Brooks PR Invitational In Depth

Donovan Robertson leans in the 60 Hurdles)

They ran faster than collegians had on Saturday.   The second annual Brooks PR Invitational brought many of the finest prep runners in the nation to Seattle with the expressed goal of setting personal records and the Sunday races witnessed a goodly number but the amazing thing is that a few of the high school runners ran faster than their collegiate elders had the previous day on the very same Dempsey Indoor facility.  Beating your peers is one thing but bettering your elders is another and three Brooks PR runners accomplished that feat.   The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation held its collegiate meet on Friday and Saturday and the teams included such college powerhouses as Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Colorado, BYU & Arizona, but the winner of three of the MPSF races had winning times that were not as good as the preps ran on Sunday.   For example the 60 Meter Dash was won in a time of 7.44 on Saturday yet Shayla Sanders won that event at Brooks in 7.21.  The field in the event was so strong that Jennifer Madu  & Myasia Jacobs were left to place second & third respectively in the high school race, although their marks of 7.36 & 7.40 would have won the previous day.  Not only that but fourth place finisher Kali Davis-White ran 7.44.  That was one strong field of prep runners.   Marybeth Sant of Colorado, who had placed first last weekend at Simplot was fifth in the section with ‘only’ 7.48.   The second section saw Gabrielle Gray (7.46) & Hannah Cunliffe (7.48) also zip down the straight and they are but a junior & a sophomore.   

     The girls running in the 60 meter Hurdles were also able to best their elders as Dior Hall ran 8.28.  Dior, who ran a great time at Simplot in the prelims only to have problems in the finals, found the Dempsey track to her liking, as did Lateisha Philson (8.36) & Kendell Williams (8.39).   Fourth in the section was Skylar Ross-Ransom, who ran 8.50 and also had a mark, which would have beaten Saturday’s collegiate best of 8.57.  

     As outstanding as those efforts were Courtney Okolo topped even them with her blistering mark of 53.21 in the women’s 400 Meter Dash.   Yes she easily bettered her collegiate counterpart, who ran 54.89 but Courtney established a new Dempsey facility record, which includes even professional runners.    Precious Holmes ran 53.53 and Sage Watson of Canada (54.05) also bettered the collegiate time from Saturday, while Felicia Brown (53.53) & Ariah Graham (54.72) went 1 -2 in the second heat.

      While the guys did not top their collegiate counterparts they gave good account of themselves as well.  Najee Glass of New Jersey set a Dempsey Record with his time of 46.06, which naturally was a Brooks PR record.   Aldrich Bailey was literally right behind Glass with his clocking of 46.07, while Ayrian Evans was third with 47.86.    Orlando’s Levonte Whitfield of Orland edged Tatum Taylor of the Seattle Speed in the 60 Meters, as both were credited with 6.71.  Leshon Collins ran 6.74 yet was third, while Kendal Williams came in with 6.81.

      Prior to the race we realized we had a certain rooting interest on Donovan Robertson of Berea, Ohio, who had spent part of his life in Euclid, Ohio, where I had taught and coached for years.   Donovan made his hurdles event even more memorable by zipping home in 7.57:   a mark, which establishes a new High School record plus a Dempsey facility record & Brooks PR record.  Dondre Echols ran 7.79 & Devon Allen was timed in 7.80, which were good for second & third, while Jonathan Jones also was given 7.80 for fourth.

      The girls’ Two Mile was actually the first final race of the day and saw Wesley Frazier of North Carolina take the early lead followed by Shanouh Souza.   That race had already lost one of its stars incidentally, because Anna Maxwell of California had to scratch due to illness.  Still it was a formidable field, which saw Frazier tow the field through a first 400 in 77.  It was shortly after that point, however, that Erin Finn of Michigan moved up and Erin then took over and pushed the pace.   The move was reminiscent of Erin’s Foot Locker race of December, which saw her challenge all comers to stay with her.   Another lap of the track saw Finn followed by Frazier plus Haley Pierce, as Foot Locker champion Molly Seidel of Wisconsin move into contention.  

