Second in a 4-part series, co-published with Runnerspace.com/DyeStat.com, on some of the leading athletes registered for the 2018 NBNI.
Anthony Schwartz – 100/200 superstar makes indoor debut
With his performances at the Sam Burley Hall of Fame meet last weekend, Anthony Schwartz (American Heritage, FL senior) made sure the anticipation for his NBNI and overall indoor debut would be about as huge as it could get. At the Burley meet, a big early outdoor fixture in Florida, Schwartz first ran a smoking 20.47 200 (+1.3w) – slicing almost two-tenths off his ’17 PR. But in the meet-ending 100 final, he clocked a blistering 10.13w – a barely wind-aided mark at 2.1mps – that not only was an all-conditions PR, but made him one of the top 13 all-conditions 100 runners in prep history. Both are current US leaders and, as Schwartz prepares to come to the Big Apple, sprint fans everywhere wonder what he can do in his first 60 meter dash indoors?
As if Schwartz wasn’t motivated enough by a championship at a new event, there’s also the little matter of his 2017 campaign having not quite ended as well as it could have. He pulled up lame in the final at his state meet last May – leading the U.S. at that point with a wind-legal 10.15 – and had to miss running with Team NSAF at the 2017 CSI. He did return in time for NBNO, however, where he won the 100 in 10.27 and was runner-up in the 200 behind Tyrese Cooper. But that at USATF Juniors, he was a tough 3rd to just miss Team USA for Pan-Am Juniors. All of Schwartz’s outdoor goals, however, can wait another week. At NBNI, he’ll face current U.S. leader Brandon Stewart (6.66) and several others under 6.80 in what should be one of the weekend’s best clashes.
Tamari Davis – Sunshine State frosh sensation looks for sweep
The vibe surrounding Tamari Davis (Gainesville, FL frosh) will be a little different than with Anthony Schwartz this weekend. Schwartz has never run indoors, never run a 60-meter dash – not surprising for an athlete from a state that doesn’t have indoor track. Davis, however, found her way to the Dunamis Super Meet near Atlanta last month – and the results were breathtaking: She twice smashed the freshman class national record in the 200, clocking 23.54, then a US#1 23.42 (#6 all-time overall), and in-between those efforts dashed a 7.30 in her 60 prelim (skipping the final) – another 9th-grade standard, tying US#1 and #15 all-time. She had run a couple indoor meets in previous years, too, but Dunamis was a big stage debut. Now we know she can produce indoors – and double up, at that.
If the fact of Davis’s freshman status seems a tad de-emphasized, it’s because she runs like and looks the part of a more mature runner and has already spent her 7th- and 8th-grade years establishing herself as a super talent. In 2016, she clocked 23.94 for 200 and 11.77 for 100 (3rd in the Adidas Boost Boston Games). Then Davis ran so well last spring that she was invited for the Prefontaine Classic HS girls 200 and won with a stunning US#2 23.21, then was 2nd on a return to Boston. Now in ’18 she’s finally officially a high schooler and ready to make her NBNI debut.
Eric Allen, Jr – Overcoming ’17 injury, reaching potential
When Eric Allen Jr. blasted across the finish line in the Kentucky HS Invitational 200 meters, and saw the finish line clock flash a US#1 20.91 seconds, he shot his arm up in triumph and celebrated in a way uncommon for someone who usually comes across as pretty low key on the big stage. But for the Bullis School, MD senior, the UK performance represented coming ALL the way back from injury issues that hampered him from last year’s NBNI all the way through the end of outdoor. Allen still had some good races at times last year, but now is showing that national championship potential that has long been hinted at.
Allen is the oldest of three brothers on Bullis – a year ahead of Austin and two ahead of Ashton. As a soph in ’16, Eric got down to 21.04 in the 200, then took 2nd in both the AAU Club and Junior Olympic finals. He also ran 10.55 for 100. He started strong last winter, including 33.49 for 300 and his first UK win at 21.33, before injuries kept him from training harder and peaking. This winter was low-key in December, but his eye-popping 32.84 300 at the VA Showcase more than let him know he was on-track. He later added fast 55 (6.36) and 60 (6.78 times), but the kicker was finally getting under 21 in the 200. He’s deservedly the favorite in the NBNI 1-lapper.
Arria Minor – Maturing prodigy expands range, zeroes in on 400
Denver East HS junior Arria Minor has been competing at a high level at every sprint distance since before her high school career started. She has won titles at major meets like the Simplot Games and Great Southwest, and she scored a 3rd-place finish in last summer’s USATF Junior 400 (PR 52.05) – making Team USA for Pan Am Juniors on the gold-medal-winning 4x400 team. But she has never contested an NBN meet and competed for a high school national title. That will change this weekend.
While bearing the mantle of a sprint prodigy – she ran, for example, 52.50 for 400 and 23.42 for 200 as a freshman in ’16 – Minor has still improved in most events each season. Her short sprinting has gotten better and better, with an 11.53 PR for 100 at outdoor state last spring and then indoors reaching a US#1 7.30 in the 60. At Simplot 2-plus weeks ago, she fancied a 7.40 60m, 53.47 (indoor PR) 400 double. At NBNI, she’ll stick with the 400, where a tantalizing barrier could be in reach. Only Sydney McLaughlin and Francena McCorory have ever broken 52 indoors and Minor’s outdoor PR of 52.05 is right on the edge of that.
