Well folks, that's it for the 2011-2012 seasons for Cross Country and Track and Field. With the conclusion of the World Junior Championships, all athletes are home for the season, and building towards either college or those cross country courses in the fall. We here at MileSplit NY have just finished our first year as well, as we became independent early last August. Since that time, you've viewed our page over 10 million times, and added to our growing Facebook and Twitter followings. We've had great performances, new breakout stars, and countless new state records. To put it lightly, it has been a great year for the Empire State. To commemorate the end of the season, we'd like to look back at our top 10 moments from the past year. These may not be the fastest times or best performances, but they were moments that were aided by the stories behind them, the rivalries established, and the accomplishments achieved. We'll be releasing two a day, with the top pick being released on Saturday night. While they are ranked numerically, their order is only slightly important. Each moment proved thrilling for the track fan, and we look forward to even more in 2013. And be sure to sound off in our comments for moments you think we missed, as cutting this down to a list of ten was not easy.
6. Just For Kicks: Zavon's Relationship with the Indoor Mile
Zavon Watkins (Liverpool) was far from an unknown entity coming into the 2012 indoor season. The runner up in the mile at states the spring before, Watkins was most notable for his 800m speed. However, questions were arising about how long can Watkins maintain his dominance over the distances. These questions stemmed from a distinct change in physique, which saw his frame increase from his football involvement in the fall. The bulky build is built for the speed in the 800m, but stuck out like a sore thumb in the slender frames of the distance runners of New York. These fears were heightened when an early season race led to a relaxed 4:28 1600m at the Southern Tier Collegiate Invitational. But a bigger storm was brewing. The ranks for two premiere invitationals were steadily being filled, as The Millrose Games moved to the Armory, and USATF capitalized on the newly freed Madison Square Garden to create the US Open. Both Invitational Mile's promised to bring some of the country's best through separate qualification methods: Millrose would be a race qualifier, while the US Open was invite only.
And Watkins was there to answer that call. While already having been invited to the US Open, he had to earn his spot to take the track at Millrose. He chose the New Balance Games as his attempt to nab that spot, but a worthy challenger had chosen the same race. Mike Marsella (Chariho) is more notably a distance runner, being ultimately capable of a 4:10 he would accomplish at the Brooks PR meet later in the season. And the race took out as the pundits predicted, with Marsella taking the race out at a steady pace and Watkins resting at the back of the pack. However, it is always foolish to underestimate a runner who is capable of sub-49 open quarter speed, and has dipped under 1:50 for the half mile in a relay split. Upon the closing lap, Watkins reassured the crowd that he had not lost any sharpness, and sprinted to the front of the pack as if the first 7 laps had only been a warmup. With this kick, Watkins asserted his spot in the Millrose Mile, as well as setting a then State leading 4:14.
As the Calendar dictated, the US Open would be held first, and had assembled a strong showing of talent, including Mike Libruk (Shaker) and Thomas Awad (Chaminade). The track was notoriously slow, as it's tight turns prevented most sprinters from achieving the faster times that came easier on the Armory's regulated 200m oval. Again, questions arose how Watkins would cope, as the race went off and he situated himself at the rear of the pack yet again. But yet again, he ignited the crowd as he began his final lap tear, proving again there was room for a sprinter in the land of the distance dynamos. While the time of 4:19.86 may not be the season's best, the race spoke for itself with the way the senior from Section 3 was able to power through a premiere field to take the win.
As Millrose came around, and what appeared to be an even tougher field, Watkins arose as one of the favorites. Back in the race was Mike Marsella, who had earned one of the at-large spots after another runner had decided against participation. Also looming was Ned Willig (Great Valley), who had qualified with a similar time as the previous pair. And Marsella had learned not to let the race turn into a kickers run, taking it out much quicker this time around. As per the course, Watkins quickly fell to the back of the pack, letting the other runners break the wind in front. Marsella had established a commanding lead at 1200m, with Watkins still in tow, but as Watkins crossed the line, you could see a change of gears. What had been last place quickly became 4th in less than 100m, and Watkins was in striking distance. Amazingly, Watkins was speeding up as the field was slowing down, as it soon became a rematch between Marsella and Watkins with one lap to go. With 50m to go, Watkins powered past the Rhode Island standout, increasing his lead all the way to the line, winning in 4:13.83.
5. The Battle for the Girls' Quarter Mile
Female 400 meter runners are hard to come by. It is an unforgiving event that tests the lactic acid tolerance of every runner attempting to master it. Junior Kadecia Baird (Medgar Evers Prep) had already cemented herself as an expert at the sprint distance for the indoor season, as well as showing her chops in the 200m as well. Senior Kyle Plante (Colonie) had similar range, winning the 300m on the flat track at Cornell. However, the pair had never met up in post season competition indoors.
Outdoor season did nothing to quench the competition of either of these athletes. Week by week, each were dropping their times at an alarming rate. As Invitational season came around, both were pegged as the states top competitors at the quarter mile, in addition to the 200m as well. Kadecia Baird fired first, running an unthinkable 52.62 to win the Loucks Invitational 400m. Plante fired back just a week later, showing an impressive day where she split an unofficial 52.6 after 3 other races earlier in the day at the Eddy Meet. These times simply whet the appetite for a showdown, where everyone was wondering where the two could push each other. However, location would have to delay that matchup. The two were geographically separated, which all prevented a meeting before the State Competition. Even then, the meeting would happen, as Baird chose to run the 100m and 200m, where as Plante took to the open 400m. The meet did little to downplay the comparisons, as both won each of their respective individual races overall.
But there was relief for those asking for the showdown. As the seeds for New Balance Outdoor Nationals were released for Greensboro, North Carolina, two names stood ahead of the rest in the Championship 400m. The meeting would happen on a national stage, and all eyes would be on Greensboro. Kadecia Baird, also entered in the 200m, first took to the track on Friday, smoking a 23.26 in the half lap to qualify for the final. But as the meet wore down Saturday, and the 400m approached, there were thoughts to what it would take to secure the win. Both girls lined up, along with Ariah Graham (Wakefield) who had stolen the show at Indoor Nationals, and stepped into their blocks. The gun went off, and both took out hard, creating a gap on the field in the first 200 meters. Off the back turn, however, it was all Baird, who had created a commanding lead in the far lane. But Plante was controlling the race as well, holding off the rest of the runners as she created a second gap she had established in 2nd place. As both crossed the line, going 1-2, both PR'ed in 52.14 and 53.32 respectively. The race that had been long awaited did not disappoint. Kadecia Baird would go on to compete for Guyana in the IAAF World Junior Champs, running an unthinkable 51.04 that would go down as US #5 All-Time and a new State Record, but it was this showdown that earned them the #5 spot on our countdown.