The 2010s Defined: The Unexpected State Champions (Boys)

Springbrook's Jacari Ramsey (right) threw down a surprising 49.41 in the first heat of the 4A boys 400 at the 2016 state meet. Even more surprising? The second heat fell short of the time, giving Ramsey his first-ever win in the event at any major race. (Photo by John Roemer)

Earlier this year, after the indoor state championships we identified some of the individual state champions who were among the most surprising to earn that title, given the rest of their performances throughout the season leading into the meet. Now we take a look back at the last decade of state meets to see who else rose the occasion on the sport's biggest stage.

A note: selections should be considered within context of the season. For example, an athlete who wound up winning five state titles throughout their career could still make this list if the specific performance was their first as a sophomore.

Fall 2011 - Scott Sheehan: He was the fourth runner on a deep Walter Johnson team as a sophomore in 2010. As a senior, he formed a 1-2 punch with fellow senior Josh Ellis (the team's top runner in most races). He had run 16:16 as a junior, and his seventh and sixth place finishes at the county and regional meets (respectively) were his first two finishes inside the top ten at a major cross country race in his career. Moreover, the three-time defending 4A state champions from Walter Johnson had lost both races to their crosstown rivals from Winston Churchill. Everything changed at Hereford on the morning of November 12. Sheehan powered away from county champion Evan Laratta and regional champion William Conway en route to a seven second margin of victory, and along with Ellis (third place) helped the Wildcats win their fourth consecutive state title.

Spring 2012 - DJ Workcuff: There's no time like a state meet to add some extra bounce to your step. As a sophomore entering the meet, Workcuff had won SMAC and 3A South titles, but had only cleared 6'2 once in his career (in a league meet earlier that season). He was going up against a strong field that included indoor state champion Gregory Peterson (who had cleared 6'6 at the indoor state meet) along with a host of other competitors who had already cleared 6'4. It mattered not to Workcuff, who leapt straight over the pack and cleared the 6'6 bar to earn the first of three state outdoor state titles in the event.

Photo by John Roemer

Winter 2013 - Jason White & Chandler Kennell: White's progression in the pole vault during his high school career was one characterized by leaps and bounds. By the end of his sophomore year his personal best mark in the event sat at just seven feet. He first cleared ten feet at the 3A West indoor regional meet in 2011 and qualified for states in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. By the beginning of the new year in 2013 White had raised his personal best to 12 feet, and another breakthrough at the county championships brought him up to 12'7. After finishing third at the regional meet, however, he was still far from a state title favorite. As it turns out, White did have one extra leap to make - he cleared 13 feet at the final meet of the season to win the 3A state title.

Kennell's journey to the top took a little less time than did White's, but the magnitude of the final leg was even greater. Kennell had cleared 12 feet just once through his sophomore season and took a 12'4 personal best into the 2A indoor state meet that season; he had placed second at the county championships and fourth at the regional meet. At the state meet, however, Kennell literally reached new heights, clearing 14 feet and upsetting two-time state champion Jonathan Hatcher who had cleared 14'8 the spring before.

Winter 2014 - Diego Zarate: He won four individual state titles throughout his career, but the first was certainly a surprising performance. Heading into the 2014 indoor state meet Zarate had run under 4:30 in the 1600 exactly once (he ran 4:29 at a county meet earlier in the season). He had finished second in the event at the 4A West regional meet and was also coming off a leg on the 4x800 shortly before the 1600 was set to go off. Going up against seniors who had run under 4:25 (like Brent Musselman, Joshua Wilkins and Rhys Burgett), Zarate dropped them all en route to a four-second margin of victory and an eight second personal best. It was a huge moment for Northwest, as the Jaguars won the team title by just two points.

Photo by Lisa McArthur

Winter 2015 - Deonte Parnell and Juston Christian: The 2015 indoor season was the first time Deonte Parnell qualified for the state championships in his career; he had finished as the runner-up in both the 300 and 500 at the 1A Central regional meet. Competing at the Baltimore Armory had meant Parnell hadn't the opportunity to clock fast times in either race all season and he entered the state meet with a personal-best in the latter event of 1:13.50. After he placed tenth in the 300, Parnell prevailed in one of the closest races of the day (the top four finishers were separated by less than three tenths of a second).

