Friday night at the races

Note: This preview has a local twist to it because it was written for the Richmond Area people and not a statewide audience.

DINWIDDIE, VA -- Thirty-four events. Twenty-four current state leaders. Seven national champions indoors. Finals only, under the lights.

The Richmond area's top prep track athletes will challenge many of the best from around the state and the country Friday night in the Southern Track Classic at Dinwiddie High School. Last year's meet yielded 34 performances that registered on the DyeStat national leaderboard. And this year's field looks even stronger.

Bobby Lockhart of John Handley High School (Winchester), a member of the U.S. team at the World Cross Country Championships last fall and currently ranked No. 5 in the country at 3,200 meters (8:56.49), Bobby Curtis of Louisville, Ky., the Nike Indoor Classic mile champ, and teammate Chip Heuser, the NIC pole vault champ (16-2¾), and Laura Stanley of Fletcher, N.C., fifth at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, are a few of the nationally-ranked athletes who will compete in the event.

The meet, in its fourth year, is one of just six invitationals in the country - the Penn Relays is another - designated as a DyeStat Featured Meet this spring.

"You're going to see a lot of these kids in the next two Olympic Trials," meet director Dan Ward said.

Lockhart, Brian Dalpiaz of Sayville, NY, winner of the 3,000 at the Penn Relays and Phil Gaeta of Oakton HS (Vienna), the current state leader in the 800 (1:52.88), headline a field of 15 in the boys mile. Lockhart, a senior who went 4:08.56 in the mile as a sophomore, is the clear favorite. Derrick Robbins, a freshman at Denbigh HS (Newport News), has run 4:19.37; Freeman's Graham Kearney (4:19.66 for 1,600 indoors) may be the sleeper.

Curtis and Thomas Dale's Alex Tatu, the current state leader in the 1,600, are among those entered in a loaded boys 800 (Kearney, with a 1:57.64 performance, is the 12th seed). Nike Indoor Classic 800 champ Richard Smith of South Lakes HS (Reston) - 1:53.97 indoors - is a late addition in the race. Area leader Matt Wolak of Mills Godwin, a strong closer who has been forced to do most of his running out front this spring, ran a 1:53 relay split last month and seems poised to break out.

"We figure with the class of people down there, if Matt doesn't get boxed in and stays in good position, there's no telling what he can do," Godwin distance coach Frank Wagner said.

Oakton's Keira Carlstrom, who clocked 10:30.81 in the 3,200 on Saturday (U.S. No. 5), is the top seed in a girls mile that likely will take a sub-5:00 performance to win.

In the girls 3,200, Atlee's Tiffany Cross will be chasing Stanley - 10:53.95 for 2 miles indoors - and the 11-minute barrier. Atlee's Kira Barcus, with a state-leading clearance of 11-8, enters as the top seed among 10 athletes in the girls pole vault competition, four with marks of more than 11 feet.

For Maggie Walker senior John Piersol, Friday night's boys 3,200 may be his best shot at cracking 9 minutes. Matt Keally of Ocean Lakes HS (Virginia Beach), who set a Group AAA indoor state-meet record of 8:59.57 on March 1 and has gone 8:58.30 this spring, and John Crews of Rockbridge County HS (Lexington), with a personal best of 9:11.03, should set a quick pace.

"I don't know if John is ready to run under 9 minutes, but you never can tell," Maggie Walker coach Jim Holdren said of Piersol, whose best in the event is 9:14.02 (indoors). "John never ceases to amaze me."

Patrick Henry sprinter Sherrod Lewis, who has been beating up on local competition all spring, draws state leader Michael Johnson of Heritage HS (Newport News) in the 100. In the 200, Lewis is one of three sprinters with a sub-22.0 performance.

In the girls 1,600 relay, the second-to-last event of the night, seven teams enter with performances under 4 minutes, including current state leader Gar-Field (seeded fourth at 3:56.36). Area-leader Prince George, the 13th seed at 4:07.34, is expected to run a fully-loaded foursome for the first time this spring and could surprise some teams up front.

Keith Moffatt of Menchville HS (Newport News), the Nike Indoor Classic boys high jump champ, Lindsay Neuberger of Cox HS (Va. Beach), winner of the NIC girls shot put, Oakton's Bonnie Meekins, current state leader in the girls high jump, Lauren Taylor of Western Branch HS (Chesapeake) and Menchville's Jelyn Quick, the state's top two girls hurdlers, Quentin Bowens of Heritage, the current state leader in the boys 400, and girls 800 state leader Shylan Bumbrey, a freshman at James Monroe HS (Fredericksburg), are other standout athletes to watch.

It's Friday night at the races. Buckle up.