Caroline Benda has made a habit of recording blazing times at Baltimore County league meet this spring. Her 10:55 personal-best 3200 effort currently leads all Maryland runners. (Photo by John Roemer)
In "normal" outdoor track seasons, dual meets are sometimes little more than the inconsequential competitions between the more important invites and championships. They are a forum for practicing racing tactics, trying new events or running a competitive workout. Even when taken seriously, dual meets often don't produce the fastest times; the fields are smaller and generally less competitive, and the athletes often aren't quite in top shape like they will be come May.
This year, things are quite obviously different. A dearth of invite and championship (until recently) opportunities meant that these small league meets, often against just one or two other schools, were the only places for athletes to compete and shoot for new personal bests. This also often meant that doing so required one to compete alone, well ahead of the field, without the adrenaline of the full crowd, a title on the line or another competitor right on their tail.
These girls have made the most out of their opportunities in small meets this season, recording major personal bests, often without anyone to push them but themselves.
Ty'Liyah Hannah - Friendly High School
One of the candidates for breakout sprinter of the 2021 season, Hannah wasted no time at the first PG County competition on May 21. Hannah won both the 100 and 200, clocking times (12.19 and 25.18, respectively) that ranked among the top times in the state. Hannah also recently set new personal bests (12.11 and 25.09) at the 1A South sectional meets this past weekend.
Araoluwa Omitowoju - River Hill High School
River Hill's 1-2 junior punch of Omitowoju and Janasia Buckner came out firing this year, and have scored some big points for the Hawks so far. In her second meet of the year, Omitowoju clocked a big personal best in the 200 (25.43), and has since backed up that performance by winning Howard County titles in the 100 and 200.
Jalaia Creary - Archbishop Spalding High School
Creary has been one of Maryland's more consistent faces at open and invitational meets dating back to the indoor season, but the star freshman has been cleaning up at IAAM league meets as well. All three of her outdoor personal bests have come against league competition, including a 59.34 400 back on April 28.
Rubie Goffena - Manchester Valley High School
It's possible Manchester Valley has one of the best boy/girl distance duos Maryland has seen in quite some time. Despite going essentially the entire outdoor season without being challenged in a race, Goffena has managed to lower her personal bests to 2:18/4:59/11:04 as a junior.
Caroline Benda - Hereford High School
The multi-sport star - Benda is committed to swim at the University of Kentucky - has had no problem finding time for ridiculous dual-meet performances this spring. Whether it's a 17:20 5K during cross country or a pair of personal bests in the 1600 (5:06) and 3200 (10:55) recently, Benda is reminding everyone that she is still the top distance runner in Baltimore County.
Hannah Mack - Northern-Calvert High School
Mack's perfect season in Calvert County includes personal bests in all three distance events (2:20/5:07/10:57); she and Benda are the only girls so far this year to have run under 11 minutes in the 3200. Could the two be on a collision course for the 3A state championships in two weeks?
Serena Landsman - Winston Churchill High School
Landsman was practically unbeatable during the 2020 "outdoor" season that ran well into the fall, but the dual meet format of the 2021 outdoor season doesn't seem to have affected her one bit. Across five different events this spring, Landsman has lost exactly once (a runner-up finish in the high jump in their meet against Blair on June 1). Her 15.84 FAT season best ranks tenth in the state in the 100 meter hurdles.
Madison Robinson - Maryvale Prep High School
Speaking of unbeatable, Robinson seems to have found her best event this spring in the 300 meter hurdles. Five meets, five victories for the senior will attest to her dominance, as does the fact that her 46.49 personal best, set back on May 1, still ranks third in Maryland.
Lacey Fowler - South River High School
Fowler has yet to meet her match this year, in large part because only one other Anne Arundel County girl has come within ten feet of Fowler's MD #2, 41'6 mark in the shot put. Fowler has yet to lose a competition this year in either throwing event, and enters the championship season as the 4A leader in both events.
Ryann Bennett - Fort Hill High School
Out in the furthest reaches of Maryland's western tip, Fort Hill senior Ryann Bennett has spent the entire spring launching shot puts and discuses out of sight. Her 138'3 personal best mark in the discus ranks second in the state behind only Bullis' Trinity Franklin, and her bests in both throwing events lead the 1A classification.
Maya Murchison - Arundel High School
Until last week, John Carroll's Madison Shaffery had held onto the state leaderboard's top spot in the high jump since late April, her 5'5 mark three inches better than any other girl had cleared. Then Murchison - who had only cleared 5'2 for the first time in her previous competition - came along and jumped 5'6, literally and figuratively leapfrogging Shaffery into the state's top position.
Amanda Ballard - Parkside High School
A 2A state runner-up in both the 100 meter dash and long jump as a freshman in 2019, Ballard has resumed dominance of the Eastern Shore this spring. Not only has Ballard yet to fall in any competition across the four events she has competed in, she has set new personal bests in three of them, including a 17'6 long jump that puts her tenth in the state and atop the 2A rankings.
Anissa Bernard - C.H. Flowers High School
After a 38'2.25 performance during the indoor season, Bernard's quest for the 40-foot mark in the triple jump has resumed in earnest this year. In her latest PG County competition, Bernard raised her personal best to a tantalizingly-close 39'5.50 - a mark no other Maryland girl has equaled this year.
Darian Hauf - North Harford High School
This spring, Hauf has done two things, and done them very well. She has yet to lose a competition in either the 100 meter dash or the pole vault, and it is in the latter that Hauf has really stood out. Her most recent performance of 11'8 has her sitting alone in the #2 spot on the state leaderboard, trailing only Hereford's Elizabeth Schriver.