Photos by Craig Amoss and John Roemer
Last week, we ran our final poll of our two-month-long tournament, and you - the fans, parents, coaches and athletes - chose the two winners of our 32-person brackets.
Franklin's Nyjari McNeil defeated Harford Tech's Caitlyn Bobb in one of our closest and most popular polls of the entire series. McNeil received 3,489 of the 6,371 votes cast in the championship round alone, beating Bobb by a score of 54.8% to 45.2%. Meanwhile, the Northwest fans had done their job, pitting former teammates Diego Zarate and Shyheim Wright against each other in the finals. Zarate - who entered the tournament as a #7 seed, was the runaway winner of the championship round, defeating Wright by a score of 89.7% to 10.3%.
McNeil's win was hardly a surprise. She entered the tournament as a #2 seed and was possibly the closest to the #1 line among the four seeded where she was. McNeil won over 40 county, regional and state titles, and that was just on the individual side. She led all Maryland runners in the 500 meter dash over the course of the decade, and also sat atop the 800 leaderboard until the spring of 2019 when Juliette Whittaker broke her personal best as a freshman. She holds the 3A outdoor state meet record in the 400 meter dash and was the anchor of a spectacular 4x400 team that, during her final two years at Franklin, held claim to being one of the top public school relays in the entire country. With McNeil as the driving force, Franklin also won indoor 3A titles in three of McNeil's four years (2015, 2017 and 2018).
Zarate's win was much more surprising, though considering the support he had from a terrific fan base at Northwest, it is understandable. He was a member of the first Northwest team to win a track and field team title in 2013, and part of two more in the winters of 2014 and 2015. As a senior, he was one of the most durable and consistent runners in the state, with the speed to anchor a 4x4 and the strength to challenge anyone in a 3200. His performance at the 2015 indoor state meet - winning 4A titles in the 1600 and 800, a feat rare enough by itself - is even more impressive considering he split a 1:52 anchor leg in the 4x800 not long before. His state medal total would have almost certainly included two more individual titles had sickness not cost him the final meet of his high school career.