Christian found himself in a similar spot; in 2015, he was competing individually at the state meet for the first time as a senior. Like Parnell, he had competed only at the Baltimore Armory all season and brought a personal best of just 6.76 in the 55 meter dash to the state meet. In the prelims he finished second and lowered that time all the way down to 6.58, and in the finals he unleashed the performance that the entire season had been building toward. Christian blew the field away en route to a 6.51 personal best and the lone individual state title of his career.

Spring 2016 - Jacari Ramsey: His performance at the 2016 4A state meet was notable because Ramsey may not have even been the leading candidate to win the 400 state title on his own team. Ramsey and teammate Mayen McClain had gone back-and-forth at counties and regionals, and Ramsey had finished second at the regional meet behind Dulaney's James Green. Ramsey ran 49.41 in the first heat of the 400 at the state meet, a full second better than his previous personal best. Three runners in the second heat came within two tenths of a second of beating Ramsey's time, but it held up, giving Ramsey his first and only individual state title.

Photo by Craig Amoss

Fall 2016 - Taylor Baranoski: He had won his first state title in the 1600 the spring prior as a junior, but as a cross country newcomer in a deep 2A field, Baranoski wasn't quite considered one of the top contenders for the state title - even with multiple sub-16:30 performances and a 2A North regional title to his name. It wasn't just the fact that Baranoski won, but that he put 15 seconds on the rest of a field that included Justin Diehl, Nick Tilson and Jay Hall, mostly within the final mile. He became the school's first-ever individual state XC champion (male or female), and his 16:03 time was the fourth-fastest of the day across all four classifications.

Spring 2017 - Tristen Cook: Up through early May of his sophomore season Cook had sat right around the 100-foot mark in the discus. His 110'9 throw at the Washington County championships sparked a two-week run that saw Cook become one of 1A's top throwers. Cook launched a 128-foot throw at the 1A West regional meet, an 18-foot personal best (but still nine feet behind Fort Hill's Shakur Trimble). At states, however, Trimble did not compete, paving the way for Cook who prevailed in a closely-contested event (the next three finishers finished within three and a half feet).

Spring 2018 - Josh Fry: Before the spring of 2018, Fry had qualified individually for the state meet three times, and in none of those races did he finish higher than tenth. As late as mid-may during his senior year, Fry had run under 4:30 just once (a 4:29 performance at regionals as a junior). Coming off a sixth-place finish at the county meet and third-place finish at regionals, Fry was hardly considered one of the top contenders for the 1600 title. Nobody broke away during the final lap, and as the field came onto the final stretch Fry was still right in the mix. 100 meters later, Fry crossed the line and become one of the most surprising state champions of the decade.

Winter 2019 - Tyler Modrzejewski, Dylan McMahan, Conor McGirr and Charles Townsend: All SMAC rivals, all at the 2019 indoor 3A state meet. After the Chopticon boys set a new 3A indoor state meet record in the 4x800, Modrzejewski and McMahan won their first individual state titles. Modrzejewski only began running the mid-distance events (500 and 800) as an upperclassman and his victory in the 500 was his first win in the event. McMahan, meanwhile, was also in his first season running an event (the 800) and broke the two-minute mark for the first time at states.

Meanwhile, McGirr provided one of the most shocking moments of the decade when he won the 1600 title by shaving a full ten seconds off his personal best in his first chance to compete individually on the state level. McGirr would run faster in the 1600 just once, at the outdoor state meet later that year.

Meanwhile at the 1A state meet, Snow Hill's Charles Townsend had won the Bayside title earlier in the winter and finished second at the regional meet in the 55 meter dash. Just a track rookie in his sophomore season, Townsend had a couple of sub-6.70 performances on his resumé entering states, but nothing that hinted at the performance he was about to throw down in the finals. After clocking a 6.62 personal best in the prelims (second-fastest), Townsend turned it on in the finals, going 6.51 to win the first of two consecutive state titles in the event.