When it was announced that Kendell Williams was part of the field at the 20th Mobile Challenge of Champions, that whoosh you heard was the DyeStat Most Valuable Performer award chances for several dozen other elite girls in the meet taking a dramatic plunge.
Williams was entered in the long jump, high jump and 100-meter hurdles and the odds of her becoming the Challenge’s first girls’ triple individual champ were very good. The Kell (Marietta, Ga.) junior got a scare when Quanesha Burks exploded to a 20-foot long jump early, but she responded with a 20-6w (all-conditions national best) that set the tone for what followed: a 5-10 HJ victory, a 13.64 100H triumph and that girls’ MVP plaque.
As it turned out, had Williams not entered, there would have been quite a battle for the MVP between Burks – who also won the triple jump in 39-8 – and impressive soph Marcquita Stalbert, who announced her arrival on the national long-sprint stage with US#3 53.77 400 and #2 23.93 200 performances.
For the boys, the MVP race had considerably more contenders, such as: Tre’Tez Kinnaird, who had nipped Cameron Thornton in arguably the day’s best race, the 800; and Amba Etta-Tawo, who had anchored his McEachern GA 4x100 squad to a fast win, taken second in the open 100, and then ruled the 200. But in the end, it was Hoover (Hoover, Ala.) soph Marlon Humphrey who got tabbed, after he rocketed to a pair of US#6 hurdle victories – 14.12 over the 110s and 37.50 in the 300s – and then finished with a dramatic 48-second leg in the 4x400 that nearly took his school to a win there.
And so it was, that Williams and Humphrey held their MVP plaques next to the big electronic scoreboard featuring their names as the sun set over E.E. Delany Stadium: Another great Challenge, efficiently orchestrated by meet director Steve Schoenewald, and everyone had time to get home for Easter.
GIRLS: Kendell's moment
Given that Kendell Williams does at least three individual events at almost every meet she enters, expecting an unending string of peak performances is unrealistic. However, there will inevitably be something in each competition that reminds you of what a special athlete she is.
Call it the “Kendell Williams moment.”
Saturday, that moment came early. Williams was leading through one round of the long jump with 19-7.5, when Hartselle (Hartselle, Ala.) junior Quanesha Burks – who had never jumped even 19 feet in her career – suddenly unleashed a 20-1.25. Suddenly the event, which had lost some luster when Virginia 20-footer Javanique Burruss withdrew, was the hottest thing going – and fans looked to Williams to see what she would do.
Three jumpers later, the response thundered across the field. Williams sprinted down the runway, struck the board and flew like she had never flown before. The official stared down at the tape, shaking her head in wonderment. “Twenty feet, six inches,” she said.
The funny thing was that Williams wasn’t exactly prepared for any “moment” Saturday. She and her family vacationing for spring break in Panama City en route to Mobile and it hasn’t exactly been the most intense week of training. “I was in the lead at 19-7, and I didn’t think I would even be able to jump that well,” she said. “Now the pressure was on and I had to pull it together.”
Recalling the moment with mock indignation, she added, “I said, ‘What? I have to PR right now???’” But after a handful of Skittles and some quick coaching from Dad, Williams had jumped six inches further than she ever had before – albeit with an aiding wind of 2.6. It was the highlight of the meet.
It was all gravy after that. Williams would go on to hit 20-1.5w and 19-7.25 for her best series ever, and add the 5-10 high jump win an hour later. She then jumped on the track for a strong 13.64, just .07 off her U.S. list leader going into the day.
“I’m really happy with the whole day,” she said.
Burks, meanwhile, was hardly disappointed to see her 20-footer relegated to runner-up status. “I was shocked I could jump 20 feet,” she said. “I’m just happy for both of us.” Burks became the ninth girl to get 20-feet (indoors or out, including wind-aided) in what is becoming a landmark year in the event. In the triple jump, once she got her steps down, she produced the previously mentioned 39-8.
Another surprise was Marcquita Stalbert. As a freshman last year, she was fourth in the Challenge 400 and third in the 200. This spring, she had her bests down to 24.34 and 54.53. But Saturday’s big PRs were beyond reasonable expectation. Though she was completely unpressed in the two races, she showed power and maturity in elevating herself into the top rung of the national elite with the aforementioned 53.77 and 23.93.
“I just did what my coach told me to do,” she said after the 400. “Get to 320 and keep my form.”
In other sprint and hurdle action, Baton Rouge Magnet soph Mikiah Brisco repeated her 100 win from last year, in 12.10 (-0.2w). While defending 100H champ Pine Forest (Pensacola, Fla.) junior Johna Whitaker was limited to third in that event, she reigned in the 300H with a 43.31. Whitaker also helped her team win the climactic 4x400.
Fans thought the distance events might be highlighted by a Carmen Carlos meet record attempt, but the local McGill-Toolen standout, winner last month of the New Balance Indoor Nationals 2-mile, wasn’t up to chasing Laura Zeigle’s 10:23.05 from 2002 – not on a hot day when she was 30 seconds faster than any entrant coming in. So she settled for a more modest pace that led to a 10:44.21 – still winning by 16 seconds and actually a US#1, since most major meets to date have contested 3,200s for distance runners.
An exciting finish in the mile saw DuPont Manuel (Louisville, Ky.) junior Cassidy Hale overtake Carlos’ teammate Sage Blackwell in the final 100 for a 5:03.34 to 5:03.74 win, while Mountain Brook (Ala.) took the 4x800 for the fourth time here in 9:38.98.
