Vaughan’s 4 HSRs tops year of great storylines for prep girls Track and Field and XC

Published by DyeStat
Jan 1st 2013, 3:08pm | 182182 views

Vaughan’s 4 HSRs tops year of great storylines for prep girls T&F and XC 

By SteveU

To say that the 2012 high school girls’ track and cross country scene offered a little bit of everything and was one of the most exciting and intriguing ever would not be an overstatement.  If you’re a distance fan, it was a particularly stunning year, with championships, records and near-records from the likes of Ajee’ Wilson, Mary Cain, Sarah Baxter, Brianna Nerud and more.  Photo by Donal Pearce/RunnerSpace.comIf you prefer the throws, there were the standard-smashing exploits of Shelbi Vaughan and Haley Crouser.  Sprints, jumps and hurdles?  Not quite as dynamic as some years, but athletes like Gabby Williams, Kendell Williams and Kadecia Baird were among those with stunning performances.

If you like watching superstars seeming to come out of nowhere, the stories of Cayla Hatton and Anna Rohrer were headshakers.  And drama was even generated on the road to NXN when the girls of Fayetteville-Manlius finally appeared vulnerable.  Throw in the fact that it was an Olympic and World Juniors year and, well, the action just never let up.

So here’s one pundit’s view of the Top 15 Storylines of 2012 for girls’ track and cross-country.  It’s fun to put together, because it involves a little bit of apples and oranges, as well as a considerable dose of subjectivity (how could it not?).  But it’s also an attempt to rate the top storylines of the year for the DyeStat community; those that generated the most buzz.  Feel free to let us know if you agree or disagree!

1. Shelbi Vaughan smashes prep discus record four times

What does it take to earn the title of “Top Storyline” in prep girls’ track and XC in 2012?  How about being a volleyball recruit who breaks a national record ... not once, not twice, not even three, but FOUR times?  Legacy (Mansfield, Texas) senior Shelbi Vaughan was on a mission for records and international glory – from the time she flung the discus 191-6 at the March 31 Texas Relays, topping the still-fresh 190-3 by Anna Jelmini in 2009.  That was nearly 15 feet beyond her junior year best.  She improved her record five inches at the Golden West Invitational in June, then in Bloomington (Ind.) at the USATF Juniors not only twice bettered her standard, but shattered US Junior marks and scared 200 feet as well in marking 196-11 and 198-9.  So good was Vaughan that she came within two feet of third place at the U.S. Olympic Trials (195-9).  Finally, she came in to the World Junior champs in Barcelona as one of the top contenders for gold, but “settled” for third with 197-1 – matching her placing from the 2011 World Youth Champs.  Vaughan captured national athlete of the year honors from Gatorade and Track and Field News, but – amazingly – was recruited primarily for volleyball (she’s an all-district talent) by Texas A&M while she was becoming an international discus star.

2. Distance ace Mary Cain agrees to be coached by Alberto Salazar

It isn’t often that a coaching agreement between an athlete and mentor is nearly the year’s top story, but it is when the athlete is Bronxville (N.Y.) junior Mary Cain and the coach is Alberto Salazar.  Cain, whose 2012 soph track season included a 1,500 meter USR (see below), had recorded the fastest overall time at the Manhattan Invitational while winning her division on October 13 – confirming her status as a national championship contender.  A few days later, the partnership was announced.  Naturally, comparisons were drawn with Salazar’s hookup with then-Central Catholic (Ore.) talent Galen Rupp – a partnership which, over a dozen years, yielded high school records, a mostly highly-successful collegiate career and, finally, an Olympic 10,000-meter silver medal this past August.  In her first major race under Salazar, Cain was a strong second in the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) Final behind Sarah Baxter.

3. Ajee’ Wilson captures World Junior 800 title

It’s impressive enough for an American prep to capture a World Youth girls’ 800 title.  It’s nothing short of astonishing to follow that up the next year by capturing a World Junior crown in the same event.  But that’s exactly what Neptune (N.J.) senior Ajee’ Wilson did in 2012.  Since the World Youths were added to the IAAF calendar in 1999, only Natasha Hastings among U.S. high schoolers has pulled off such a double in back-to-back years.  In doing so, Wilson became prep history’s second-fastest over two laps, trailing only Kim Gallagher (2:00.07 in 1982).  Throughout the winter and spring, Wilson largely eschewed prep competition to compete against the elites.  While she reached a high point with a fourth at the Millrose Games with the #2 all-time mark, those engagements were often less than successful (including eighth in the semis at the Trials) and sometimes drew criticism.  But no one can argue that Wilson wasn’t absolutely prepared for everything in Barcelona as a perfect strategic race netted the gold.  Wilson had signed with Florida State, but will wait to go to school while she makes a bid for the 2013 World Champs (Seniors).

