Prep runners set elite times at Raleigh Relays

BY W.E. WARNOCK, CHN Sports Editor Last weekend's Raleigh Relays were dominated by -- surprise -- runners from the Raleigh area. But four young runners from Chapel Hill made good showings that bode well for their respective high school varsities' seasons.

The premier event March 25, for the 27 high schools sending runners to Raleigh to mingle with top collegians, was the 3,200 meters.

East Chapel Hill's Alison Smith clocked in at 10:56.37 on the N.C. State University track to take eighth in the girls' 3,200 competition, while sophomore teammate Pegah Kamrani (11:21.48) came in 15th.

In the boys' 3,200, Chapel Hill High School junior Mitch McLeod (9:22.85) took ninth and senior Will Bunch (9:27.75) was 13th in a fast race.

That field was easily as good as what will be in the (NCHSAA) state meet, Chapel Hill coach Ron Olsen said.

In fact, the Raleigh Relay field might have been way better than what any of those runners from 4-A East Chapel Hill and 3-A Chapel Hill will see in the NCHSAA championships.

Of the seven females who finished in front of Smith, only three were from 4-A schools -- Mt. Tabor's Margaret Leak (10:50.43) in fifth, Olivia Enright of Green Hope (10:52.49) in sixth and New Hanover junior Shelby Howell (10:54.11) in seventh.

Wesley Frazier, of Raleigh Ravenscroft won the girls' 3,200 in 10:28.00, with Sarah Rapp, of Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (10:31.84) in second, followed by two runners from Virginia -- Hannah Brown of Blacksburg (10:49.60) and Bassett senior Michelle Church (10:50.06).

Of the runners who finished ahead of McLeod, only one was from a 3-A school -- Will Bass of Nash Central, who took fourth place in (9:12.49).

Thomas Graham, a junior from Cary Academy, won the boys' 3,200 in a time of 9:07.17. West Johnston's Chris Garrett was second (9:11.43) and Bobby Mintz of Cary Christian third (9:12.27).

Smith's, McLeod's and Bunch's times were all good enough to get them listed among the nation's elites last week. Smith's time places her among the top 25 all-time for North Carolina high school runners.

Graham and Garrett also cracked the all-time top 25 for boys, an indication of how fast was the field.

Both McLeod and Bunch set personal bests in the 3,200 by 6-7 seconds, their coach noted.

It was good, very good. It all just confirmed what I saw a week before at Ravenscroft, Olsen said. All of them ran very well there.

This will all pay dividends when it counts.

With only five weeks left before the NCHSAA regionals, the CHHS track team is starting to hit its stride, Olsen said. The Tigers are especially strong in the distance events, where their consistently excellent performances in fall cross-country translate well in the spring season.

CHHS seniors Asher Colburn-Hertzberg (800 meters), Kyle Villemain (800) and Paul Noah (1,600), have all done well in multiple middle-distances.

For the girls, CHHS seniors Ahna Weeks and Sarah Jane Kerwin provide depth in the 3,200. Sophomores Tristan Van Ord and Alexa Young have excelled at the 1,600 and 400, respectively.

What would be an ideal event for the Tigers -- the distance medley relay -- exists only at invitational meets. But they're interested in forming a 4 x 1,600 relay to compete in the Bojangles Apex Relays on April 16. They've got an eye on using that to qualify for the New Balance Outdoor Nationals this summer.

Before any of that, CHHS has its only home meet of the spring at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, against Carolina Conference rivals Oxford Webb and Northern Vance.

Then comes one of the highlights of the regular season, the Orange County Championships, Saturday morning at Orange High School.