     Finn continued to lead through the 800 in 2:33 and her pace achieved the goal of thinning the contenders, for the lead pack, which was now made up of six runners including Katie Knight of Spokane and Samantha Nightengale (?) of Missouri.  They soon separated themselves from the rest of the field.   A 400M of 78 witnessed Finn lead the way with 3:51 but there was little change in the pack, although Taylor Manett of Michigan & Emma Abrahamson of California closed a bit on the lead pack.  Abrahamson had placed tenth in the Junior National XC race two weeks ago in St. Louis, so her move was considered of note at the time.     Finn is an efficient pacemaker, although that was not her real goal, as she clocked yet another 78 to lead the field at the mile in 5:10 but she then began a surge, which led to a 76 quarter and a 2K time of 6:27.   The lead pack now was cut to just five runners, as Samantha Nightengale fell off the pace. 

     There were only three contenders after a quarter of 78 (6:27 elapsed) and they were Finn, Pierce & Seidel.     The gallant Finn had led for most of the race but Molly Seidel made a move, which was cover by Pierce.   Molly had just completed her ski season recently so it was a question, if she would have enough to stay with Haley Pierce, who now was intent on winning but at the end it was the Foot Locker champion, who eased away down the stretch to win with a time of 10:13.45, which gave her little more than a second margin over Pierce.   The gallant Finn finished alone in a fine 10:18 & Wesley Frazier took fourth.  Brianna Nerud placed fifth in 10:21 - four seconds ahead of Washington 3A champion & record-holder Katie Knight.   Taylor Manett finished 7th and Chandler Olson of Washington, who was only notified on Wednesday that she would participate, earned eighth.

     Texan Daniel Vertiz took out the pace in the two mile for guys and Conner Rog of Ct. followed him.  The field was tightly packed in the early going forcing Anthony Armstrong of Washington very wide on the outside along with tony Smoragiewicz of South Dakota.   There was no change through 800 Meters with Rog & Nowak still at the head of the pack, Smoragiewicz close behind but Andrew Gardner of Spokane held fifth.  Craig Engels and Anthony Armstrong ran just off Garner’s shoulder along with Luis Luna of California.   Vertiz led through in a 67 quarter to take the field through 1200 Meters with Jake Leingang, a junior from North Dakota moving into contention and an additional 400M did little to change the complexion of the race.   A quarter in 68 seconds saw Thomas Graham of North Carolina move up to challenge making it a bit like a Foot Locker reunion with Vertiz, Leingang, Smoragiewicz & Graham all running essentially together.    Gardner remained in fifth but Armstrong, having one of those days, began to fade at the time.  

     Graham soon took the lead and Vertiz, who had not originally planned to be the leader, readily accepted the offer, as they ran a 400M in 65 and then another in 66.   Smoragiewicz was seemingly an ever-present third but Jake Leingang, who had lagged behind for a time quickly bridged the gap between packs to get himself back in contention.   The ensuing laps saw Vertiz boldly move to the front setting a brisk pace, which allowed him to open up a sizable gap over the field.   The race soon seemed to have evolved into a parade to the finish line until Leingang made a belated drive towards the front.   Although he made a huge dent in the almost 15 meter lead of Vertiz, he conceded afterwards that he made his move a bit too late and Vertiz won in a very fine 8:59.15.   Leingang finished with 8:59.66 and Darren Fahy, making a late move of his own, got up for third in 9:01:   a time he happily accepted for this early point in his season.  Jonah Diaz surprised to take fourth ahead of Tony Smoragiewicz, who ‘didn’t have the legs at the end’.   Luis Luna (9:07) placed sixth in front of Kevin Bishop & Thomas Gardner garnered seventh & eighth respectively.    Andrew Gardner ran 9:12 to edge Danny Martinez of California for ninth, while Conner Rog earned eleventh.    Armstrong, who owns a fine 8:33 this season had an off day in 12th & fellow Washingtonian Izaic Yorks, who had a brilliant cross country season also had an off day placing 13th ahead of Engels.  

