Carroll freshman Randy Lee's national championships in the 400- and 800-meter under-17 events in his native Guyana last year didn't make much of an impression on his new teammates when they met him in August.
"At first, I thought he was a big fish in a little pond in his country," senior Derrick Brinkley said, "but after I saw him run his first meet, I said, 'He's legit.' "
Lee has proven himself in the big pond this season, running one of the nation's top 15 times (48.87 seconds) in the 400. But it is the blazing 47.1-second split he ran in the 4x400 last month that has the Lions (Brinkley, Lee, Michael Taylor and James Washington) eyeing a national title in that event at this weekend's Nike Indoor Championships.
Because the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference does not hold an indoor track championship, Carroll has been looking forward to this weekend more eagerly, and certainly longer, than most teams. Carroll's last big meet was at Penn State on Feb. 22, when most of the teams they face this weekend were gearing up for state or conference championships.
"We didn't get the competition, we weren't pushed, like we would have been around here," first-year Carroll Coach Mark Landry said. "Lee won the 400, but no one was near him, and I think he just coasted, saving it for another race."
They will need to shake any rust by Sunday, when they face Vineland (N.J.), the nation's No. 1 team this season with a banked-track time of 3 minutes 17.15 seconds. Carroll ran a 3:19.89 at the Microtel Invitational on Virginia Tech's banked track.
Brinkley knows teams from the rest of the country will use today's open 400 trials to scout Lee before Sunday's 4x400.
"I think everyone will be looking at him, and once he runs [the 400], they're gonna say, 'Oh, he's coming back on the [400 relay], Carroll must have a nice team,' " said Brinkley, who owns the nation's second-fastest banked track time (1:05.65) this season in the 500. "He's just fueling other people's expectations."
But Landry said the soft-spoken Lee may hold the highest expectations of himself.
"Our seniors, they know it's now or never, but Randy is almost the hungriest," Landry said. "In his mind, he's winning the 400, but I said, 'You're running these times, but you gotta remember there'll be other guys there.' "
Even at 5 feet 9, 135 pounds, Lee often finds the front on the lead leg, the relay's second-most important leg after the anchor.
"He always gives us the lead -- he just runs from the front, and by 200 meters, people get frustrated because they can't pass him," Landry said.
Even if Lee can't give the Lions a cushion, Brinkley's senior savvy and his 48-second split on the anchor is usually enough to give them a shot.
"A lot of guys will run the 400, but they don't have the team behind them to run the relay with," Landry said. "And most teams run their fastest legs at anchor, but we got two strong legs and I use them as bookends."