The New England Championships are here. It’s the final stop for most of our athletes this winter and the last tune-up before the nationals the following week for others. Throughout the week, Bay State Running will be previewing all the individual events for Saturday’s competition at the Reggie Lewis Center. Below, we feature the girls’ sprinting and hurdle events.
This one should be close, very close. The top seed is West Warwick (RI) freshman Lisa Reye, who came just a hundredth of a second from the state record with a winning time of 7.10 at the RI championship meet less than two weeks ago. Raye’s effort at the State Meet was a best by nearly two tenths of a second. No doubt her confidence is sky high leading up to this meet, especially after she came so close to the state mark. The No. 2 seed, Abby Desmarias of Framingham (MA), was third at the recent MIAA Meet of Champions where she matched her best of 7.13. There’s also Ailani Sutherland of Cranson West (RI) and Bloomfield (CT) frosh Jahniya Barclay, who can’t be ignored. Both went under 7.2 at their respective state meets with Sutherland taking runner-up honors to Raye at 7.15 and Barclay taking gold at the State Open in 7.16. Another sprinter that can’t be overlooked is Audrey Kozak of Shelton, who owns the No. 1 time in the CT rankings with her best of 7.13 from the Class L Championships on Feb. 10. She was second to Barclay at the State Open.
Per usual in a meet like this, the shorter that distance the more chances of a close finish at the end between a number of runners. It certainly holds true in this racet. We’re giving the favorite label to Kylee Bernard of Cambridge Rindge & Latin (MA). Bernard, who was third in this race last year, has thrice gone under 40 seconds this season with a PR of 39.43 from the Dual County League Championships last month. Bernard was third this past weekend at the Meet of Champions with a time of 40.41. That effort came after winning the 600m with her all-time best of 1:34.58. Bernard is not entered in the 600m, which leads us to believe she is focused on a PR performance on Saturday as she prepares for the 400m at the New Balance Nationals next weekend. Look for a time in that low 39-second range from Bernard, a 55-second 400m runner. She will be tough to beat. Fellow Bay Stater Ali Murphy, who was second at the MOC, has a best of 39.87 from the Coaches Invitational. If both Bernard and Murphy show up with their ‘A’ game, we could have a 1-2 finish by our MA runners at Reggie. There’s a host of runners in that 40-second range that could challenge for those top spots, too. Among them are Bloomfield (CT) sophomore Caleah Baker, Javanni Santos of Tewksbury, Anna Connors of Bangor (ME), and Shayla Ford of Stoughton (MA), to name a few, A dark horses that could certainly make an impact is the Wizards’ Raye, who won the RI state meet with a PR of 41.15. Keep in mind that unlike Massachusetts, athletes from RI and CT have achieved their top times on flat surface as opposed to the banked oval of Reggie Lewis. We could see athletes like Baker and Raye earning high positions with big PRs this weekend.
Based on the performance list, this event could be dominated by Connecticut, which owns the top four seeds. The favorite nod goes to Gabriella Hernandez of E.O. Smith, who has an all-time best of 1:31.69 from the CCC Indoor Championships in late January. She won the State Open with a solid time of 1:33.17. At Reggie, we’re figuring Hernandez is capable of a low 1:30 on Saturday with her best effort. Fellow state rivals, Windsor’s Brittani Westberry (1:34.79), Newtown’s Riley Powers (1:35.99) and Greenwich freshman Julia Gustafsson (1:38.16), could make this event extra special for the Nutmeg State. There’s a few others runners in the field that have broken 1:40 and could secure a few of those coveted podium spots, including the RI tandem of Bay View’s Francine Miller (1;38.68) and South Kingstown’s Laurel Filiberto (1;38.85) and Dover (NH) sophomore Anique Paulin (1:39.10).
The favorite in this race is Leonaya Knox of Hillhouse (CT), who has a top time of 8.05 from the CIAC Class M Championships. Knox has been consistent all season long, especially the last month where she has dipped under 8.1 three other times, including an 8.07 clocking at the Ocean Breeze Elite Invitational last week and an triumphant 8.06 at the State Open where she also ran 8.09 in the prelims. She should be dialed in and ready to go this weekend. The bigger question is can she possibly break the eight-second barrier? The Nutmeg State also has the No. 2 seed with Wilton’s Jill Roberts holding that spot with her best of 8.27 from the State Open. You certainly can’t ignore recent MIAA Meet of Champions winner Obi Akubube of Concord Carlisle, who raced to her all-time best 8.31 at this past weekend’s meet.The ultra-confident Akubube often shines in competitions like Saturday and it wouldn’t surprise us to see her battling to the end with our leaders this weekend. Other top hurdlers include Jordan Wheaton of Pinkerton (NH), Kareema McKenzie of Windsor (CT) and Sarah Dumas of Franklin (MA), who have seeds between 8.40 and 8.43