Tyler Smith wins 800

       The boys’ 800 Meter Run had many fans anticipating the race after Alberta junior Tyler Smith ran a sizzling 1:49 at Simplot but Smith confessed before the race that he did not feel the same as he had in Idaho.  It did not help that the large field went out at a moderate pace and remained bunched.   There was a good deal of pushing & jostling for position, which led to one runner striding into the infield briefly, so probably no one was truly comfortable early.    Quamel Prince was the titular leader at first & Alex Waddell loomed close behind but Smith is not a runner to allow any loitering and he bolted into the lead to commence a long drive to the finish line.   Although his goal had been to clock a 1:48 the early going prevented that, but Smith cruised home to win in a more than respectable 1:51.   Nicholas Boersma of Wenatchee, Washington gave the home crowd something to cheer about with his second place effort of 1:53, as he edged Zavon Watkins, Nick Hartle, Matthew Swanson & Cameron Thornton, who all ran versions of 1:53 and change.  Will Drinkwater of Gig Harbor, Washington finished tenth in 1:56.

Boersma claims  second

      The girls’ 800M saw Simplot winner Jenna Westaway of Calgary take the lead.  Westaway, who placed second at Brooks last year, was trying to improve on her placement but Reagan Anderson stayed with her early.    I believe it was Rachel Paul & Kellie Davis, who held the lead through a 66 quarter but the field was still tightly packed.  It was so bunched that Savannah Comacho appeared to be tripped and then fell to the ground.   Her hard fall effectively took her out of the race but she valiantly got up and willed her way to the finish.   Towards the end of the race it became a duel between Westaway & Foot Locker finalist Cami Chapus with Chapus pulling away down the stretch.  It is rather poetic that Cami’s mother Vickie Cook was a participant in the first three Foot Locker (Kinney at the time) races and now Cami is a participant in the second Brooks Invitational.  They are both pioneers in their own way.   Her winning time of 2:10 gave her a two second margin over Westaway, who held off Kellie Davis for second.   Morgan Dampier from Alaska claimed fourth in 2:13 to edge Kaela Edwards of Colorado.   Reagan Anderson of Delaware placed sixth in 2:14 just ahead of Rachel Paul. 

Meier sisters w/ Amy-Eloise neale

     The last races of the day were the mile races, which were run with the lights dimmed and the edge of the track glowing from its own illumination.   It was a rather cool look, which the runners appreciated and Hannah Meier of Michigan forged ahead from the start.   She was dutifully followed by Amy-Eloise Neale of Glacier Peak High School, which is a bit north of Seattle.   The time at the 400 mark was 67 and it was a bit confusing to follow the leaders, because Maddie Meyers of Seattle was followed by Haley Meier, the sister of Hannah, making it almost an all-Meier sound at the front – save Neale.   It was also interesting, because Meyers is a four-time Washington 1A champion, while Neale, who is only a junior, is already a two-time Washington 3A champion.    An 800 Meter mark of 2:22 made it less confusing, as Hannah and Amy-Eloise extricated themselves from the pack, as they also stretched out the rest of the field.   A little after that point Maddie did not have her usual fluid stride & fell off the pace, as Californian Nikki Hiltz gathered herself to get into contention.    The leaders continue to duel through the 1200 meter mark & Hannah actually looked behind and found Neale still in hot pursuit.   Northwest runners have grown used to Amy-Eloise’s impressive kick and must have felt confident, when Amy went into overdrive, but Hannah answered with a move of her own and actually widened the gap a bit down the stretch to win in a season best time for the nation of 4:43.28.   Neale was close behind in 4:44 and Haley Meier placed third in 4:48, which was just ahead of Carmen Carlos of Alabama, who also ran 4:48.   Foot locker finalist Nikki Hiltz earned fifth in a fine 4:50, which gave her a three second margin over Allison Sturges, who is also from California.   Heather Bates ran 4:54, which was good for seventh and Maddie Meyers had one of those days yet still placed tenth in 4:56.

