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Four Runners Go All-American for Weston at New Balance Nationals

Micah Zirn, Section Editor

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The biggest stage for high school indoor track, the New Balance Indoor Nationals meet kicked off on Friday, March 13th, as it does every year at the end of the season. Only this year, Weston was far more involved than ever before, turning heads not only in the number of athletes participating but also in the performances. A record number of 12 Weston runners took to the track over the three-day meet; the boys competed in the 4 x 400 meter, 4 x 200 meter, and the Sprint Medley relays while the girls entered in the 4 x 800 meter relay and had an athlete in the Freshman Mile. The meet was held at the famed Armory Track in New York, which holds the annual Millrose Games and other prominent professional meets.

Although the New Balance Indoor Nationals is the ultimate competition for high school track athletes, the meet includes two tiers of contest— Emerging Elite and Championship. Qualification for the national meet doesn’t depend on performance at the state or regional competitions but rather on a time standard. Championship qualifying time is fast— it’s the most competitive tier— and Emerging Elite is slightly slower and therefore easier to enter.

Weston’s first showing in Emerging Elite (EE) was in the Sprint Medley Relay (SMR) early Friday, which was dedicated to the EE events. The SMR includes two 200-meter legs (a lap each on an indoor track) followed by a 400-meter leg and then an 800-meter finale.  Weston’s season best was 3:37, less than a second short of qualifying Championship. However, the relay had never been run with Simeon Okoro, who would be substituted in for the 400-meter leg; with this change, Weston hoped to execute an impressive race and maybe win the EE tier. Even with these high expectations, the coaches weren’t anticipation Weston’s 800-meter anchor runner, Cole Clark, to perform at the level he did. Although the anchor is only one of four members of the relay, the 800-meter leg is half of the race in terms of distance. With the addition of Okoro and the 1:56-run from Clark, the relay won the EE tier handily, finishing in a stunning 3:31. Sure the SMR competed in the second tier of nationals, but their time set the EE all-time meet record and was also the third fastest time recorded by a team that year. The relay team, consisting of Micah Zirn, Ian Stuebe, Okoro, and Clark, ended up as the 7th fastest team in the U.S after the Championship race took place Saturday.

Later Friday, the Girls’ 4 x 800 meter left their mark. This relay team of Nicole Werner, Mimi Fellowes, Olivia Watson, and Rhémi Toth was no stranger to grand stages and medals. In late February, the relay scored 5th in the New England meet. Out of twenty relay teams at the EE level, Weston’s girls placed 4th overall. Their time of 9:31 was less than three seconds from the second and third place teams, which were both in the other heat.

Closing out the EE events on Friday was the Boys’ 4 x 400 meter relay at 8:30 p.m. Weston’s 4 x 400 meter relay had peaked at the New England meet, recording a time of 3:23, good enough for 2nd place in the region. It was this time that shattered Weston’s former school record by 10 full seconds. Because of the other events, two athletes were rested from the relay. Facing fierce competition, the relay team of Cameron Okoro, Patrick Baber, Cole Clark, and Chris Petty did not perform as well as they had hoped.

(From left to right) Micah Zirn '15, Chris Petty '15, Ian Stuebe '15, and Simeon Okoro '15 became the first Weston Indoor Track runners to go All-American in the 4x200 relay

(From left to right) Micah Zirn ’15, Chris Petty ’15, Ian Stuebe ’15, and Simeon Okoro ’15 became the first Weston Indoor Track runners to go All-American in the 4×200 relay

With the EE events out of the way, Weston’s only Championship representatives, Micah Zirn, Ian Stuebe, Chris Petty, and Simeon Okoro, were ready for the test Saturday. Unlike in the EE tier, many Championship events began with a round of trials where the top performers qualified for a final. Out of the 36 teams participating in the Championship level 4 x 200 relay, the top seeds were spread out around six heats. Weston’s relay, seeded at 13th in the country, edged out local rivals Hillhouse for second place and crushed their previous best with a 1:28.98, good enough for second in the heat. This performance was tied in 6th place with a heat still remaining; only the top six teams qualify for finals. However, as the country’s fastest relay, Newburgh, stepped on to the track, hopes of making it to the finals were bleak. All it took was an unclean handoff by this relay and they were out of the race— the first miracle for Weston. Still Weston was tied with another team for 6th, and only six teams could be taken to the finals the next day. For ten long minutes, Weston waited as the officials looked at the race films again to determine the times to the thousandths place. Weston had run a 1:28:971, the other team a 1:28:977. By a margin of .006 seconds, the team secured 6th place and earned the last spot in the finals.

Although the 4 x 200 meter relay had qualified for the finals on Sunday, they were not guaranteed All-American honors— they needed to finish the race without any infraction or disqualification. Some of the athletes, not entirely sarcastically, proposed walking the race to avoid any chance of disqualification. Despite all the pressure, the relay finished 5th in the race with a time of 1:29:59 and earned a spot on the podium with the other top teams in the country.

Kathleen Murphy, who qualified for the Girls’ Freshman Mile, also competed on Sunday. During the season, she recorded an impressive personal record of 5:19. Although her performance Sunday was not her best, it ranked high up on Weston’s freshman all-time list.

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Four Runners Go All-American for Weston at New Balance Nationals