By Jeff Nations
Central High School's Justin Bauserman may not necessarily win Saturday's 300-meter hurdles competition at the Group 3A state track and field meet, but in the event that happens you can be assured it won't be for lack of preparation.
Bauserman is gunning for his third straight state championship in his signature event after taking the title the last two years in the old Group A format, and this year he faces what could be his toughest challenge yet. Spotswood junior Elijah Haag is seeded second with a time of 39.29 seconds, ever so close to Bauserman's top mark of 39.26.
"He knows that," Central coach Rick Lytton said. "I think he's ready for him. Justin says the first two hurdles can tell the story of the race, right there."
Bauserman heads a small but strong contingent from Central going into today's opening day of the two-day Group 3A state meet in Harrisonburg. Bauserman will also look to earn all-state honors (top eight) in the 110 hurdles, where he's seeded ninth.
The Falcons could also make some serious noise in the throws, where fellow seniors Josh Gum and Travis Cooper are seeded 2-3 in the discus. Cooper has been the better thrower of late, including winning last week's 3A East Region championship.
"Travis has been very consistent since the [Turner Ashby] meet," Lytton said. "He had a good day at TA, although Josh beat him. He's been consistent ever since. Josh has been more up and down, but they're both capable of a big day."
In the girls competition, Falcons junior Bethany Neri looks to continue dropping time in the 1,600-meter run as she enters competition as the No. 15 seed. Central's 3,200 relay of Heather Landes, Lexi Keller, Emily Walker and Neri are also aiming to better their seeding time of 10:57.04 (16th).
"They're excited about running and think they can have one of the best times in Central school history," Lytton said.
Warren County coach Joseph Owens will be on standby for Wildcats senior thrower Crystal Utter during today's girls discus competition. The event starts at 4 p.m., and Utter's graduation ceremony begins at 6 p.m. in Front Royal. If at all possible, Owens wants to help Utter get there even though a back-up plan involving an iPad for a "virtual appearance" to accept her diploma is also a possibility.
"As soon as she finishes, we're going to jump in the car and head back for that," Owens said. "It's going to be pretty tight, but her last name starts with U, so we've got that going for us."
Utter is seeded eighth in the discus, and Warren County's Quay Caison enters the shot put competition as the No. 7 seed. Rounding out the Wildcats' entries is Wesley Childress, who is 14th in the 800.
"We're very excited with the qualify of the athletes that we have going," Owens said. "The two throwers are right there for top eight to earn all-state, and Wes is certainly within striking distance."
This weekend's meet will also mark the end of Jeremy Burnworth's tenure at the school. Burnworth, who serves as the distance coach during track season and has led Warren County's cross country program the past seven years, is stepping down to take a teaching position Prince William County.
"I spent a lot of time at Warren County, so it was a difficult decision to make," Burnworth said. "As of now, my plan is not to coach next year and just teach. My daughter is getting to the age where she's running and I want to watch her. I won't be coaching, but that may change in the future. I don't know yet."
Skyline's group will be short thrower Ronnie Clifton, who qualified for the state meet at last week's regional but has opted to miss the competition to take his SAT on Saturday. He was nearly joined by the Hawks' Jamal Parker, who considered skipping Saturday's long jump (he's seeded eighth) to take the test.
"There was a question whether or not he would do his long jump because he's also signed up to take the SAT on Saturday," Skyline coach Steve Burton said. "He decided to do his jumps, and he has a real chance to place in that event."
Parker will also compete in the 100 (seeded 13th) and 200 (14th) for the Hawks. Skyline also has a boys 3,200 relay of Demetry Arnold, Luke Cline, Landon Holben and Tanner Steed set to run today. That unit is seeded 14th.
The Group 4A meet will be held in conjunction with the 3A competition in Harrisonburg, and Sherando coach Tom Grim will be plenty busy trying to keep track of a sizable group of Warriors competing in the state meet.
"We'll be represented real well," Grim said.
Sherando's top threat for a state title could be its boys 3,200 relay, a group consisting of Trevor Whiteside, Justin Hammer, Daniel Snapp and Ryan Hindle. The Warriors are seeded third in that event with a qualifying time of 8:08.65.
"They're close to the school record," Grim said. "They came within about a second of it last week. I told the guys it would be sort of anti-climatic to get the record last week."
Whiteside (seeded 10th), Hindle (11th) and Snapp (27th) will all run in the 800 as well, giving Sherando a chance to gain some points in the middle distance event.
Senior Donovan Walton, seeded 10th in the discus, has only been competing in the sport for two years.
"You talk about an awesome kid, it's a real joy to see a senior like that continue to improve," Grim said. "He's in a position right now where he's got nothing to lose."
Other individual qualifiers for Sherando's boys include Thomas Shea in both the 1,600 (seeded 18th) and 3,200 (13th), Brandon Litten in the 110 hurdles (14th) and Josh Ojo in the 100 (24th). Andrew Matthew joins Whiteside, Snapp and Hindle on Sherando's 1,600 relay (19th).
In the girls meet, Sherando freshman Davina Lane looks to continue her stellar season by placing high in the hurdles. Lane is seeded fifth in the 300 hurdles and seventh in the 100 hurdles.
Sherando senior Alaina Combs is near the end of her high school career, but will get a chance to compete in both the discus (13th) and shot put (15th) in Harrisonburg.
"She didn't do real well last week in the discus, but a lot of people struggled last week," Grim said. "I really expect her to come through and put her best foot forward. And in the shot last week, she had her best throw ever."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>