Parkland girls on fire
During the early portion of the outdoor track season, Parkland Track Coach Antwan Hughes couldn’t help but notice how the times of the female sprinters kept dropping. The steady improvement gave him an idea which eventually produced huge dividends.
Hughes proceeded to employ six of his seven sprinters as interchangeable components in all three sprint relays. As things turned out, the coach’s willingness to tinker and tweak paved the way for Parkland to deliver a stunning triple in winning the 4×100, 4×200 and 4×400 relays at the Class 4-A State Outdoor Track-and-Field Championships held two weeks ago at N.C. A&T.
The Mustangs’ speedy seven — Ila Mumford, Erin Morrison, Katlin Sherman, Miaysha Bryant, Myshale Spigner, Ebony Williams and McKinley McNeil — combined to turn in noteworthy performances in the biggest meet of the season. Parkland set state-meet records in the 4×200 and 4×400 to further solidify its reputation as an elite program which figures to get even stronger over the next two years.
“This isn’t something that I had planned,” Hughes admitted. “But when I saw how those times kept coming down, it gave me the opportunity to mix and match. Except for Ila (Mumford), everybody can run all three relays, and that’s just what they did all season. It’s a huge advantage to be able to move runners around and still get the same results.”
At the state championships, Parkland faced its stiffest relay challenge in the 4×100. Initially, Raleigh Wakefield was declared the winner in a record-setting time of 47.15 seconds and the Mustangs (Mumford, Morrison, Sherman and Bryant) were the runners-up at 47.22. Wakefield, however, was disqualified because runners on the second and third leg passed the baton outside the legal exchange zone.
Hughes dismissed the idea that Wakefield would’ve won had it not been for the violation.
“I don’t believe they would have beaten us,” he said. “The reason they got the lead in the first place was because of the baton exchange that caused them to get DQ’ed.”
Of the three relay teams, the 4×200 and 4×400 are the most formidable. The 4×200 foursome of Spigner, Sherman, Williams and Morrison blistered the competition with a clocking of 1 minute, 37.83 seconds, which is the second-fastest time ever run in North Carolina. The 4×400 squad (Spigner, Morrison, Williams and McKinley McNeil) surpassed all expectations by running five seconds faster than its previous personal best. The Mustangs’ time of 3 minutes, 47.70 seconds is No. 2 on the state’s all-time list.
“When you get a group of youngsters who work as hard as they do, that’s the end result (setting records),” said Hughes. “They deserve the records and recognition. Their future is bright. The only thing left for this group is to win a state championship as a team. All of them are good students, so there’s no doubt that all will run Division I college track after they finish high school.”
Parkland, which placed third in the team standings at this year’s state meet, has a huge up-side. Spigner will be the team’s only senior next year. The rest of the sprint roster will be comprised mostly of a strong junior class led by Williams, who finished third in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles at the state. Sherman also displayed her wares at the state with a third place in the 200 and sixth in the 100.
McNeil, though, could be the Mustangs’ most intriguing athlete. As a freshman, she competed most of this season with a strained quadriceps muscle, but still managed to post a fourth-place finish at the state championships in the open 400.
“Even though McKinley is a ninth-grader, she’s one of our best all-around sprinters,” she can do it all,” Hughes said. “But with her injury, I held her out of a lot of events, so for most of the season, she only ran in the 400 and the 4×400 relay.”