Annapolis junior Jonathan Julian got a little nervous as he watched senior teammate Davon Watkins fly over hurdles in the school hallway at a recent indoor track practice. If Watkins or anyone else on the boys' team gets injured, the Panthers' chances at repeating as county, region and state champions are slim. Their top five athletes are needed in four of the toughest events.
"I really feel for the guys," Julian said. "I appreciate they do four events, work hard at it and they always pull through. A lot of people are committed, but the experience and talent aren't there now."
At a recent nonconference meet, Annapolis senior DeMario Harris competed in the long jump, triple jump and high jump. He is the school's top jumper, and also runs the 55-meter dash and "maybe the [4x200 relay]." With Annapolis, Meade, Southern and Old Mill attempting to score points in all 13 events, meets will be won and lost in the weaker field and distance events because each of the top schools can score points in the sprints and middle-distance races.
"A lot of boys go out for basketball and a lot aren't into track," said Annapolis junior Derrick Wallace, who runs the 55 and 300 meters and 4x200 and 4x400 relays. "We have our same seven people who work hard and do four events. The main thing that wears us down is depth."
Still, the Panthers have talent and speed. Annapolis finished first, ahead of Southern, at the first two meets, but the Bulldogs enter the season confident after a successful spring in which they tied Old Mill for the county championship and won the Class 2A region and state titles. Southern is led by Andrew Peresta in the 500 meters and the hurdles, junior A.J. Lee in the 55-meter dash and seniors Chris Lee and Kyle McKnett in the 300-meter dash.
Old Mill junior Anthony Littlejohn is expected to give the Patriots points in the 800-meter dash, an event few teams are strong in, and juniors Darnell Dixon and Matt Taby are capable of running distances from 200 to 800 meters.
"They exceeded my expectations in their first meet, but they still finished third," Old Mill Coach Janet Liimatta said. "They're going to have to be on their A game, they can't slack off. A lot of them came in running the first meet of the season [how] they ended last year, so it's good they didn't really regress."
One advantage Annapolis has is sophomore distance runner Will Eden, who won this year's county cross-country championship and the indoor county two-mile title last year. Eden, along with Julian, could give the Panthers the extra push, but Southern senior Tim McCullogh is also strong in the mile and Broadneck and Severna Park are known for their distance squads. The Falcons also will take some points away from the front-runners in the pole vault, as senior Brian Grubel is the two-time defending champ at 13 feet 3 inches.
"It's hard because we did lose [all-county graduates Mike Brown and Kareem Reed]," Eden said. "That's going to be tough to make up for, but the guys we have on the team are the ones who will do well at states and can score at that level. We just don't have the depth in the smaller meets."
Annapolis defeated Meade, 111-66, last year, but the Mustangs have the potential to play the role of spoiler. Senior John Young is aware his teammates are relying on him to score a lot of their points, and the top sprinters in the county know he's the runner to beat in the 300 and 500 meters. He was county champion in both events last season.
"It's pressure, but I try to use it to my advantage," Young said. "In a way it makes me nervous but I turn that nervousness into energy. I'm happy my name is out there but I'm glad I don't hear it so it doesn't pump my head up and I don't get overconfident about it and slack off. I say to myself that people are trying to get me, but I have to make sure they don't and keep them at a distance.
"We've got a really strong team," he added. "This year we're going to show Anne Arundel County and [Prince George's] County that Meade is something to worry about. Just because we don't have a lot of field events, that's not going to keep us from getting the points we need."
The Chesapeake boys have one of the county's top sprinters in senior Nick Bowen and possibly their deepest team in years. Senior Lenny Hall, who quit basketball, is also a top sprinter, and senior Steve Shanken placed fourth in the county in the shot put last season. Junior Brandon Davis and senior Josh Lightfoot give the Cougars depth in the distance events, but the boys have yet to prove themselves among the county's elite.
The girls' race is closer, with Broadneck capable of defending its county title and Chesapeake again close behind. Led by All-Met junior Lauren Centrowitz, the Bruins defeated Chesapeake by three points last year. But the Cougars have the talent to dethrone Broadneck. Seniors Jacquie Redmond, Erin Broome and Brittany Frye combined for 17 points in the high jump last spring. The Cougars also are counting on sophomore all-county sprinter Nicole Bernaix to stay healthy and place in four events.
"There's a lot of pressure," said Bernaix, who won the county title in the 55-meter dash last season. "My teammates are all like, 'You're going to get first,' and I'm like, 'What if I don't?' I try not to listen."