In the surprise category, one of the best finishes of Saturday came in the girls' invitational 4x200, where Heritage (Newport News) almost overtook national powerhouse Bullis on the last lap, but finished in a strong second place in 1:39.50.
With their time, the foursome of Kara Ashley, Myzhane Solomon, Sanaa Wooden, and Madison Whyte vaulted all the way to #1 among state high schools, as well as #3 nationally.
Said Coach Ray Pollard, who along with Jacqueline Bateman, have headed the Hurricane program, "that was a great race. We've never had anything quite like this."
And on this day, the legends of Newport News historical track past reached out and touched a new generation.
The connections are strong. It starts with head coaches Bateman and Pollard. Both are entrenched members of the Newport News Track Hall of Fame, a group that hosts the names of many athletes from among the 46 state indoor and outdoor titles won by Newport News teams.
The pair have coached cross-country, indoor and outdoor track at Heritage since its doors opened in 1996. Pollard, who was the High School Track MVP of the 1964 Penn Relays while competing with Huntington High in Newport News, can trace his coaching career back to the 1980's at Denbigh High School, on the north side of town.
Kara Ashley, a sophomore, led off the relay, and put Heritage into a comfortable top-half position, well within the group of teams that also included Wakefield (NC) and perennial Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Elizabeth Seton (MD).
Ashley is fairly new to national-level competition and freely shared her initial thought on the line. "Yeah, I was so nervous and scared!" However, Ashley handed off to junior Myzhane Solomon who kept the baton moving well in spite of her own nerves - "My heart was just beating, but it was fun!" Solomon passed the baton to Sanaa Wooden in third place.
Wooden is a familiar name in Newport News track circles, namely because of Kerry Wooden, a star long sprinter for Warwick High in the mid-80's who clocked bests of 21.24 in the 200 and 46.44 in the 400. He is the uncle of both Sanaa and sister Sabria.
Wooden used her carry to solidify Heritage's hold on second place, but their position was still 15 meters behind Bullis. For Heritage to pull off the unlikely win, it was going to come down to Madison Whyte.
The foursome knew that Whyte was the fastest. It went back to their younger days as teammates with the East End Flyers, a long-standing youth track team. According to its own social post, the "Flyers" team was born in the spring of 1997 as a collaborative effort of the Doris Miller Community Center and the C. Waldo Scott Center for HOPE. The Flyers program was started with the goal of exposing children in Newport News' Southeast Community to the sport of track and field. Ashley, Solomon, the Wooden's and Whyte first trained together on different tracks and parks around Newport News. Among their spots were the Belk track at Christopher Newport University and Riverview Farm Park, in the shadow of Menchville High, a school that once claimed former University of Pittsburgh coach Steve Lewis as its track head.
Whyte had already competed in one invitational race, the 300, but aimed for one last dusting of the Sports Center oval. Garabbing the baton, she took off and immediately made up five meters on the first turn, drawing a slow rumbling of "woop, woop, woop" from the crowd. Later, Whyte would say, "I heard it!"
The Bullis anchor managed to concede only a couple of meters on the back straightaway, and almost no part of her lead on the back turn. But Whyte wasn't done, and with a strong focus and sense of possession, Whyte came off the back turn with all cylinders running, closing, closing, closing on the lead until she ran out of space. Bullis won in a high school US #1 1:39.19, while Heritage placed second in US #2 1:39.50.
In the end, the Heritage team celebrated toward the far corner of the Sports Center, and Whyte, currently the nation's top 200-meter runner (23.66), could only lament for the lack of real estate.
"If I only had 10 more yards.," said Whyte, possibly knowing that this rivalry is probably not over for the season if the two teams meet at a Nationals meet.