It’s the third week in January, so that must mean it is VA Showcase week. Four years ago, this meet didn’t exist, but the opening of the sparkling new Liberty Track & Field Center in Lynchburg and the vision of Milestat.com editor Nolan Jez have come together to create one of the greatest prep indoor invitationals in the country. The VA Showcase became an NSAF Select Meet in 2018 and, once again, the Foundation is working with the meet to bring together some of the nation’s best athletes for some of the most outstanding competition of the indoor season.
The elite fields were announced last weekend and they include a thrilling collection of record-setting NBN Champions, Team NSAF standouts and even Pan American U20 gold medalists that will scorch the banked 200m oval and rock the field event venues at Liberty. In particular, the quartet of Team USA Pan Am U20 Gold Medalist high schoolers here – Kayla Davis, Athing Mu, Justin Robinson and Claire Bryant – make this meet extra special.
Nolan Jez can look back from when this meet was imagined, even before the facility was even built (finished in ’17). “Coach Brandt Tolsma, Liberty University's Ernest Carter, and Ryan Benjamin formerly with LU events all had a big role in making this meet happen,” he says. “This event would not be possible without every single official, timer, worker, and volunteer. It is truly a group effort with hundreds of individuals each having a small part in bringing this thing together. That includes coaches and athletes spreading the word and the wonderful folks at NSAF helping connect us with elite athletes from all over.
“In 2018 we also made some big changes where Vincent Pugh was named meet director and I took over the role as meet founder,” Jez added. “Vincent alongside co-meet director Tom Cuffe has made this meet into a science where every fine detail is planned.”
The most anticipated meet highlights:
- The best showdown of the meet is arguably Kayla Davis (RunUExpress, NC soph) vs. Athing Mu (Trenton TC, NJ sr) in the AAU 500 meters. Both are outdoor USATF U20 champs, Pan Am U20 gold medalists and current or former NBN champs (Davis 400m, Mu 800m). Mu beat Davis in the 400m at this meet last year, but Davis triumphed in their NBNO 400m matchup. As for 500m, Davis has a 1:11.90 PR while Mu has never raced the distance. However the fact that the Jersey standout has American record 1:23.57 talent over 600m could tip the scales in her favor.
- Davis and Mu are hardly the only super-talents in the field, either. Aaliyah Pyatt (Massaponax, VA jr) has a 1:13.02 PR and Davis-like long sprint chops in the 300m and 500m, while Rose (Homeschooled, Suffolk VA jr) – like Mu – excels in both long sprints and the 800m-1000m, with a 1:13.89 500m PR. Chanelle Price’s 1:10.30 HSR from 2008 is in danger. There’s also great talent in the NFHS 500m Invitational, including Garriel White of Hydel JAM – who could also be in the 1:11 range.
- Davis will double back in the AAU 300m, along with Mu and Rose. But Davis will also be pushed by a pair of #TeamNSAFCuba19 long sprint standouts in Talitha Diggs and Kimberly Harris. Diggs has had a great start to ’19, including X, while Harris – who ran XX for 400 last year – is making her ’19 debut indoors. There is also sub-39 talent in the NFHS Girls Invite 300, led by Jamaican Oneika Mcannuff (Hydel) and Ziyah Holman (Georgetown Day sr).
- Also a neophyte over 500m (and 300m) is Justin Robinson, who set the T&F world reeling with his stunning 400m performances in 2019. He peaked in the summer with USATF and Pan-Am U20 titles and, of course, that unforgettable 44.84 at Great Southwest - #2 all-time HS – after earlier racking up an NBNI crown as well. Robinson’s ability to give Brian Herron’s 32.64 HSR from ’18 a run in the AAU 300m seems clear – given that he’s also a 20.98 200m guy – while his foray at the longer AAU distance could also be a record chase (1:01.68 Strymar Livingston ’12).
- Robinson could be pushed, especially in the 300m, where new 33.79 performer Cameron Rose is there to challenge along with sub-46 400 runner Sean Burrell and rising freshman superstar Mekhi Gammons. The NFHS Boys Invitational field is led by Brandon Nya (Bowie MD) with a 34.14 best, while in the NFHS Boys Invite 500m there are several at 1:06 or better including US#2 Seydi Sall (Montgomery HS, MD).
- 2019 NBN distance champs Taryn Parks (indoor mile), Marlee Starliper (outdoor mile) and Caleb Brown (outdoor 2 mile) are two of the most outstanding entries in the longer Showcase races, and will be in contention for top honors along with Jenna Hutchins, Bethany Graham,
- Pennsylvania standouts Parks and Starliper will go head-to-head in the 1000m, a race that could go well under 2:50. Parks has won two of the epic duels between these rivals – in the NBNI mile last winter and their outdoor state meet 1,600 – but Starliper captured the Millrose, Penn Relays and NBNO miles in 2019. This event will be on the short end of the spectrum for both runners.