Host St. Paul Episcopal got an individual title when junior Chanel Krause won the pole vault in 12-0. Her senior teammate Lacey Dent wasn’t victorious, but still had quite a day with runner-up finishes in the 100H (US#7 14.22) and triple jump (38-1), a third in the long jump (18-6.5) and a fourth in the 300H (45.20).
BOYS: Marlon's maturity
To watch Marlon Humphrey is to see someone who looks and performs beyond his years. Get up close and chat with him, and you get the same feeling. Maybe part of it is being part of an athletic family headed up by Alabama legend and NFL standout Bobby Humphrey; maybe it’s just part of being Marlon.
Count the sophomore boys’ DyeStat Most Valuable Performers over the years. You won’t find any. Marlon is the first.
Fans were waiting for an MVP-worthy performance to come from some of the highly touted entrants in the meet. Maybe a sub-1:50 in the Tre’Tez Kinnaird-Cameron Thornton 800 battle, or a 46 or better when Kavahra Holmes and Michael Newton took the track in the 400. Maybe a sprint double for Jeryl Brazil, a seven-foot high jump from Xavier McAllister, or a 4x400 anchor by Amba Etta-Tawo to go with his 200 win and 4x100 anchor.
But none of those things happened. What did happen was that Humphrey won the 110 hurdles in a US#6 14.12 (+0.3w), then added the 300 hurdles in 37.50 – achieving the same national ranking. Finally, after Humphrey thundered down the homestretch to finish the second leg of the 4x400, bringing Hoover from fifth to first with a 48-point circuit, the MVP selectors were sold. Never mind that Hoover was ultimately nosed out by Smiths Station, 3:18.96 to 3:19.02.
Humphrey also helped get his school’s 4x100 from Friday’s Open race to Saturday’s Invite, where they were fourth. He was nonchalant about the honor, though he admitted, “After the first hurdle race, I started thinking about it a little.” The main thing was coming through for the team and hitting his times. “I said my goals today were to get 14-low and 37.5, and I was able to achieve both of them.”
In the 4x400, Marlon “hit that last 100 and had a burst of energy …We didn’t have one of our fastest guys today; I think we can go faster.”
While Humphrey was deemed the best of all on the boys’ side Saturday, that’s not to say the previously mentioned others didn’t impress or thrill. They did – and none so more than Kinnaird and Thornton in the 800. The 2011 World Youth Champs USA teammates were unimpressive in an indoor race back in late February, but each had recently been closing in on the form that got them to France last summer, and Saturday would be a big test.
An unwieldy field of 14 took off from the line, and while no one went down, it was a physical race. Rummel’s Cyril Grayson burst into the lead down the backstretch and Thornton was one of two following within 5-10 meters, with Kinnaird behind them. Down the homestretch, Kinnaird was dissatisfied with the tempo and ready to take over. He did so at the bell, reached in 56-point.
Kinnaird was in control down the backstretch, but Thornton started coming back in the final 200, then closing with each stride to nearly even on the homestretch. But that zapped him and Kinnaird solidly maintained enough to preserve the win by .03, US#6 1:51.77 to #7 1:51.80.
Kinnaird’s relatively slow start in 2012 was due to a stress fracture in mid-January. Now, he says, he has “a lot of raw speed … But I’m still building up my distance.”
As for the race: “There was a lot of pushing and I came through the first 200 okay, but it was not really what I wanted. Then at 400 we were a little bit slow. I thought if I could get to the last 300 with the lead, that I could win it in the last 200.”
The anticipated high-octane battle between Breaux Bridge (Breaux Bridge, La.) senior Holmes and Sprayberry (Marietta, Ga.) senior Michael Newton never materialized. Oh, Holmes defended his title with 47.75, about a quarter-second faster than he ran last year, but far short of the 46.07 he clocked as the second-fastest prep in the country last summer. But Newton, who notched his first sub-47 a few weeks ago at his county meet, with a 46.93, was even further off form – running slower than 49 seconds in fifth. He cited back problems.
Holmes, meanwhile, revealed his training has been divided between football-specific workouts in preparing for LSU – he signed a scholarship offer there in February – and track. He said he hopes to be in near-PR shape next month for states, but there will be no summer track this time.
Another Louisiana speedster was just about at top form, though; the Loranger junior Brazil smoothly dispatched with the 100 field with a 10.48 into a slight headwind – just .07 off the US#2 mark he came in with. Brazil was entered in the 200, but scratched and fans had to be content with seeing him just once.
The 200 champ was still pretty darn impressive, though. The aforementioned Etta-Tawo had earlier appeared on the track in finishing off his school’s 4x100 – they came in at US#2 40.95 and settled for a decisive 41.69 win – and finishing a well-beaten second in the 100. But in the furlong, it was all Etta-Tawo as he blazed to a US#5 21.33. He and his teammates hoped to make it a relay sweep in the 4x400, but they were too gassed and the distance was too great.
Two more anticipated highlights were the long jump and high jump. A.J. Ward had a recent 24-9.75 leap that topped all entrants in the former, but he could never get things timed right Saturday and barely made 23. The victory went to Auburn’s consistent Cameron Luper with 23-1.5.
Newburgh Free Academy’s McAllister and Breaux Bridge’s Travin Dural both cleared 6-10 in the high jump and then took a run at seven feet. But when the height was too much and they were left tied, a jumpoff ensued. Fatigue would set in for the high flyers and it wasn’t until the bar had inched down to 6-5 that one of them – McAllister – could get another clearance and the victory.
"It was very competitive," said McAllister, though he admitted it wasn't the way he would have preferred to win.
There were a few others who might have said that, too, but with their sterling performances, Williams and Humphrey were hard models to live up to. And both could be back in 2013.