4. Mary Cain throttles Jordan Hasay’s 1,500 record

Given the months that passed between her landmark performance at World Juniors and her notable coaching transition to Alberto Salazar, Mary Cain’s 4:11.01 1,500 gets separate treatment here.  Cain’s 2012 campaign had been pretty killer even before she represented Team USA in Barcelona.  She had already broken 4:20 four times, including her 4:14.74 victory at USATF Juniors (#2 all-time, just 0.24 off Jordan Hasay’s USR), and won the Penn Relays mile with a devastating kick in 4:39.28.  After nearly topping her PR with a 4:14.77 prelim, there was no question Cain had a great chance in the final to break Hasay’s mark, but the question was how she would race against the crazy level of international talent.  The answer was “pretty darn well.”  Pacing neither too fast nor too slow, Cain positioned herself to run a big PR, but her final time in sixth – three and a half seconds beyond the Hasay mark – made jaws drop for prep distance fans everywhere.

5. Sarah Baxter resets legendary CRs, repeats at NXN

Few who saw Simi Valley (Calif.) junior Sarah Baxter rip through the storied Mt. SAC layout on a sunny October morning –
whether in person or online – will ever forget the thrill as she hit blazing splits for each mile and motored toward the finish with a chance to break 16:00.  She would hit that mark exactly, as it turned out, lighting up the prep distance universe by lowering the 2001 by the legendary Amber Trotter (16:16) with what some called the greatest performance ever by a schoolgirl over hill and dale.  Certainly Baxter had confirmed she was on track for a second national title and her state meet victory – a 16:39.7 that lowered Julia Stamps’ 16:43 at famed Woodward Park from 1996 – was nearly as impressive.  At the NXN Finals in Portland, Baxter had to face swampy conditions that slowed times by nearly two minutes, as well as über-talented 1,500-meter USR-setter Mary Cain, but prevailed by four seconds to wrap up an unbeaten season.

6. Anna Rohrer comes from nowhere to win Foot Locker title

If at the beginning of August you’d told Anna Rohrer and her coach that in December they’d be celebrating a national championship, you probably would have been regarded as someone coming from an alternate universe.  The Mishawaka (Ind.) soph had never broken 19:00 for 5k coming into 2012.  But a summer of training and form correction revealed an immense talent that started in the mid/high-17s and eventually raced her way to a Hoosier state record and title and a course record victory at Foot Locker Midwest.  In San Diego, Rohrer overcame an early tumble and ran away in the third mile for a 17:25 victory.  Side note: Rohrer paced the Midwest girls to their fifth straight Foot Locker team title despite the absence (injury or illness) of established stars Erin Finn, Julia Bos and Ashley Erba.

7. F-M girls lose at Easterns, then rout field at NXN

It had been six long years since their last major defeat, but in the 2012 Eastern States race at the Oct. 13 Manhattan Invitational, the girls of Fayetteville-Manlius (Manlius, N.Y.) at the finish were looking to Tatnall (Wilmington, Del.) – the third place team at 2011’s NXN Finals while F-M was capturing title #6.  Of course, it had to be acknowledged that F-M (in their 2012 season debut, as it was) was missing their #1 girl, senior Jillian Fanning.  But even if the defending champ had run, the Hornets did not compete like their typically dominant selves.  F-M then looked solid enough in winning state and NXN NE, but fans wondered if someone could rise up in Portland and halt the dynasty, especially if Fanning did not provide a strong #1.  As it turned out, Stotan supporters needn’t have worried.  There was only one team with a mindset that nothing less than a victory would do – Coach Bill Aris wouldn’t have it any other way – and that mindset showed in the final results.  Instead of beating beaten or challenged, F-M forged a ridiculous winning margin by netting 54 points to Southlake Carroll’s 198.  Eight in a row, anyone?

8. Gabby Williams leads superlative Olympic Trials for preps

U.S. high schoolers, as a group, had a super showing at the 2012 Olympic Trials.  Nine preps lined up on the track or in the field against the nation’s best collegians, pros and aspiring Olympians – and none of them failed to show they belonged.  Five of the preps made the finals and finished in the top eight, surely one of the best mass showings in Trials history.  But while established stars like Shelbi Vaughan and Haley Crouser expected to reach that level – they had such goals even before the season began – the one who really made Hayward erupt was 15-year-old, Reed (Sparks, Nev.) soph Gabby Williams – a young basketball star (Nevada’s player of the year) whose hops were serious enough that she was guided into the high jump as a secondary sport.  After a sterling 5-10 in summer of 2011, she kept improving and won state at 6-1.5 – but still didn’t realize she could compete in the Trials.  She eventually made her way to Eugene and her fifth-place finish with a soph US record 6-2.25 left Williams literally shaking with joy.

9. Erin Finn smashes indoor 5,000 USR

One thing about running the 5,000 at the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation’s New Balance indoor or outdoor nationals: If you’re out there really on a mission, maybe chasing a record, you nearly have the three-day meet’s first night to yourself.  Indoors, the 5,000 highlights Friday and runners like Lukas Verzbicas have owned center stage in previous years.  In 2012, it was Erin Finn – the West Bloomfield (Mich.) then-junior who had placed second at Foot Locker a few months earlier.  On this March night, she owned The Armory in the Big Apple, screaming through a 5:07 first 1,600 that ensured that – barring complete collapse – she would take down Waverly Neer’s year-old standard.  A long succession of 39-second laps kept Finn well ahead of record pass and, sure enough, she destroyed the old mark with 16:19.69.  It was the best moment of an up-and-down calendar year for the Michigan signee, who missed making it to San Diego again as a senior. 

