Tigers take the long view

On his 1,600-meters anchor leg on Chapel Hill High's distance medley relay on June 16 at the Nike Outdoor Nationals, Tiger sophomore Taylor Gilland ran an impressive 4:14.

It wasn't enough for a big finish to the DMR team's year.

The CHHS foursome of senior Taylor Muir (400 leg); junior Jack Marshall (1,200); senior Kent Pecora (800) and Gilland finished far back in the field in 16th place with a time of 10:19.2.

In a meet where many eyes were taking a long view, studying the distance runners, it was East Chapel Hill senior sprinter Antonio Sales who grabbed All-America status for the second straight year.

Much like in the N.C. High School Athletic Association's state championship meet, on the very same Belk Track at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, Sales made up for lost time in the 200 meters.

After failing to make the 100-meter final by one spot on June 16, Sales came back the next night to register a third-place finish in the 200 with a fast clocking of 21.27, quicker than the 21.41 he ran a year ago in finishing fourth. Sales ran 10.82 in his heat of the 100, failing to make the final by one-hundredth of a second.

Sales had as good a finish as any North Carolina athlete.

East Forsyth's Dylan Ferris, a national leader in the 800-meters, couldn't hold an early lead and finished third. Cummings' LaToya James finished fifth in the long jump and seventh in the 100-meter hurdles. NCHSAA champ Johnny Dutch of Clayton ended up seventh-place in the hurdles after knocking down a few along the way.

On the other hand, a future Tar Heel did just fine. Walter Henning of New York repeated as hammer throw champion with a meet-record of 249 feet, beating his closest rival, Californian Conor McCullough, by 7 feet, 1 inch. Henning will attend the University of North Carolina in the fall.

Sales is headed for the University of South Carolina next semester.

Gilland, 16, still has plenty of time to contemplate college.

While still among the nation's top sophomore middle-distance runners, (and still North Carolina's top high school cross-country runner,) Gilland's DMR leg of 4:14 was surpassed by top runners at the Nike Outdoors who all logged 1,600/mile times in the sub-4:10 range.

Unlike a year ago when Jack Bolas unleashed a crushing 4:03 leg for the Tigers, helping them earn All-America status with a school-record time of 10:06.13, the Tigers could not repeat history.

Like a year ago, the Tigers' three opening legs were not strong enough to put them near the front, but without a blistering performance like that of the then-senior Bolas, Chapel Hill could not qualify for the seeded heat.

Gilland said part of his problem was he went out too fast -- a 60-second first lap -- in an attempt to close the gap on the leaders. I definitely think I could have gone faster, but I went out a little bit fast on my first lap trying to make up all the ground, he said. In the end I didn't have my kick. I think that first lap took a little bit out of my kick.

Gilland also waxed philosophical.

We didn't race to our potential, but we got here; we had fun. We did fine. We did about as expected, nothing more, nothing less.

Running his final prep race, Pecora split a respectable 1:56.63 on his 800 leg. I think I definitely kept us in the race, he said.

Muir rated his 53-second split in the 400 as average.

I'm all right with it, he said. It wasn't the perfect race, but it was something where you went out there, you raced your heart out and then afterwards you look back at it, and you take it for what it is. It was a good race that you can look back and be proud of.

Muir will take plenty of other good memories with him after his four years on the CHHS cross country and track teams.

Lots to look back on, lots of good memories, lots of just awesome times that I'll always remember, he said.

Muir called CHHS coach Ron Olsen the consummate coach.

He's everything that you could want in a coach. He's a great thinker. He's a great speechmaker before races. He's a great encourager after a bad race and after a good race. He's just the consummate coach that everyone would really like to have. I feel extremely blessed to have had such a great coach.

On the national level, the Tigers still have something left in their tank.

After a long hot summer of training, the two-time defending state 4-A champion CHHS harriers will return in the fall as the team to beat.

The solid Gilland, individual medalist in last November's state meet, almost surely will be the favorite to repeat as champion.

Gilland will continue to be a force anytime he toes the starting line, and, as always seems to be the case, Chapel Hill's full cast will be strong over hill and dale.

Patrick O'Neill writes about running for the Chapel Hill News. He can be reached at chnsports@nando.com
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