The George Mason University high school track and field invitational to be run Saturday at the Patriot Center will have a new look this year.
Many of the leaders from the meet trials in early December didn't compete last year and most of the returning participants never finished high enough to be considered a threat.
Gone are the names that gave high school track in the Washington area national recognition such as sprinter Kellie Roberts of Central and Langley's middle distance running star Erin Keogh. But the absence of any dominating star should make for an interesting meet, reflected in that no athlete is the top seed in more than one event. Very few are seeded among the top three in more than one event.
There will also more teams representing a broad area, including participants from Annapolis, Baltimore, Wantaugh, N.Y., and Philadelphia.
"That's good that it is getting to be more a regional type meet," said meet director Joe Showers, George Mason's track coach. "There is a pretty good cross section with 100 affiliations with at least one runner who qualified for the finals."
This year's times in the trials were slower than in recent years, "especially in the shorter races," said Showers. "At the top, there are a couple of good people, then it falls off real quickly. But it's unfair to make a judgment on the trials times. Some of these kids had only been going for a week or so and by the finals, they will have been at it three more weeks. A lot of maturing goes on at the high school level in that amount of time.
"It will be a lot different at the finals because they will get to use spikes, blocks and there won't be so many flights. It goes from being a complete circus to more reasonable numbers."
The boys high jump is one event that will benefit from increased numbers. Only six boys jumped in the finals last year, but this year, 14 have qualified, including Gerard Williams of Friendly.
Williams cleared 6 feet 8 to lead the trials. Lake Braddock's Allen Johnson and Old Mill's Chris Bowser both qualified at 6-6. Bowser is also the second seed in the triple jump at 44 feet 7 inches. The top seed is Mount Vernon's James Colbert at 44-7.
Showers said there's a good chance the meet record in the high jump (6-8 3/4) will fall.
The boys 300- and 500-meter runs also will be a forum for exciting competition.
Suitland senior Thomas Bowman, coming off a junior season reduced to repeated comebacks from a recurring hamstring injury, is healthy and seeded at the top of the boys 300 in 35.1 seconds. A tenth of a second behind him is Jefferson-Huguenot-Wythe's Shawn Vass. H.D. Woodson's James Worthen trails by just six tenths.
In the 500, Vass and Bowman trade places, separated by a half a second, Vass leading at 1:06.2. Seeded third is Denbigh's Tony Vinson at 1:07.2, four tenths ahead of Forestville's Maurice Small.
"We don't look back on the injury too much, but we're glad he's healthy, and hopefully, is a lot wiser," said Suitland Coach Fletcher James said of Bowman. "And he is not taking anything for granted."
As a sophomore, Bowman ran a 1:04.9 in the Mason finals. "It'll probably go to mid to low 1:04 to win with that competition," said James. "That is very good. We should see a good race."
Derrick Love of Meade is a newcomer to track, but he has quickly demonstrated speed, not experience, is what counts in the sprints.
He was the fastest qualifier in the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.3, ahead of Oakton's Moe Duckett and Spingarn's Antonio Jackson (both at 6.4).
"He's raw, but fast," said Meade Coach Jay Cuspert of Love. "I can't even tell you what his strengths are, but he has just one speed and that's fast. The 6.3 was a pleasant surprise."
Another event that promises good competition is the girls 300, with Stonewall Jackson's Glenna Hosby (41.9) and Caroline McCormick of Lake Braddock and Camille Phillips of Largo separated by a tenth of a second.
Central's Indira Hamilton moved up from the 300, where she finished second last year, to the 500 this year. She led the qualifiers with a 1:18.1.
"We've already separated the wheat from the chaff," said Showers. "Now we'll see."