10. Ubiquitous Kendell Williams ascends to new heptathlon record

For most who’ve watched this Kell (Marietta, Ga.) prodigy high jump, long jump and hurdle and pretty much do everything on her way to outstanding performances all over the country (and world) the past few years, it has seemed inevitable that Kendell Williams would eventually hold the prep heptathon record before she moved on to the next level.  Well, the record came with a year to spare for the junior.  Thanks to increased sharpness and consistency in her strong events – and noteworthy improvement in her weaker events (throws) – Williams was ready for a USR against the planet’s best juniors in Barcelona.  Typically strong 100H (13.74), HJ (51-11.25), and LJ (20-0.5w) marks combined with PRs of 100-0 in the jav and 2:26.60 in the 800.  The result was a 5,578 total, good for eighth place and 45 points better than Shana Woods’ 2007 standard.

11. Haley Crouser’s big year includes joining family record book

Talk about a record coming early: This Gresham (Ore.) junior wasted little time becoming the third Crouser to adorn the prep record books in 2012, hitting a monster 181-2 at the Aloha Relays April 13.  With that throw, she joined brother Sam (boys’ javelin record) and cousin Ryan (boys discus and indoor shot records) as all-timers from the “First Family of Throwing.”  The season wasn’t all glory for Haley; she wasn’t able to improve on that standard the rest of the year and had to settle for 11th at the World Juniors after a fourth in the 2011 World Youth meet.  But in June, she was among those preps sparkling at Hayward Field, taking seventh with 179-8 – her second best throw of the year.

12. Cayla Hatton blazes long distances “out of nowhere”

Before Anna Rohrer’s “where did she come from” cross country campaign, there was the revelation of astonishing distance talent in the person of Cayla Hatton, now at Stanford.  Competing either for tiny, independent Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., or running independently, Hatton had some decent under-the-radar performances in middle- and early high school years, but had also put a lot of effort into developing her swimming and soccer talent, and then had injuries wipe out most of her junior year.  So when it all began in February, no one outside of New England hardcores had ever heard of her.  After a surprising 4:51.37 mile at New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (second), she was 13th against seniors at USATF XC, then really opened eyes with the best performance in the rarely-run (by preps) 10,000 with a 33:17.28 in a mixed race at Tufts U. - #2 all-time.  More stellar races followed, at 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000, as Hatton made the World Junior team in June.  In Barcelona, she again had a near-record run, hitting #2 all-time with her 15:50.32 in fourth.

13. Not one, but two records for Brianna Nerud at World Juniors

The Team USA female distance performances at the World Juniors were almost universally outstanding.  Those by Ajee’ Wilson, Mary Cain and Cayla Hatton have been noted above.  But it was then-North Shore (Glen Head, N.Y.) senior Brianna Nerud who got the ball rolling.  On the first day – the first morning – she finished fourth in her prelim with a 10:08.15 US record.  Nerud had been chasing the Marie Lawrence’s 2006 standard all years and finally topped it by seven seconds.  But she was just getting warmed up.  Two days later, Nerud did it again, this time lowering the record to 10:00.72 – good for fifth.  It would be hard to argue against the Syracuse signee as the best overall prep girls’ steepler ever, when you figure in that she’s also US#2 all-time with her 6:29.56 at the 2011 World Youth champs (seventh).  She came close to that in 2012 with a 6:30.73 US#1 mark.

14. N.Y. prep Kadecia Baird lights it up for Team Guyana at WJs

If you were a high school track fan following Team USA at the World Juniors, there was plenty to cheer about – whether it was the many medalists of all colors or the great, near-record or record-setting non-medal performances.  But one rule of thumb for tracking an IAAF Youth or Junior champs is to always keep your eye out for U.S. preps competing under other flags.  Hence, it was a thrill to see Medgar Evers (Brooklyn, N.Y.) junior Kadecia Baird out there for her home nation of Guyana, moving through the rounds then dropping a monster 51.04 in the final for the silver medal behind U.S. collegian Ashley Spencer (Illinois).  That was more than a second faster than Baird’s winning time at NBNO in June.  She also was US#1 at 300 meters indoors.

15. “Doing the right thing” gets massive attention

Unfortunately, it says a lot about our sport’s place in the mainstream media that probably the “biggest story” of the 2012 high school track season – outside of our community, so to speak – wasn’t a fantastic US record, or national or international title.  Instead, the most publicity for our sport came when West Liberty-Salem (West Liberty, Ohio) junior Meghan Vogel helped a fallen runner (Arlington soph Arden McMath) across the finish of the 3,200 at the Ohio D-III state meet in Columbus.  Vogel, who had won the 1,600 earlier in the day (4:58.31), was struggling in the 3,200, but when McMath collapsed in front of her on the final straight, she gathered her up and helped her through, keeping McMath ahead of her.  Media from Ohio and the rest of the country soon pounced on the story, lauding Vogel’s selfless act.  Vogel said she didn’t consider herself a hero, just a runner doing the right thing. “Any girl on the track would have done the same for me,” she said.

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