The most significant aspect of this indoor track and field season is that runners will have a state-of-the-art facility at which to showcase their skills.
Although the all-purpose floor at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore will still play host to some events - the National Guard and seven of the nine regional meets - most competitions this season and for years to come will be held at the new Prince George's County Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.
The 200-meter rubberized track has six lanes. Runners will be allowed to use quarter-inch spikes, and they will be timed automatically by the Finish Lynx scoring system that uses two cameras at the finish line. The facility also has two pole vault and two high jump areas, so boys and girls competitions can be held simultaneously.
"It's going to be awesome," said Oakland Mills coach Sam Singleton. "I've never seen anything like it around here."
Howard County athletes will hold the first track meet in the facility tomorrow. The complex, which will be host to the Pangea meet Dec. 14, is located next to FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
New additions to the schedule this season are challenge meets between Howard and Anne Arundel county schools. Glenelg, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, River Hill and Wilde Lake will compete against six Anne Arundel schools Jan. 5. Atholton, Centennial, Hammond, Howard and Mount Hebron will meet the other six Anne Arundel schools Jan. 17.
The Ivan Walker Championships, which decide the Howard county titles, is scheduled for Jan. 31. The Howard County Relays are a week later.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see seven or eight county records fall," said Wilde Lake coach Charles Shoemaker.
For the first time in indoor track, the state meet for all three classifications (4A-3A, 3A-2A and 2A-1A) will be held at the same place on the same day: Feb. 19 - Presidents Day - at the complex beginning at 10 a.m. One important change this season: The top four region finishers - not six, as in the past - will qualify to the states.
The Prince George's facility costs $1,200 to rent, and Singleton said Howard County meets, which are scheduled to start at 4 p.m., must be completed in four hours.
"It's worth the price," Singleton said. "No doubt about it."
In the race for the Howard County title, Oakland Mills' boys, the defending county, region and state Class 2A-1A champions, will again be the team to beat. Long Reach's girls earned county, region and state titles last season and are among a few favorites for the county title.
Oakland Mills will be led by sprinter Kyle Farmer, who has won three straight Iron Man awards at the county championships, and distance runner Izudin Mehmedovic, who is coming off cross country victories in county, region and state meets. Rachel Clinton, a state champion in the 55 high hurdles, leads the girls, along with regional pole vault winner Kierney Hiteshew.
Long Reach's girls are led by sprinter/hurdler Rolanda Howard, sprinter Shantee Lambert and distance runner Jessica Reitz.
Ashley Wall, a runner, high jumper and hurdler, leads Atholton's girls along with Lindsay Grigoriev (sprints, shot put) and Aisha Raheem (middle distance). Distance runner Matt Barresi and Adam Yukman (hurdles, sprints) leads the boys.
Glenelg's boys are led by distance runner Jon Goldsmith and Phil Selmer (middle distance, relays). The girls are paced by defending county champions Lauren Koutrelakos (pole vault), Sabrina Putro (shot put), Ashley Hall (middle distance, relays), Emily Hunt (distance) and Carrie Selmer (middle distance, distance, relays).
Defending county champions Ryan Blackwell (hurdles) and Justin Ferguso (pole vault) lead Howard's boys along with middle-distance runners Jarret Jeffrey and James Cole. Distance runner Bridget Baker, Stephanie Seiler (sprints) and Crystal Kim (hurdles, high jump, relays) head the girls.
Mount Hebron's boys are led by James Mullaly (distance) and Brian Bohlayer (middle distance). Jeanette Curtis (sprints, hurdles), Melanie Langmead (relays) and Heather Barnes (middle distance) head the girls.
River Hill's girls are led by Lee McDuff, who is coming off a state cross country title. Susan Wilson (middle distance) and Ann Cunningham (distance) also will contribute. Distance runners Shane Stroup and Michael Fleg along with Nate Zahm (middle distance) and county high jump champion Evan Prucha heads the boys.
For Wilde Lake, Kirk Larue (shot put) and Jason Moore (middle distance) leads the boys and Leonie Prao (sprints) and Rebecca Novinsky (middle distance/distance) paces the girls.
Seven Anne Arundel County champions, six of them girls, including All-Metro distance runner Erin Masterson of Annapolis, return this season along with the usual team contenders.
The likes of Masterson, who won the regional 800 and 1,600 meters, and the county 800 before taking fifth in both the 800 and 1,600 at the states, could tear it up at the new digs in Prince George's.