2013 NBNI Previews: Eight Great Boys' Questions/Storylines
By Stephen Underwood
Another massive Cheserek distance quest
When you look at a national meet entry list, it’s no longer a surprise to see a superstar distance runner trying to complete a triple or quadruple of epic proportions. First, there was the Lukas Verzbicas individual triple in 2011, then Ed Cheserek’s quadruple attempt (two relay anchors, two individual events) last year. Now Cheserek is listed for the 1M, 2M and 5,000, as well as his team being listed for both the SMR and DMR. In reality, St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) Coach Marty Hannon has said his star will run the DMR and not the 5k on Friday, then definitely Saturday’s SMR. As for Sunday, the 2M is “probable” and for the mile he said, “We’ll see.”
Last year, Cheserek had well-measured and victorious anchors in the relays, then Sunday ran the 2M pretty hard (8:50.53) but maybe tried to leave a little for the mile. Finally, he ran 4:09.07 in the mile and was outkicked by Brad Nye of Utah. It’s worth noting that coming into NBNI last year, Cheserek had hammered hard all fall during his first Foot Locker title season (2011), then run a hard indoor season, too. Outdoors, he seemed to be less than his best at times, culminating in the 12th in the adidas Dream Mile. This time around, however, he only raced half a cross-country season and hasn’t killed it indoors as often. Bottom line: He should be fresher (college visits notwithstanding).
St. Benedict’s is favored to win the SMR, but the DMR will be tougher to defend. Foot Locker runnerup and 8:55 3,200 performer Sean McGorty will be Cheserek’s toughest competition in the 2M, while the mile is filled with 4-5 guys in the 4:08-4:10 range. Cheserek’s best chance to win all four races will be if his DMR mates step up big Friday and he conserves as much as possible in trying to win the 2M Sunday.
Will Cherry capture the 400/200 double?
What a terrific winter this has been for Michael Cherry. The standard 300 and 500 distances in Virginia seem taylor-made for his long sprint strengths. The 33.05 USR the Oscar Smith (Chesapeake) set at the AAA state meet – on a flat track and after a hard 500 a few hours earlier – is probably the best indoor boys performance of the year and topped the 27-year-old standard of the legendary William Reed. A few weeks earlier, he ripped a 1:02.61 in the longer race to move to #4 all-time.
So 400 should the perfect distance for him and it’s hard to imagine anyone will be close to him there this weekend. He ran 46.88 last year for third behind now-graduated Aldrich Bailey and Najee Glass and it’s easy to imagine he could be a half-second or more better than that. National record? It’s possible, though the 45.92 USR was set at altitude. The 200 is a different story. Cherry has a 21.47 outdoor best and others in the field are faster. The best indoor mark by anyone this year is 21.38 by New Yorker Laray Smith, but outdoors last year Florida star Kendal Williams (21.62 on a flat track last month) has run 20.89. Cherry has clearly improved since last outdoor season, but whether he can go 21.20 or better – which it will probably take to win – is another story.
Can Malone return to form in the 800?
There were so many electric moments at last year’s NBNI, but one of those that had that real “WOW!” factor was Ben Malone’s stunning 1:49.94 in the 800, good for #2 all-time. That race had a great field and you knew Malone, Zavon Watkins and others were going to run fast. But no one really expected sub-1:50. Malone had shown flashes of this potential, though, possessing a heady combination of speed and endurance – and had already run 2:23 for 1k earlier in the winter.
Since then, however, the Pascack (Hillsdale, N.J.) senior hasn’t been able to return to that form, struggling with nagging injury and other factors. His best outdoors was 1:50.70, for fourth at NBNO, and he was third in the Penn Relays mile and 11th in the adidas Dream Mile. Cross-country last fall was similarly choppy and then indoors this winte been good – such as when he won the Armory Collegiate 1k again in 2:25.82 and the Millrose mile in 4:12.63 – but just not that Superman level of late winter, 2012. This weekend, Malone will be tested severely in his attempt to defend, with four from his own state at 1:52 or better and US#1 Tre’Tez Kinnaird – a 1:49 performer outdoors, with a best of 1:50.97 this winter. Perhaps the competition will make him rise to the top again.
Can CBA bounce back in the longest relays?
Sometimes, just when you forget about an athlete or a team, they rise up again and remind you how good they are. Remember the scenario for the distance runners of Christian Brothers Academy in 2012? They were coming off their NXN victory in fall 2011 and had just won a Powerade FAB 50 national champion award for that the week of NBNI. They were going for golds and records in New York, starting with the 4x1 Mile. But they were an out-of-it fourth in that event, beset with a few under-the-radar issues, and wound up passing on the rest of the weekend.