- The Girls’ Invitational 3,200 should be a great race between Jenna Hutchins (Science Hill, TN jr) and Bethany Graham (John Champe VA sr) – the NSAF’s Great American XC 2nd- and 3rd-place finishers last fall – with several other strong individuals there as well. Hutchins is making her indoor debut for the season, with a 3,200 PR of 10:15.39 from ’19, but is coming off an XC campaign that also saw her take 5th at Foot Locker Finals. Graham was the recent Bulldog Invite 1600/3200 champ on this track two weeks ago and last weekend lowered her 3,200 PR to 10:27.10. Both will also run the Invitational Mile.
- Another coming off a super XC season and making his first indoor splash is Caleb Brown (Shelby OH sr). After scoring the NBNO 2M title last spring, Brown authored a stellar fall campaign, highlighted by a 3rd-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals. He leads the field in the Boys Invitational Mile – a Millrose Games Mile qualifier – having set a 4:13.26 1,600 best in ’19. Four others have run under 4:17 and more than a dozen total in the field have sub-4:20 talent.
- Among those battling in the boys’ invitational 3,200 – possibly in the 9:05-10 range – are Daniel O’Brien (Virginia Episcopal sr), Carlos Schultz (Loudoun Valley VA sr) and super soph Aidan Puffer (Manchester CT). In the boy’s invitational 1,000m, all 12 starters are seeded between 2:29 and 2:31, including early national leader Sam Rodman (Liberty, VA) and the L.C. Bird duo of Brendan Taylor and Jacob Plummer.
- Fans have come to eagerly anticipate battles here between Jamaican and U.S. relay quartets and this year will feature a Girls Invitational 4x200 and 1600m Sprint Medley showdowns. The 4x2 brings together St. Jago JAM with the Pyatt-led Massaponax VA crew and the powerhouse Bullis MD girls. The SMR includes Hydel JAM and NBNO champ Warwick Valley, NY (returning 3 of 4 from that group).
- The other girls’ relays have all USA fields, but are still highly anticipated. The 4x400 Championship includes Bullis and seniors Leah Phillips and Shaniya Hall – both part of many championship and record-setting groups for the school the past three years. Hall, in fact, anchored the NBNO champs last June.
- A deep, versatile quartet with 10:10 potential has L.C. Bird VA in the favorite’s role in the Boys Distance Medley Invite and they have sub-8:00 potential in the 4x800 as well. Montgomery MD will counter with a group that features Sall and Suhr.
- The field events at the VA Showcase are also loaded with talent, especially in the horizontal jumps.
- The AAU Girls Long Jump is highlighted by #TeamNSAFCuba19’s Claire Bryant (Houston Memorial TX sr), who not only won in Havana, but also swept USATF U20 and Pan Am U20 honors. She had outdoor bests of 20-7.75/21-2.25w last year and in her first outing this winter showed up big with a US#1 20-2.25 indoor PR. Four other 20-footers are in the field, too: Paige Floriea (Mentor OH jr), Jamaican Shantae Foreman (Excelsior), Morgan Smalls (19-11, actually) and 13-year-old phenom Elizabeth Deen – who stunned the T&F world at the AAU level last summer. The NFHS Invite field is pretty great, too, including 19-footers and rising stars like Tess Stapleton (Fairfield Ludlowe CT jr).
- And speaking of Smalls (Panther Creek NC sr), the defending NBNI high jump champ - #2 all-time in the event with her 6-3.25 PR – leads both the HJ and triple jump fields. She was also Bryant’s teammate in Cuba last June and had senior-level Team USA Pan Am Games experience in Lima. With her horizontal jump bests of 41-9.75 TJ and 19-11.75 LJ, she’s one of the best all-around prep jumpers ever.
- The boys’ triple and long jump fields are also outstanding. US#1 Sean Dixon-Bodie (Bloomfield CT sr), who soared to a 51-6.5 at the Hispanic Games a few weeks ago, heads up the triplers, with Keyandre Midgett (Highland Springs, VA) knocking at the 50-foot door, too. Meanwhile, the LJ’ers are led by North Brunswick, NC sr Jieem Bullock (4th at NBNO last year, 24-5w) and the current US#1-2 in fast improving Jaden Price-Whitehead (Upper Dublin, PA jr) and Devin Daye-Schafer (Manchester VA sr).