     Craig Nowak, the Foot Locker Southern Regional champion, took the pace out in 61-2 looking as if he would emulate Meier with a wire-to-wire victory but he was followed by Jacob Burcham of West Virginia.   Marcus Dickson of White River HS in Washington ran controlled in fourth at the time.   With Nowak leading the way through a 2:07 half mile the group up front remained the same but Mike Marsella of Rhode Island moved into contention along with Trevor Gilley of Texas.    There was much movement during the third quarter of the race with Burcham moving into the lead & then being briefly over-taken by Gilley, who yielded after a brief turn at the front.   As Gilley fell off the pace Burcham began to surge and he opened up an immediate gap.  Track is a wonderful sport, which has ebbs and flows for the participants often in the race.  Dickson’s original goal was to stay with the leaders but now he was representing the West side of the state and beginning to believe that he ‘can do this.’   He moved quickly to close the gap but he still had a ways to go to overhaul the leader.   Izaic Yorks was watching the race, as Marcus began to close and listened, when others said he could not close that gap but Izaic simply stated ‘you don’t know Marcus’ and, as if in answer, Dickson got on his proverbial horse and bolted around the turn and down the final stretch.   With ten meters to go there was still an appreciable gap but Dickson was in full flight.   At the line it was certainly close & there was a moment to review the photos but the decision was a clear victory for the Washingtonian.   Brooks sponsored the meet with the purpose of achieving PRs and did Marcus have ever one – by six seconds.   It was a rousing victory, which ought to open a good many doors the rest of the season.

      Jacob Burcham, only a junior, managed his own PR with his 4:07.20 missing first by only two-hundredths of a second and Craig Nowak, despite his early pace, sped home in 4:08.  Brannon Kidder followed with 4:09 and Mike Marsella earned fifth in 4:10.   Cale Wallace of Texas ran 4:12 to nip C J Albertson of California for sixth & Justin Brinkley ran 4:13 for eighth.  Harvard-bound Billy Gaudreau of California ran 4:14 to top Korey Krotzer of Auburn Riverside, who took tenth.   It seemed a fitting end to a glorious weekend and Marcus won for the home team.

      With the avowed purpose of runners achieving new personal records the meet was a rousing success.   Daniel Vertiz put it succinctly, when he referred to the Dempsey Indoor track as “PR Heaven.”  There certainly would be a great deal of agreement by those on hand this weekend but the period was about far more than just running.   It was a celebration of running with athletes from around the nation mixing with those from other regions.   Tyler Smith of Canada came to the finish line to cheer for his friend Marcus but everyone had made new friends this weekend.   Brooks has created something very special, which the runners seemed to all especially appreciate.   Many expressed their thanks for their participation and the hope, that future runners in the years to come can share this gift of sport.   Brooks 

brought many of their sponsored athletes to Seattle to share their experiences with the younger runners and they included Desiree Davila, Amy Hastings, Angela Bizzarri & Ryan Vail to name just a few. 

       It was a full as well as a fun weekend for the runners, who had a tour of the city, had number of dinners and shared their own lounge.   They even gained an understanding of what goes into the making of running shoes and even the theories behind it.   The only hard part was having to leave each other and head home after a dream vacation weekend.   Of course it had to be a difficult thing to pick the winners of the out-standing awards for there were so many good candidates.    There were a number of meet records set but the 400 Meter runners Najee Glass & Shayla Sanders got the nod, although there was obviously much to say in favor of Donovan Robertson and Dior Hall.   Daniel Vertiz & Molly Seidel both set records as did Hannah Meier and what’s not to love about Marcus Dickson’s effort?   A special award is for the person with exhibits a positive attitude and fits the image of the “Run Happy” concept that the Brooks Company advocates.  Last year the popular winner was Erin Finn and this year it was Anna Bouyert of Ohio, who had placed 8th in the 800M in a time of 2:16.   Anna had all sorts of difficulties during her travel, yet it did not limit her smile over the weekend.

Shayla Sanders

      As mentioned this meet is very special and we are very happy to hear that Brooks is committed to continuing the event for a long time.  You only need to view the athlete’s faces to know how they feel about the entire happening in which the runners come first but there is one occurrence that has gone unreported.    Grace Tinkey of Georgia had wanted very much to be invited and even worried, when she did not receive an invitation in the first round.   She was thrilled, when the invitation arrived, but then fractured her leg two weeks ago in the US Junior XC race held in St. Louis.   Grace called to tell Brooks that she would not be able to run but was offered the chance to attend anyway.   So for this past weekend there was a young lady hobbled a bit with crutches but with a bright smile on her face and we can attest she had a grand time.  Her leg may be broken but her spirit is not and we salute the gesture on Brooks’ part.   It was a classy move that deserves a thank you from all friends of running.   Hopefully we have just seen year two of a long and grand track tradition.               

Grace Tinkey