and Patrick Donnelly from D.C. McDonnell won the Delaware state cross country this past fall and knocking on door of sub 4:20. Both Plummer and Barnhill have both gone sub 4:20 as Plumer was a 4:18 runner-up at the 2020 New Jersey Meet of Champions, while Barnhill went 4:17 in a fall track race.

Matthew Smith of Loudoun Valley has run 4:15 for 1600 meters and might be the best shot at a winner from Virginia in the field. He is also slated to race in the unseeded boys 800 in the morning. 

The remaining event previews to be posted early Friday morning. Will be writing up the remaining previews during the breaks in between early sessions.

Girls 60m Hurdles Prelims (2:40 PM)

Boys 60m Hurdles Prelims (3:20 PM)

Girls 60m Dash Prelims (4:00 PM)

Boys 60m Dash Prelims (4:40 PM)

Girls/Boys 4x400m Relay (5:30 PM)

Girls 1000m Run (8:00 PM)

Boys 1000m Run (8:40 PM)

Girls 400m Dash (9:30 PM)

Boys 400m Dash (10:30 PM)