Last year, Jenny Howard came within one second of winning three state track titles, so this year the Fallston senior was more determined than ever to bring home three gold medals.
The Cougars' senior knew the first two races wouldn't be too difficult. Howard led the wholeway to win the 3,200 meters and the 1,600 meters at last weekend's 44th Annual Maryland State Track and Field Championships at Western Maryland College.
In last Friday's opening day of Class 2A competition, Howard ran away with her third straight 3,200-meter title with a time of 10:57.78 -- 28 seconds ahead of her closest competition. It was the fifth-fastest time ever for a girl at the state meet. It was also 24 seconds faster than Howard ran a year ago.
Saturday, Howard won her second1,600-meter gold in 5:10.32, this time by a nearly six-second margin. Then came her greatest challenge -- the 800-meter run, the last race of her high school career.
Last year, in her first season of competition at 800 meters, Howard finished one second behind Michelle Edwards of Central High in Prince George's County. This time, Edwards again bolted to a quick lead and Howard appeared to be in trouble early, hemmed in by a crowd. But she soon broke free.
On the first straightaway of the final lap, Howard steamed past Edwards and never lost the lead. Edwards faded to fifth, and Howard beat Middletown's Gretchen Walz by more than two seconds. Howard's 2 minutes, 20.57 secondswas her best finish.
"Jenny really wanted to win that one," said Fallston coach Gary Trott. "She thought she was boxed in at the beginning, but she came out strong under strong competition. It was a lot better for her than the other two races, because she had some competition. In the other two, she had to go run against the clock."
Howard wasn't too happy with her times in the 3,200 and the 1,600. She had hoped to break the state record (10:30.6) for the 3,200, but 90-degree heat and the lack of competition conspired against her. Still, winning the 800 just about made up for it.
"I don't think people really think of me as an 800-meter runner," said Howard, who holds county records at 3,200 and 1,600 meters. "It was more of a challenge justbecause I've never won it before. I was really happy to win because it was the last two laps I was ever going to run here."
With her victory in the 800 meters, Howard became only the third girl in state-meet history to win the "distance" triple. She was the only athlete to do it this year.
Dulaney's Mandy White (Class 4A), Catonsville'sAlexandra Clark (Class 3A), Centennial's Pat Rodrigues (boys Class 3A) and Brunswick's Lora Price (Class 1A) all won at 3,200 and 1,600 meters, but failed to win the 800.
Howard, who Trott calls the bestgirl he has ever coached, scored all of Fallston's 30 points for sixth place in the Class 2A team competition. Central topped the list of24 teams with 109 points.
Headed for the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the fall,Howard retires from high school competition with nine state titles -- three in cross country and six in outdoor track.
Joppatowne's Thori Staples joined Howard as a triple goldmedalist. Only two other athletes earned three individual gold medals at last weekend's championships.
Staples had also come close to winning three golds in 1990 before settling for two titles in Class 1A. Last year, the Mariners' junior missed the long jump gold by four inches.
This year, she won it by three and a half.
Along with her victory in the long jump (17' 3"), Staples won the 800 meters (2:24.3) and the 400 meters (58.46). She also joined teammates Alison White, Amy Knepp and Dionna Bishop for a fourth-place finish in the two-mile relay.
Staples scored 30 points on her own and the relay teamadded four more to give the Mariners' girls seventh place out of 19 teams in Class 1A. Baltimore County's Milford Mill won the title with66 points.
If Havre de Grace's Kenny Ringgold works on getting a quicker start, he just might win a state title before he graduates.
The Warriors' junior took second in the 100-meter -- (11.52) and fourth in the 400 meters (23.55). He had beaten 100-meter winner Kevin Cannon, of Snow Hill, in the regional meet, but Cannon edged Ringgold by 1 1-10 of a second for the state title.
"Coach said if I had a better start, he wouldn't be able to come near me," said Ringgold, who joined John Hawkins, Rick McGriff and Tyrone Lewis for sixth place in the 800-meter relay. "I'll work this summer on getting out of the blocks quicker."
The Warriors' also picked up fourth in the 400-meter relay. Their 17 points ranked them 12th among the 22 Class 1A boys teams. Francis Scott Key, of Carroll County, won with 83 points.
Also in Class 1A, Joppatowne's boys team finished eighth largely on the strength of its relay teams.