Emily Sloan – The latest #1 at 60 hurdles after USA stunner
When Tia Jones crossed the line in the Dunamis Super Meet 60m hurdles in 8.15 seconds, ahead of Emily Sloan’s 8.21, not only had two fantastic U.S. top two performances been established – well beyond what’s typically seen in early February – but it appeared that Jones, the national record-holder outdoors, had stamped herself as the girl to beat at NBNI. But Sloan (Rock Canyon, CO senior) was just getting started. The next week, she and a few others her FK Elite club competed against America’s best at the USA Indoor Champs. There Sloan blazed an 8.07 in the prelims, #2 prep all-time and suddenly ahead of both Jones and Grace Stark (8.12 earlier in the day).
Sloan has been ascending to this level since before high school. She ran 8.39 at NBNI as a soph in ’16 (9th) and 13.40 110H outdoors. But a knee injury requiring surgery cut short her junior indoor season last winter long before NBNI. Sloan then surprised many by rebounding the late spring to eventually take 3rd at NBNO with 13.54. This winter, she surpassed her ’16 PR with an 8.33 on Jan. 21, then far surpassed it the past few weeks. The short hurdle events – 60m indoors, 100m outdoors – have arguably been the best in girls’ high school track the past few years, mirroring the success of U.S. women at the senior level (most notably a medal sweep in the Rio Olympic 100H in 2016). Sloan, Jones and Stark seem certain to continue that trend.
Austin Kratz – Establishing himself on national stage
A sprinter whose time has come, Dock Mennonite, PA senior Austin Kratz captured attention early this winter, with a 6.40 55-dash, 33.93 300m double at Bishop Loughlin in mid-December that gave him the early national lead in both and established himself as someone to beat. The marks proved no fluke. Kratz has lost only one final this winter, the 300 at the VA Showcase where Brian Herron beat Eric Allen, Jr. and Tyrese Cooper in national record time. At 55, 60 and 200 meters, though, he’s been unbeatable – with PRs of 6.40, 6.73 and 21.09, and a pair of individual PA state titles that make him a top-3 contender in both dashes at NBNI. His rise has coincided with the establishment of his small school as a track and field team.
Last winter, Kratz was a 6.92 60, 21.74 200 runner who did not advance out of the prelims in both events at NBNI. Outdoors, though, he had considerable success as far back as his frosh year in ’15, taking 2nd in the AA state 200 at 21.83. He won as a soph, then ran 21.70 at NBNO, placing 5th in the EE 200. Last spring, he improved his PRs to 10.66 and 21.17, as well as long jumping 22-10.5. But this winter, all aspects of his sprint game are truly maturing.
Ayden Owens – Battling for both Pentathlon, 60H titles
It’s unlikely that NBNI pentathlon defending champ Kyle Garland thought he was going to waltz into the Armory this coming weekend and run away with another title in the event. But just in case, home stat rival Ayden Owens has been serving up reminders all winter that he’s ready for a rematch in the 5-event challenge. Owens, now a senior at North Allegheny HS, was 3rd in the NBNI 5-eventer last year at 3,707 points, more than 400 behind Garland. But then while Garland was competing in the decathlon with Team NSAF in Cuba, then again finishing 2nd at USA Juniors to make the Pan Am team, Owens was winning NBNO with a meet record 7,009 points.
While Owens isn’t quite as strong in the events like the HJ and throws, he’s a stellar sprinter and hurdler – good enough in the latter to have won a state meet double outdoors last year at 13.76 110H and 37.47 300H, then improved his 60H game from 8.02 down to a US#2 7.70 this winter. Suddenly, in addition to being a top pent contender, he’s at least the co-favorite in the NBNI 60H with Eric Edwards, Jr. – who has been recovering from a February injury. Owens has also long jumped 23-3.5 and run 21.35 for 200 – 2nd in PA behind Kratz. It’s no doubt this USC signee is primed for two showdowns this weekend.
Grace Stark – Not to be forgotten in girls’ 60H
A national leader in the 60-meter hurdles for several weeks this winter, Grace Stark (White Lake Lakeland, MI junior) saw her ranking drop a few spots on during the Feb. 10 weekend as Tia Jones won a great battle with Emily Sloan and others at the Dunamis Super Meet. Stark even improved her PR the following day to 8.22 at the SPIRE Showcase, but still stood #3. The following week, however, Stark had an emphatic opportunity to make a statement while facing Jones at the Kentucky Invite (where she was defending champ). Opportunity seized: Stark raced to an 8.12 PR, beating Jones and taking over US#1. While Emily Sloan (see above story) would beat that time with an 8.07 at USAs later in the day, the talented Michigander had made sure she wouldn’t be forgotten as an NBNI title contender.
Stark, who trains with Elite Performance Club in the winter and summer, should also be motivated by 2017 NBN showings that were a bit less than hoped for. She made the loaded NBNI 60H final last year, qualifying 6th with 8.47, then was 7th in the final at 8.42 – just off her 8.39 PR. Outdoors, she brought a 13.54 100H PR into NBNO, but then was just 10th in the prelims at 14.02. Later in the summer, Stark won the AAU JO title at 13.86 and has not lost over the barriers since. It should also be noted that she brings in the best leg speed to NBNI of the top 60H contenders, having PR’d in that event at Kentucky as well with 7.41.