A freshman class for the ages

A number of talented ninth-graders are making their mark on the metro-area track scene this year.

Girls Track And Field

March 15, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

According to the Chinese calendar, 2006 is the year of the dog.

In the track and field community, it might as well be the year of the freshman.

Rookies to the high school track and field scene are flourishing throughout the metro area. And while Atholton's Graham Bazell and Liberty's Andrew Cross are just a couple of the boys who enjoyed solid outings during the indoor season this past winter, it's the girls who are grabbing the spotlight.

Hereford's Kristen Malloy captured the Class 3A-2A state championship in the 3,200-meter run. McDonogh's Jameice DeCoster's time in the 55 meters at the Montgomery Invitational is ranked in the top 35 nationally, according to dyestat.com. North Carroll's Alexis Hurd won gold medals in the 55 and 300 at the Carroll County championships and earned bronze in the 300 at the Class 3A-2A state meet.

And there are others - Meade's Shavanity Cooper, Perry Hall's Justine DiGregorio, Eastern Tech's Meg Foley, McDonogh's Amanda Kimbers, Dulaney's Brooke Martin, Hereford's Marta Randall and Wilde Lake's Laura Shoemaker, just to name a few - who are finding success in their first foray in high school track.

"It occasionally goes in cycles where you will see a talented group of athletes come in and kind of change the landscape of track and field," North Carroll coach Rob Johnson said. "But it's been a while since I've seen this kind of talent in the state at a young age. I think it's obviously good for our sport, and hopefully, the kids will continue to work hard and continue to put Maryland on the map."

The emergence of talented freshmen isn't really anything new. Last year, Park's Elan Hilaire and Seton Keough's Erin Brooks headlined a group of freshman girls who made various All-Metro and All-County track and field teams.

The year before that, former Towson Catholic athlete Devon Williams and Mervo's Quantikia Stepney were freshman standouts in track.

But the common ingredient among this year's crowd of freshmen is an extensive background in running before they entered high school.

DeCoster began competing in track and field at 9 with a local team in Prince George's County. For the past three years, Hurd has been running with the Excel Track and Field Youth program, which is associated with the North Carroll Recreation Council and is where her parents, who were track stars at Frostburg State, coach.

Although Malloy didn't train with a track and field club before attending Hereford, she joined her father in running in a variety of road races beginning in the seventh grade and was selected to the All-Metro cross country team this past fall after finishing in the top five in five invitationals and championship meets.

If running is encouraged and emphasized by the family, C. Milton Wright coach and mdrunning.net founder Don Mickey said, "then the kid comes into high school with a ton of experience. The same can be said for those coming from club teams. All in all, I think it is very good for the sport."

Malloy, who also claimed the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Baltimore County championships, said she and her father mapped out a strategy for attacking the 3,200, which is drastically different from a 3-mile cross country route over hills, through woods and in inclement weather.

"It is a whole different ballgame," Malloy said. "But I knew that I had gotten better from running cross country. I kind of thought of the two as being the same since both involved running."

While many freshmen are embraced by their teammates, the same can't be said for the competition. Hurd, who said she is running 12.2 seconds in the 100 and 25.0 in the 200, said she has seen a few upperclassmen from other teams making comments about freshmen.

"My reaction was, `OK, just wait until we show you something. Then you'll have nothing to say,' " Hurd recalled.

Of bigger concern is the effect that puberty has on the bodies of female track athletes. Hammond coach Mark Reedy said as girls reach puberty, their hips widen and cause the femur to be less linear to the lower leg. The result can be a proclivity to injuries.

Another worry is the sometimes all-too-high expectations placed on girls who find success at an early age.

"People need to remember that mentally and physically, they are still adolescents, even if they are done growing," Hereford coach Russel Drylie said. "There are limitations on what their bodies can handle, and parents and coaches need to recognize that."

DeCoster, who said she has shaved five seconds off her time in the 200 and three seconds off her mark in the 100 since she started track and field, said she has begun to feel the pressure from track and field observers.

"I guess people are looking at me, and there's a little bit of pressure on me and the other freshmen," DeCoster said. "But I just look at what I'm doing and what I have to do and forget about what other people are thinking."

But for all the accolades this current crop of freshmen is enjoying, the next generation of talented ninth-graders is perhaps just a year or two away. And when everyone is waiting for the starter's gun to fire, age is the last thing on anyone's mind, according to Malloy.

"You can't pick out who's a freshman when you're running on the track," she said. "It seems like the competition is getting better."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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