CBA would suffer another heartbreaking loss at the Penn DMR, but would triumph impressively in the NBNI 4x800. Then last fall, the Brothers had a fantastic season through their Meet of Champs, labored through a too-close-for-comfort win at NXN NE, then finished a disheartening fourth in their attempt to repeat as NXN champs. That brings us to now, which finds them with a US#3 10:15.5h best (Varsity Classic win) in the DMR and a US#4 7:49.23 in the 4x8 – good, but for the most part, CBA has been out of the national headlines this winter. They go for the DMR and the 4x1 Mile. In both cases, they won’t be the favorite or have the fastest anchor. But maybe that famous CBA depth will rise up and get them to the podium again.
Brazil vs. Canadians (and himself) in the 60
Loranger (La.) standout Jeryl Brazil came into the 2012 NBNI 60 with a season’s best of US#1 6.25 in the 55, the best of anyone entered and strong enough relative to the entrants with 60-meter marks coming in that he was at least a co-favorite. In the prelims, he backed up that claim with a 6.76 that was the fastest by a big .11 and got the crowd buzzing. But in his semi, he false-started and, after running under protest, failed to advance with the DQ. Tevin Hester would get the win in 6.72, but Brazil had to have felt he was capable of at least the same. He would go on that spring to win 100s in his 3A state meet and the Mobile Challenge of Champions.
This winter, the LSU signee has again looked like a potential national champion, clocking a 6.27 best while being pushed by Chris Lewis in-state. The top dogs from the Brooks PR Invite 60 are not entered, unfortunately, but in Brazil’s quest for redemption the toughest competition could come from a pair of Canadians: Bolade Ajomale was seventh in the NBNI 60 last year and now has a best of 6.78. Also from Ontario and with the same lifetime best is Andre Ford-Azonwanna. If Brazil can take it down to at least 6.7-low, however, he should claim the title that eluded him last year.
Another war of 17-foot pole vaulters
One thing that always produces an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation at NBNI is the boys’ pole vault in the waning hours of Saturday afternoon and evening. There were times in the past when the event even extended beyond the day’s running as the bar climbed to 17 feet and beyond; that may be part of the reason why now it’s slated more than four hours before the final running event. Still, any time you have 17-footers in the prep arena, there’s excitement.
Last year, three vaulters entered with bests above 17-6 – two of those coming before the first weekend in February – generating season-long hope for a national record. While the record didn’t materialize, and the top entrants’ creds aren’t quite as lofty this year, we still have 17-footers. One is Harmony (Big Sandy, Texas) senior Daven Murphree, who was third here last year and has gotten over 17-1 indoors and 17-2 already outdoors. The other is Sumner (Kentwood, La.) junior Devin King, who reached a monster PR of 17-1 at his indoor state meet a few weeks ago. Cross your fingers for them both to be alive when that bar gets over the aforementioned barrier and feel that magic in the air.
Super battle, 80-foot quest in weight throw
Serious fans at The Armory have been trained to make sure they make it to the far end of the facility when the weight throwers are competing, lest they miss a national record. In the past several years fans have been treated to national record after national record by Walter Henning, Conor McCullough and, on the girls’ side, Shelby Ashe. You’d be stretching it this year to say anyone in the boys’ field has national record potential. But you can say this: The 2013 boys weight should be very competitive.
Now, there is a defending champion and favorite with great weight (and hammer) credentials. Averill Park (N.Y.) senior Rudy Winkler has a PR of 80-11.75, #8 on the all-time list, and even better hammer stats. But while he is again the national leader this winter, he has only had one major meet – a 79-6.75 winner at Armory Collegiate. Strongly pressing him Saturday should be North Paulding (Dallas, Ga.) senior Josh Whitener, who has victories indoors at Simplot and Clemson, and outdoors has gone 79-2.75. And from Rhode Island, if you want to identify a big three, there’s Barrington senior Charles Ionata – who threw just 62 here last year, but is now up to 78-8.75. So this year, don’t go over to the weight cage for the records, go for the battle.
Can Union Catholic get the 4x55 SHR national record?
With all due respect to the boys of NBNI 2013, it looks like most of the current national record holders for this gender are going to be safe from takeover this weekend. There’s a few athletes – maybe Ed Cheserek, Michael Cherry – who have a shot, or maybe someone who could pull a real surprise. But if there’s one pretty decent bet, it would be the hurdles of Union Catholic (Scotch Plains) in New Jersey. NBNI lists the record as 29.45 (Jack Shepard’s HST does not list it) and UC has gone 29.84 this season at the state relays. Individually, they have good creds (and great names): Junior Obafemi Animashaun is US#10 at 7.42 and senior Zach Ghizzone is just off the top 20 at 7.51 – but is also the Meet of Champs winner. Christoffe Scott has gone 7.60 and Tyrell Gibbs 7.85. If they run clean races, they’ll be unbeatable and give the meet a boys’ USR.