LANDOVER, Md. – Howard High was taking nothing for granted at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Center, which made its eventual celebration even more robust late Saturday afternoon.
A week after breaking a 33-year-old state record in the 4 x 400-meter relay, the Wildcats went into that meet-ending race knowing first place would likely cement the boys team title in the 55th annual DIAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Yet they approached it without greed, only thoughtful diligence, perspective and polish.
“That’s what coach [Nick] Palka, coach of the year, teaches us,” said senior Ayoyimika Ajao, who ran the third leg. “He teaches us to run smart. His favorite line is ‘Execute or be executed.’ ”
The Wildcats foursome of Brandon Justin, Ian Chege, Ajao and Edwin Rosembert avoided baton-exchange foul-ups and other dangers that can undermine even the swiftest relay foursomes, with Justin handing them a four-second lead after the opening leg.
Howard won by nearly four seconds in 3:28.50, well off the state record 3:22.51 it set at the Ocean Breeze Invitational last week on Staten Island but just .15 shy of the 15-year-old meet record.
The 10 first-place points allowed Howard to overtake Salesianum, which demonstrated its distance depth and field-event versatility but did not score in the 4 x 400. Howard finished with 83 points, with Sallies (78½) second and A.I. du Pont (58) third.
“We talked about everybody just doing their job,” Palka said. “Nobody trying to do anything fancy. Safe baton passes, not only running to their ability but being smart. We knew as long as we were smart we would have a chance to take quite a few points in that event. We felt confident but you have to race to find out.”
The state boys indoor track and field title was the fourth in Howard’s history but first since 1989. A second place in 2010 was Howard’s only top-three team finish the past 10 years.
“We thought we had a chance when we did our number crunching,” Palka said. “We knew it would be close. We knew Salesianum was a great competitor and so many other teams would be in the hunt. We thought we’d be in that group.”
Palka also knew the Wildcats didn’t have “much margin for error,” he added. “We didn’t have a large team [11 on the roster]. We knew we had a good group of sprinters and we had to go according to plan in everything, which we did. Everybody had a good day on the same day.”
Key moments came when Howard won the 4 x 200-meter relay in 1:32.43 despite not running in the heat with the fastest qualifiers, which was won by A.I. du Pont in 1:33.58. Zaire Harmon, Chege, Ajao and Julian Brown teamed up.
“That was huge,” Palka said.
Howard also had the meet’s big winner in Rosembert, a senior who, in addition to anchoring the 4 x 400 victory, won the 55-meter dash (6.49) and the 400 (50.13).
“I’m a very versatile athlete, and my coach teaches me to run anything from the 55 to the 400, sometimes even the 800. The 55 is the hardest race,” said Rosembert, who won by one-hundredth of a second with foes in his peripheral vision pushing him, becoming Howard’s first 55 champ since Nolan Tucker in 1989.
“The 400, I strategized that. I tried to get out as fast as possible, then that last 200 separates man from boy,” added Rosembert, who also won the 400 last year.
Howard also benefited from Chege’s second-place finish in the 800, Justin getting second in the 200 and 400, Rosembert placing third in the 200 and Amod Johnson taking third in the shot put.
“Ever since states last year we knew the team we had and we knew what we could accomplish,” Ajao said, referring to Howard finishing fifth in Division II at the outdoor state meet last May. “Ever since then, we’ve been working real hard for this very moment.”
Among the individual highlights of the boys meet was Mount Pleasant senior Johnelle Joe winning the 800 meters in 1:56.94, a state-meet record. The previous mark of 1:57.06 was set here two years ago by Newark’s Jarod Wilson. Now running at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wilson still owns the state record 1:56.05, also set in 2015.
Sallies did not attempt to lower the state-record 8:03.65 it ran last week in the 4 x 800 on Staten Island, instead entering younger runners in that event, the day’s first final. Dover prevailed with Kyron Roberts, Gavin Williams, Nyjal Drayton and Nathanial Guy in 8:13.53. The Senators had another champion in the 55-meter hurdles in Tayshaun Chisolm (7.83). Dover has won that event 11 times the last 17 years.
The Sals instead loaded up in the individual events and got plenty of points, led by George Steinhoff’s winning 4:25.87 in the 1,600.
The afternoon’s other distance champ was Tatnall’s Brendan Balthis in the 3,200 (9:40.87).
William Penn had a pair of champions as Mike Mills, after falling hard and tumbling in a close third-place finish in the 55, took the 200 in 22.35. Teammate Miles Duncan soared 47-6½ to capture the triple jump, unseating two-time champ Malachi Davis of Mount Pleasant. The Colonials had never won either event before.
Davis did leap 22 feet for his second straight long-jump title.
Lake Forest had a pair of field-event winners. Isaiah Morris edged out Salesianum’s Malafa Masa on fewer misses as both cleared 6-2 and Morris became Lake Forest’s first state indoor boys high-jump champ. Fellow Spartan Cameron Lewis won the shot put (48-5).
And for the fourth time, but first since 2005, A.I. du Pont took the pole-vault title. Senior Shemar Parker cleared 11-6. A sixth-place finisher here a year ago, he credited hard work under coach Steve Lantz’ tutelage.
“My coach, he’s worked with me a lot,” Parker said. “Me and him have both been dedicated. No matter what — snow, rain, cold – we were out there trying to get first place this year.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.