Friday, August 14, 2009

Outstanding Season: New Bern

Coaches “Big” Dave Simpson and Nick Sparks knew they had something special this year with their New Bern HS / Track Eastern Carolina group. The had Hendrix twins Anthony and Andrew, freshman prodigies during Karjuan Williams’ senior year and now maturing seniors, with great range from 200 to 800. They had junior Fuquawn Greene, perhaps the most talented of the crew, with sprint range from 55 to 400. They had gutty Miles Sparks, Nick’s son and another junior, gradually dropping his 200, 400 and hurdle times to national class levels. And they had Daishawn Styron, a developing talent who brought much needed sprint speed. With the talent to challenge records in at least four different relays, and the resources to travel to big meets around the country, the group began a season-long odyssey that would take them from coast to coast.

New Bern/Track EC came out of the blocks fast, with a 1:27.02 4x200 on the fast oval at Arkansas, plus a 3:19.28 4x4. The 4x2 was #3 all-time and would hold up as the fastest of the winter, but the coaches knew their best shot was at 4x4. They got down to 3:17.00 at Virginia Tech, then the last weekend in January, they improved to a sizzling 3:13.24 – faster than the national record, but on an oversized track. Preferring a record without an asterisk, they migrated to New York the following weekend for New Balance Collegiate and nailed it down – 3:13.06 on the standard 200m oval. NB/TEC would go on to a US#1 1600 SMR at Simplot, and NIN titles in the 4x2, 4x4, and SMR in Boston, but the magical record in the Big Apple would stand as the indoor highlight.

Outdoors, they wasted no time. Historically, the 1600 SMR had always been a target with the blend of 200-800 talent at the school and at the Raleigh Relays in late March, they put it together like never before for an epic 3:19.58, destroying the USR by more than a second. Splits were Greene 21.4, Sparks 21.8, Andrew Hendrix 46.6, Anthony Hendrix 1:49.8. They also hit 1:25.20 and 3:12.82 at the meet.

The latter, unfortunately, would be a harbinger of things to come. They badly wanted to break the USR in the outdoor 4x4, too, but the 3:07.40 standard by Hawthorne CA (1985) was considerably more stout; indeed, it’s one of prep track’s greatest marks. So what followed was a string of performances at meets as far-flung as the Oregon Relays and Great Southwest – the latter meet finding them soundly defeated by an All-Star team in a hyped record-attempt. The squad had also battled with the suspension of Greene from the school team, which affected several earlier meets. There seemed to be a sense of fatigue, both from within the squad and concerning interest in the endless record attempts. Little did fans know what was to come.

NON would be the final display of the NB/TEC talents; could they muster a few more titles and outstanding times? The weekend began with an impressive US#1 1:24.80 4x200, then continued with a relatively modest 1600 SMR win in 3:24.54. But the 1600 SMR wasn’t what the team wanted that weekend. The next day in the 800 SMR, all of the NB/TEC brilliance was back in full force, as the quartet of Styron, Greene, Andrew Hendrix and Anthony Hendrix (46.39) blasted a 1:28.20 USR, taking down the 1:28.43 of the Bryshon Nellum-led LB Poly from two years earlier. Finally, it was time for the meet-ending 4x400 and most pundits would have told you if NB/TEC could get down around 3:10, it would be a great end to their season. But with legs of 47.0 from Anthony Hendrix, 47.7 from Sparks, and 47.45 from Greene, the baton went to Andrew Hendrix and it began to dawn on fans that something much bigger was happening. The final 45.87 brought the squad through in a jaw-dropping 3:08.05, history’s #2 performance. Only the team itself would have ever believed they could run 3:08, but in doing so, NB/TEC made the final race of an amazing year the most special of all – even if it wasn’t a record.

Text by SteveU - Photos by Donna Dye and John Nepolitan

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